The utility of network consumption speedometers

The utility of network consumption speedometers

Over two years ago, I focused on the issue of making sure you got your money’s worth on network speeds and talked about seeing a network speedometer that you could always know how fast a speed you were getting. My focus was to question the accuracy of service that the average consumer paid for. Would you pay for a gallon of gas, if the pump was only pumping out three quarts and registering a gallon? No way.
Some thought that idea was ridiculous and others thought that it would be useful to see what exactly you were getting for what you paid for. Are you getting that extra speed you are paying for? Is it constant? A lot of questions could be easily answered. Maybe they could be too easily answered, from the carriers’ perspectives.
Evidently, some of the cable companies are going in a different direction with ideas of metering usage to limit capacities of how much you can download per month. Will we start to see a meter or icon appear on our screens that look like this?

YOU HAVE……17.455 Gigabytes left this month.

This was first discussed as Consumption Based Billing at Time Warner in the early part of this year. Others are looking at this as a way to limit downloads as well. Over capacity charges range from $1.25 to $4 a gigabyte at some companies. So if you are over by 10 gigabytes, you could incur a $40 “extra charge”.
COMCAST will limit its customers
As of October 1, 2008, COMCAST is putting into effect a policy that limits the amount of usage of capacity.
As pointed out, the idea of limiting the amount you can download is not unique to COMCAST, other cable companies are looking at this as well according to an article in DSLReports.
COMCAST does not think it is limiting the residential consumer that much. In their amendment to their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), COMCAST defines what the monthly 250 Gigabytes can accommodate.
250 GB/month is an extremely large amount of data, much more than a typical residential customer uses on a monthly basis. Currently, the median monthly data usage by our residential customers is approximately 2 – 3 GB. To put 250 GB of monthly usage in perspective, a customer would have to do any one of the following:* Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)* Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)* Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)* Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)
For the most part, that is more than what a vast majority would use in a month and comparing it with other companies’ proposed limits it is substantially more generous. Some other cable companies are looking at 30-60 Gigabytes per month as the threshold. But will that average usage grow for the average user?
In Japan, NTT has set 900 Gigabytes as the threshold number for uploads before extra charges are incurred. What new applications that could be potential bandwidth hogs be on the horizon? Does Japan know something that we don’t?
Should consumption be a real-time meter?
Will the cable companies send some type of warning like this so you don’t incur an overcharge?

YOU HAVE……1.222 Gigabytes left this month.

How reliable are these “metering” capabilities? Has anyone set any standards of how and what this metering should look like? What about accuracy?
That was one of the big problems with electrical utilities decades ago. Their metering equipment was not accurate. There are still utilities that have faulty measuring devices and consumers have to question their accuracy.
In the case of Time Warner, Frontier, COMCAST, and all the rest; who is going to ascertain their “digital capacity meters” are accurate? The FCC? Even the utilities that have been around for decades, if not over a century, still have billing problems due to inaccurate readings and billing calculations.
Will you see something like this if you go over your monthly gigabyte limit?

Gigabytes this month.

These are questions that should be answered before policies and procedures get put in place impacting the average user and their monthly bill.
CARLINI-ISM: Establishing measuring metrics is a sure sign of a company trying to be a utility.

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and is president of Carlini & Associates. He can be reached at or 773-370-1888. Check out his blog at Carlinis
This article previously appeared in, and was reprinted with its permission.
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