Bandwidth caps, P2P throttling, etc.

My prior post was a definite rant against the current quality of service I’m getting from Rogers (as a result of their attempt to throttle peer-to-peer and other types of usage), and the comical mismatch between the speed of their upcoming LTE service versus the data plans that they offer.

You might have assumed from this that, like most consumers, I’m completely opposed to any form of monthly limits, throttling based on applications, and so forth. My brother Pete has shared quite a few articles in the press (via Google Reader) on this topic; the issue (not to mention the apparent inability of the CRTC, our regulatory body, to deal with it) certainly generates quite a public furor. However, I’m not – I think Rogers should be free to offer any service it likes, throttling and bandwidth caps and all. What I was upset by was good old fashioned cheating – selling you a 10Mbps plan, delivering a 1Mbps plan, and pocketing the change.

Despite being displeased by the service for a while, what you’ll notice really set me off was their marketing messages around “fast”. These seemed simply designed to abuse the general public that actually doesn’t know about DPI, P2P throttling, measuring delivered bandwidth, etc. Many people probably just feel that their Internet is slow, so maybe they need to pay Rogers more for a “faster” tier of service. This is just outright deceptive and takes advantage of the fact that many don’t know what they’re buying or getting. If people paid for a Ferrari, received a Nissan Sentra (no offense to Sentra drivers!), and were told “Sorry, our bad, we’re charging you anyways though!”, it wouldn’t go over well.  But that’s what’s happening here.

On the surface, this suggests I should oppose bandwidth caps or throttling, because that just makes things harder for the public to understand. I support them for a couple of reasons:

  • Pricing for Internet service was established in the mid 1990s, and providers made the huge mistake then of going with flat rate, unlimited plans as the de-facto standard.  This was the equivalent of setting the price of an all-you-can eat buffet when everyone was 2 years old, relative to today’s consumption standards. Yes, they should have realized that people would grow up and that 1KB E-mails would be replaced by 1GB HD video, but they can’t be held to a mistake from 15 years ago.
  • All over the world, you see stats about the top 10% of users consuming 90% of all bandwidth, or the top 3% of users using 13 times what an average user does, etc. It’s almost as asymmetric as the richest 1% having 40% of all wealth :). If a decent number of people could eat 10 times the average amount of food, do you think we’d have flat rate buffets? Heck, many years back in Tokyo, I went to Shabu Shabu all-you-can-eat places that charged differently for men and women! One price for everyone just doesn’t make sense when some eat like mice and others eat like elephants.

Indeed, consider if there wasn’t a cap on overage charges (currently $25/month for wired Internet). All these “plans” offering different speeds would go away, and Rogers would be falling over itself to deliver a better, faster experience that allowed you to use more bandwidth. Instead, dealing with that top 3% leaves them hurting everyone to prevent their network from breaking. Throttling, if it existed, would be there to help you prevent your bill from getting too high.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still quite unhappy with Rogers. And CRTC proposals that allow network owners to cap per-user even when you’re buying from a third-party ISP are just wrong (because it eliminates any semblance of competition). I just think ISPs should be able offer whatever services they want as long as they are honest about it (in the big print, not the small print) – and I think if we paid for what we used, then it would end this conflict of interest where ISPs want to charge you for the biggest plan – while incurring the lowest possible cost.

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