Why metering threatens the Internet

May 6, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

Josh Silver of Free Press tells us why metering threatens the Internet

Cable companies Time Warner and Comcast, and phone giants AT&T and Verizon sell the vast majority of high-speed Internet service in the United States. Phone and cable companies like these have no other competition in 97% of US markets, thanks to corrupt policies passed by the Bush Administration at the companies’ behest.

These duopolies are betting on the future of their “triple-play” phone-Internet-TV service, so that you’ll pay them more than $100 per month and they can keep earning record profits. They know that if you start downloading video from online innovators like Hulu.com and Roku.com, eventually you won’t need their expensive, advertising-ridden television service. If you decide to use online phone providers like Skype, you won’t need their expensive phone service. The answer? Jack up the cost of Internet, and once again eliminate the competition.

But that’s not all.   Metering Internet usage also  has ramifications for journalism.

We continue to learn about Madonna’s adoption problems and Ms. California’s old photos, but if you want substance in your news, you’ll have to look beyond corporate media’s steady stream of sensationalism, celebrity gossip and product placement. We need fast, neutral, affordable Internet that can deliver video, audio and other multimedia to enable efficient production and distribution of journalism and other educational content.

If I’m reading Silver correctly, he’s not totally against all surcharges for truly high-volume users.   And it does make sense, in the abstract, that those who barely use any bandwidth would pay less than those who stream videos and music all day.    But I agree with Silver’s concerns that the telecoms need to be closely regulated on this issue.  But who would do the regulating, given that the telecoms have successfully purchased undue influence over Congress with their ostensibly legal campaign contributions?  It seems as though we need campaign finance reform before we’re going to have Congressional independence on any issue.

On a separate issue relating to media, consider listening to Arianna Huffington’s testimony before the Commerce Communications subcommitte, chaired by Senator John Kerry.   She makes many worthy points.  I am concerned, though, that she is overly optimistic that journalism would thrive in a world without newspapers.  Based on what I see, much of the Internet is filled with content that has its origin with traditional newspapers and news magazines.  Many these newspapers are doing terrible work because they’re laying off reporters and because they put profits way ahead of journalism.   Yet I’m not convinced that Internet news sites are ready or able to step into the void to do this job well enough on the scale handled by traditional media outlets.   I hope I’m wrong about this–I hope that we are about to see a golden age of Internet journalism–because I don’t see newspapers ever making a big comeback.


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Category: Corruption, Media, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    On a more basic level metering the internet creates a strong financial disincentive to expand the internet and puts us further behind the rest of the world. Greed is not compatible with innovation and freedom.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: Excellent point regarding the financial incentives. In the article I linked, industry reps dispel the notion (raised by telecoms to support their position that we need to cap usage) that we have reached a point where the Internet is clogged up with traffic. Given that there is so much room to grow, we need to keep the incentive to grow.

  2. Tony Coyle says:

    Another challenge with 'metering' is that the user has virtually no control over the bandwidth requirements of any particular site.

    With the growth in bandwidth heavy sites (MySpace is particularly egregious) it becomes impossible for anyone to police their 'usage' reliably.

    It seems that America got the cellphone thing almost right (charging the caller a premium to call a cellphone, as happens in Europe, is profoundly stupid) – although rates are ludicrously high for almost everything (I see most telecoms still manage to eek out a living, even in the recession).

    But they're trying to move the cellphone structure to internet – which is fundamentally wrong. Data is not voice (as the cell companies keep telling us by charging us for every bit) even though it really is (!)

    The majority of internet connections are heavily one way (distinctly different to phone traffic). Upstream transfers are generally limited to minor uploads (for google page ranks stats and the like) cookie management, and so on. Those people who upload their photo albums in high res are still (and will always be) in the minority. Even myspace, facebook and the like are predominantly 'download'.

    This allows ISPs to save bandwidth by using local caching (a la akamai) which means they can charge users multiple times for using the 'same' bandwidth.

    Metering, in the context of broadband delivery, is just another word for gouging.

  3. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    The metering arguments also fail to address the huge amount of dark fiber installed in the Clinton administration, subsidized with taxpayer money, that the telcos seem to have conviently forgotten about. Most of this fiber was installed late in the administration by smaller telco (Global Crossing, Qwest, Worldcom) acting as contractors. The small telcos were then gobbled up by the baby bells during the Pacman frenzy that occurred early in G-Dub's administration. I've seen various estimates that say anywhere from 60 to 95 percent of this fiber is not in use.

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