January 9, 2011
OpenMedia original article
An Open letter Concerning a Not-So-Open Internet
Two of OpenMedia.ca's Facebook friends, Derek Scott and Marnie McCrank, put this letter together and sent it to as many companies, politicians and media outlets they could find contact info for. They are encouraging others to do the same and we wholeheartedly endorse this action.
As I turn on my computer to begin this letter, I log into Windows and receive a notification that an update is available for Java. Something I’ve seen a hundred times before and never really given much thought to. But this time something else crosses my mind; how big is the update? How much data will be downloaded to my computer? I read each of the prompts that come up on my screen, a little more closely than previously, looking for some indication of file size, but I see nothing. I go ahead with the update, but not without some concern. The issue? Something as simple as a software update on my computer may actually end up costing me money.
The new Usage Based Billing systems coming into place with the big Internet Providers in Canada will mean a lot more restriction and monitoring of the things we do every day. Products we have already paid for, services we have already subscribed to (along with their monthly or annual bills) will now be subject to overage fees, adding more cost onto what we already pay. Where we could once pay a single monthly bill for our internet, we will now be paying not only the bill, but also the extra fees for having used more data than the Internet Service Providers think we should be using.
I have a few internet connected devices in my home aside from just a computer. Most Canadians would agree that a household with a single computer used simply for checking email and doing online banking is no longer the norm in our society. When most people hear talk of “large downloads” and Internet Providers cracking down on “excessive users”, to most this brings up thoughts of people using file sharing, or peer-to-peer programs to share music and movies across the internet. But with the prevalence of so many internet connected devices found in almost every home, and with legitimate online video and music streaming services being introduced, “large downloads” is something that now applies to everyone, whether they fully realize it or not.
I have an Xbox360. I use it to watch videos, play online multiplayer games with friends, download game demos, and to purchase and download full games through Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. As my monthly bandwidth allotment from my Internet Provider disappears, I will simply stop using it. I have already paid for my Xbox, the use of the online service through my Xbox Live Gold account, the games themselves, and for my internet access. With Usage Based Billing I will be expected to pay yet again if I don’t monitor my usage closely enough.
I should not be paying more for services that I already pay for.
This does not only apply to people with Xbox 360’s, but also to anyone with a Sony Playstation or a Nintendo Wii in their home. It would be safe to assume that the majority of people in this country that have an internet connection have at least one of these gaming devices in their home. Even if it’s in your son’s or daughter’s room and you never actually use it yourself, it’s the same as any other computer connected to your home network. We paid for them, in some cases we pay extra for the fuller online experience, and now we will be expected to pay yet again, each month, due to these new bandwidth restrictions. Higher monthly bills will result in people placing more restrictions on usage, watching their bandwidth meter, making sure they’ll be able to afford their internet bill for the month.
I don’t use it myself, but I know there are a number of people that purchase music, movies and television shows through Apple’s iTunes. Having paid for your videos, perhaps in High Definition format, downloading them, and then being charged again at the end of the month due to the size of the videos themselves, is completely unfair.
I subscribe to Netflix. I have been using it on both my home computers and my Xbox. Although now with the new changes coming into effect, when I find a movie on Netflix I want to watch, I’ll be checking to see how much more, on top of the fee I have already paid to Netflix, the movie might end up costing me. Again, paying more for services that I already pay for.
I use an online backup service called Crashplan. All of my computer files are backed up daily to their secure servers, leaving me the peace of mind that if our home was broken into or anything was destroyed in a fire, all of my files and programs would be safe. Already paying an annual fee for the service, I may well have to give up this peace of mind in order to keep my internet bill at an affordable level.
As an addition to this full online backup service, I also use a service called Dropbox. This enables me to keep certain files in sync across all of my computers, as well as my Smartphone. A very handy and reliable service, but also one that uses data over my home internet connection. Again, I pay an annual fee for this service, but may end up being charged even more on top of that as a result of the new Usage Based Billing.
I use Last.fm. This is an online radio service that customizes radio stations for me based on my listening habits. I sometime have it playing for most of the day as I do things around the house, but this will have to stop, as I can’t risk the constant data stream pushing my internet bill up and up.
