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Eastpointe, Michigan, United States
Graduate of CCS. All around creative person, science enthusiast, technological adept, heavy metal killing machine.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Metering the Internet is a Bad Idea

On the recent episode of This Week in Tech (TWiT), John C. Dvorak was advocating why the Internet should be metered. He compared it to water, in that you pay for water that gets piped into your house from whatever water company/source you happen to have near you. Water is indeed, not free, and people who use more water than others, get charged more for that water. The problem is that the Internet has nothing in common water.

In writing this little article, I'm considering whether or not to just unload and flame off on John C. Dvorak, but I actually hold a certain amount of respect for the man. Even if he is wrong about this (everyone is wrong sometimes), he's usually level-headed and makes some good points about things. However, by propagating the Water Analogy, he's hurting the possibilities of fair pricing in the future.

First thing, the Internet is not water. Water is an expendable resource. It's limited. Data created for the Internet, is not expendable. When people use bits, they don't disappear. When you download an image, the 1s and 0s don't disappear. Water disappears into a person or goes down the drain for later processing. The only time information dies, is if it's packet TTL (Time To Live) runs out. But that's more like a leak in a pipe, rather than information being connsumed.

The second thing is the Internet is not processed. Once a page is coded, it's done. Once a file is up, there's no need to clean it. Water is cleaned and processed before it reaches your home. This has to happen, so you don't drink something bad, get sick, and die, which I hear is very inconvenient.

Third thing, when information goes across the Internet, it doesn't wear down the wiring. The copper, cable, phone, fiber optics, whatever, don't wear down from data going across them (as far as I know this is true, I've yet to hear of cases of this). Water wears down the pipes it flows in. That's the nature of the beast. Flowing water, wears down whatever it touches, flowing information does not.

Now, that takes care of that analogy, it's a pretty bad one. It feels really rushed to, like there are two things you pay for, water and Internet, and you just compare the two. Now, a good analogy is hard to ignore, and I happen to have one for this situation. I call it: Bringing the Library to You.

This may be something hard to do, but remember the last time you went to a library? Do you remember how much you paid to get in? Do you remember paying to look at a book? Did you pay by the page? By the word? Did you have to pay to check the book out and take it home?

I hope you answered no to that. The last time I went to a library, I didn't have to pay anything to do those things. I think the only thing I paid for was the library card, and that what something like $2. Probably for the cost of the material of the card itself. Public libraries are funded by the public, but you don't have to pay to enter, read, or check a book out.

In this analogy, the Internet is a big library. I mean a really, really, really big library. You can look at any page, download anything to keep, read as much as you want, and you don't pay for that. With the Internet, you don't pay to read, you pay to have the library brought to you. That monthly bill is the cost of letting you get the Internet, the biggest library ever made, at your finger tips and in your own living space.

When you pay for the Internet, you pay for two major things: the upkeep of the delivery system, the servers that maneuver you around the web, and the expansion and increasing of the speed and bandwidth. You don't pay for what you download. You don't pay by the byte, and you shouldn't. Imagine going to a library and having to put $5 dollars in a cash machine to get in the front door. Then, you have to put a coin into a machine for every book search you want to do. Then, when you find a book, you have to put more coins into the spine of the book to turn the pages.

Some may say that's really extreme, but that's what metering the Internet is. It makes you pay for each download, each song (on top of whatever cost you're paying), every movie, every podcast, all those Youtube videos, Twitlive.tv, audiobooks, Amazon, the list goes on and on. Not only would you be paying by the byte, ISPs also want to charge websites for the bandwidth they use.

Some may think that the ISPs wouldn't do this, but remember this. Cable companies' main business is making people pay for premium channels, in addition, to paying for normal channels. They have a tiered cable system. Phone companies make you pay by the download. Every picture and ringtone and text message costs money.

I know that's not the Internet I want.