As many may know, Time Warner (the local provider of Road Runner in Rochester, New York) has expressed its plans to begin a market test in our area that limits the amount of data we can send and receive over the Internet, which is referred to as a “cap”. Once we reach a set limit, they will start billing us $1 per GB of data transfer. Is this reasonable? Should you be concerned?
Active Data Usage
As a small business owner, I use my Internet connection to connect to customer sites and perform work. I also access a ticketing system to track all the customer requests, and my progress on competing each task. I occasionally need to download “ISO” CD images of the latest Linux distribution called Ubuntu. These files are at least 650MB each. With web surfing, iTunes podcast downloads, the children playing games, the babysitter on youtube, myspace, and whatever else we do on-line, I have no idea how much data I use. I suspect that most of the users out there also have no clue.
So, what uses data? Let me name the things you can do to generate traffic on the Internet:
- Web surfing (duh)
- On-line banking
- Uploading photos to flikr, facebook, myspace, etc
- Windows Updates (this also usually runs w/o you asking it to)
- Other programs “phoning home” to be sure they are up to date
- Adobe Reader
- Open Office
- Firefox and its add-ons
- Anti-Virus: McAfee, Norton, AVG, etc
- Anti-Spyware: spybot, adaware, etc
- Accessing iTunes (it auto-downloads song/album information when you import a CD)
- Playing on-line games make heavy use of data
- Watching TV on-line: hulu.com, netflix.com, nbc.com, Apple TV
- VoIP (telephone service over the Internet): Vonage, Skype, Google Talk, Phone Power, Voicepulse, Broadvoice, etc
Our entire lives have become digital per se, and dependent on the Internet to communicate and do business. Many of the activities above are conducted by average users of the Internet. I consider these activities to be voluntary, but some users don’t have the knowledge required to edit the settings or disable the software that uses the Internet and consumes data.
Involuntary Data Usage
We’ve looked at all the ways that an Internet user can consume data on a debatable voluntary basis, but what about the traffic on the Internet that we have no control over? There are many virii and worms that create traffic and they are designed to keep themselves hidden from us so we don’t know about their existence. There’s also “bad neighbors” on the Internet that have nothing more to do than exploit or gain access to systems that they have no business gaining access to. While they are attempting to gain access, they are sending data to our computers rapidly, trying to trick the software into letting them in. This generates tons of traffic, of course. If they are successful, who knows what they will be doing? Not me, but it’s likely that their activities are for the purpose of using your Internet connection – at your expense! Let’s list these and other ways you may incur data charges without your knowledge or consent:
- Virii, spyware
- Hackers trying to break in to your computer
- Wireless users in your area “borrowing” your signal
- Many wireless networks in my area are NOT secure,
- Some “secure” WiFi networks use Frontier or Time Warner equipment, and use a simple password or key. It might not look simple, but it’s easy to deduce based on the information that the router is broadcasting voluntarily over the airways!
There’s likely to be many more ways to use data that are not mentioned here, but the above should be enough to scare the pudding out of you!
More about wireless security and security in general… if you think there are problems with wireless security now, and people borrowing your Internet connection, just wait! If Time Warner customers are limited on their own bandwidth, some of them will still want to download bad enough that they’ll drive around looking for a wireless signal that they can use. If it’s your router they connect to (which with the right equipment can be done as far away as 1 mile!) you’ll be receiving the bill for their activities! Furthermore, as the bandwidth caps become more annoying to users that just can’t get enough of the on-line experience, many of them will become more sophisticated, and crack your “secure” wireless networks.
Shouldn’t we pay for what we use?
I’ve heard the arguments that if we use more electricity, we pay for it… more gas, we pay for it. So, why shouldn’t the Internet be the same? Picture a rule that whenever someone used your driveway you paid for it. When you left for work it cost you $1, when you returned, $1. Your kids come home, $2 (2 kids, right?) The UPS delivery man arrives, $2 (once up the driveway, once down). The list goes on and on. The Internet is our driveway to the rest of the electronic world, it shouldn’t be nickel-and-dime’d to death!