I have friends that use VoIP services; Voice over IP (internet telephone, as opposed to the normal telephones most are familiar with). These services, such as Vonage and Skype, eliminate the need for an extra telephone bill in their homes, and provide long distance savings. But with the overage fees charged by the Internet Providers, they will no longer be the money saving services they were meant to be.
In addition to the PC’s, laptops, and the Xbox I have in my house, I also have a Smartphone. I recently made the switch to an Android based phone, but this will also apply to anyone who has an iPhone, Blackberry, or any other internet enabled phone that can connect to a Wi-Fi network. When at home I keep my phone connected to my home Wi-Fi. Anyone who has a Smartphone knows that these devices transmit a fair amount of data; keeping email, calendar and contacts in sync, various Apps that update in the background at set intervals, downloading new Apps, and, as with most Smartphone’s today, the majority are more than capable of streaming video from YouTube and a number of other online services. With the new Usage Based Billing, my phone is one more device connected to my network when at home, using up the limited bandwidth, and eventually costing me even more by the end of the month.
There are also certain things that are harder to control in our online world when it comes to data consumption; Windows Update is a perfect example. These are the fixes issued by Microsoft for their Windows Operating System that, in most people’s cases, download and install automatically in the background. The only User intervention required is after the updates are finished installing, you get that familiar prompt that your system needs to be restarted. And so the questions: how much data was downloaded during this process? If you were already very close to your monthly bandwidth allowance, did this push you over? Did these updates actually end up costing you more money? The last time I installed my copy of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook), I remember a number of updates being required through Windows Update, and they were not small in size. Having already purchased the software, I don’t believe I should be charged again for installing the necessary upgrades.
As careful as you might be in regards to the data being transferred in your household, making sure the next bill to come in is within the affordable range, things like background updates for your Operating System, as well as any Anti-Virus and Spyware programs you may be using (on each of the PC’s in your home, mind you), and other updates for any of the software installed on your computer, will also be added to your total data consumption. I’ll admit, these software updates, each on their own, are usually not very large, and so it would be easy to dismiss them. But when added together with the web surfing, online banking and shopping, emailing, Youtubing, Facebooking, video/audio streaming, online gaming (on PC or console), and all the other random data transfer that we have never really had to think too much about in the past, this adds up. And the higher the data consumption climbs, the higher the bill will be at the end of the month.
I certainly don’t like the idea, nor do I think it’s fair, that at the end of any given month, I might find myself very close to the bandwidth allotment given to me, and having to decide if uploading that new video to Facebook is worth an extra dollar or two on my internet bill, or having to weigh the cost of emailing the photos I took at Christmas to my family. Why should my Internet Provider get to cash in on things that are supposed to be free? I already pay for my internet access, as I always have, but now that will not be enough. In order to keep my bill at a reasonable level I will be expected to monitor the usage of every internet connected device in my home (including friends that might stop by with their laptop, netbook or Smartphone), and in some cases will be forced to eliminate certain things and cancel certain services altogether.
It is not too late to change this. As with this letter, there are ways of making sure people are informed about this issue and how, in the end, it will affect their daily lives. The companies and service providers, like the ones I mentioned above, should also be made aware, that if things continue down this road they will in fact be losing customers, as a lot of us will simply not be able to afford their services due to the extra fees being charged by our Internet Providers.
Our society is evolving. Online services and connected devices have become an integral part of our daily lives, for both work and pleasure. The cost of these devices and services is something we weigh at the time of purchase, but now there will be an additional factor to consider; how much more will I have to pay each month to my Internet Provider in order to use them?
If you're looking for a way to make this issue known, and to show your support, sign the Stop The Meter petition and encourage your contacts/customers to do the same.
If you are a part of an organization please endorse and otherwise support the Stop The Media campaign. You can reach OpenMedia.ca, the organization running the campaign, by emailing: email@example.com
This letter composed with Google Documents. Online. Using bandwidth.
Also, below are email addresses for various newspapers, news sites, and government officials. Either copy and send this letter, or write your own, but let them know that this is something that you're not happy about. Some of the newspapers are local to Vancouver, so find the ones in your area.