How Internet metering changes everything

Did you really think the major ISPs' quest for enforced Internet tiering and metering was about bandwidth?

Bigger, better, faster, more -- those have been the main tenets of networking since the first IMP (Interface Message Processor) spat out the first packet. Just look how far we've come: from the text-centric 9600-baud UUCP connections through 10Base-2 and 10Base-T Ethernet through switched 100Mbit, gigabit, 10G, 40G, and 100G. The bandwidth limitations of fiber optics have yet to be determined, and last year, research teams cracked 100 terabits in the lab.

The science of internetworking does not slow down. It does not go backward -- well, unless you're a major ISP in the United States. Then, apparently, your networking technology remains frozen in time, and you're forced to pull out all of the stops to conserve bandwidth. That's presumably why this dark cloud of tiered and metered Internet access continues to hang over our heads.

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For years now, big ISPs have been playing games with "trial runs" of metered and tiered Internet in some of their service areas. Generally, they will choose an area lacking any reasonable alternative for broadband Internet, because the affected customers would more than likely jump ship to the competition -- if it existed. We're asked to believe these steps are necessary to alleviate the skyrocketing costs associated with serving more customers, yet all the while networking vendors have been producing equipment that has been increasing available core bandwidth exponentially, in many cases using the already-present fiber plant. You'd think that when a big ISP can deliver 40Gb to a service area over the same eight strands of fiber that previously carried 4Gb, that bandwidth would be getting cheaper, not more expensive.

Almost a year and a half ago, I made fun of Canada in a post that may have sailed over the line of allowable whimsy. The CRTC has backed away from the legislation that would have turned Canada into a metered Internet wasteland, yet provided a goldmine for Canadian ISPs. Good for you, Canada. Now work on that science thing.

Sadly, we here in the States may fail where Canada has succeeded. Although the cost, bit for bit, of long-distance bandwidth delivery has never been lower, the big ISPs are still claiming poverty and wringing their hands about "bandwidth hogs" and the uptick in video streaming services, all the while sending much of that data across data paths constructed through subsidies and grants from the U.S. government. What a truly desperate scenario, indeed -- falling costs to deliver a gigabyte of data end to end, and increasing retail prices at the same time. Woe be unto the ISPs. Yet Google is able to drop gigabit fiber connections to residences in Kansas City -- and Time Warner is freaking out about it.

The fact is that metered Internet service has very little to do with conserving bandwidth. The carriers don't really care that much about usage in the long run. In truth, most of the big ISPs have figured out that they don't want to be just ISPs anymore. They aren't satisfied making a very significant profit carrying the data from one place to another. They also want to be content providers and get paid all the way around, much to the detriment of everyone.

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