Another point is that we pay for a connection which maxes out at a specific speed, and the provider sets up their network to provide that speed to the consumers in the area. They use a mathematical equation to determine % of use and oversell the service. If too many customers in the area are downloading at the same time, the connection for every user slows down as the pipes get clogged. This is the same thing that happens at 7:30 AM when everyone just happens to be rushing out of the house to drive to work. Traffic increases, the highways get clogged and the cars move slower. This is a fact of life that we’ve learned to accept. The government hasn’t decided to cap the number of times we can drive on the road without incurring an additional charge in an effort to fix the problem. Why should Time Warner be any different? There’s such a thing as peak usage!
Time Warner and Frontier have been in an advertising war over the past few years, each playing “leapfrog” and claiming to have the fastest connection. We have 2Mbps. Oh we have 3. Really? We just went up to 5! To put it into perspective, most businesses only have 1.5Mbps on the T1 they bring in! However, they’ve both advertised about why we need more speed, and why we must choose the fastest connection to make use of all the Internet services. So, the masses go running to the fastest provider, sign up and start using their service to download music, browse the ever-more-bloated websites, etc. They’ve done such a successful job at advertising, that we’re all downloading – like they said we needed to. But wait! Now that you’re actually making good use of the service they sold you, TW wants to charge you per Gb so they can reduce the traffic on the network and not have to upgrade it to keep up with the demand they’ve created with their campaign. That kinda sounds like a drug dealer… get you hooked then raise the price and reduce the supply to make you want it more.
Is this a real concern?
Many of you may be wondering if this is really something that you should be concerned about. Netflix offers a box to watch movies from home on your TV without waiting for them to be shipped to your home. You can also play them on your home computer. iTunes offers movie downloads, TV episode downloads, etc. Hulu, the same thing. AppleTV? Yup! All these businesses make money by selling you their content over the Internet for our convenience. Adding a per Gb “tax” on this content challenges the business plan of these companies that have come to rely on the consumer having a broadband Internet connection!
The point here is, one of the caps that Time Warner is offering for a similar price to the current service, is 5Gb/month. If you were to watch one (1), yes, 1 HD movie on netflix, that would use 3Gb of your cap. If you watch 2 in an entire 1 month period, you’re paying $1 extra in that month, and you haven’t done anything else on the Internet yet. That’s right, no on-line banking, no youtube, no iTunes store, no downloading updates to keep your computer secure, etc.
Still not convinced? Take a look at the “Involuntary data usage” section again! If you have a router (your own, OR provided by Tine Warner), your Internet connection is active even if your computer is off! An attacker could be trying to gain access to something, not even knowing that the prize (computer) is not available – but they won’t know until they are successful at breaking in. By then, they’ve used an unknown quantity of data to trick the router into letting them in, and you’ve paid for it. Literally!
It’s no wonder that their plans are drawing tons of negative attention!
I took the liberty of speaking with another small business owner in Henrietta, who also works on PCs and uses the Internet to service his customers. He brings PCs to his home office, re-installs Windows, downloads the updates, downloads Adobe, Java, etc and readies the computer for use. With this type of metering in place, he’d have to charge his customers extra to work on their PCs! “So, that’ll $50/hr plus $2/Gb for all the software that I have to download to update your computer.” How does he accurately provide estimates to his customers?
This small business owner happens to have a router that can monitor his data usage. Out of curiosity, he looked at what his bill would have been if he was on this plan that is proposed, and supposedly coming whether we like it or not. Based on his overages, the bill would have been over $600 last month!
It should be no secret by now that I have a very negative take on this idea. We all need to voice our opinion on this matter or we all suffer together. Once one company does this successfully, others will follow and cite this event as their justification. If you think about it, if this happens with one provider, it gives that provider a monetary competitive advantage. Their data usage goes down, their income goes up, and the competition is forced to implement the same changes to keep up.
You could easily say that the Internet has become so much a part of our lives that it’s essential to todays way of conducting our lives and business. To limit what we can do on-line with massive overage fees could be considered a violation of the first amendment. Our congressman seems to agree.
Sign the on-line petitions: