Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Network neutrality: the battle begins

Via BoingBoing, I saw this article about T-Mobile U.K. and their new fair-use policy. It relates to the recent FCC rules that give mobile carriers a pass on network neutrality, allowing them more flexibility — we might say, allowing them to violate neutrality. While the U.S. Federal Communications Commission rules obviously don’t apply to a carrier in the United Kingdom, the tone that it sets, the tone that the Google/Verizon agreement set, is felt throughout the world.

Here’s what T-Mobile is saying in the U.K.:

From the beginning of next month, the policy will limit customers to 500MB a month, down from 1GB or 3GB, depending on the contract. If you want to download, stream and watch video clips, save that stuff for your home broadband, a document on the T-Mobile site said.

A T-Mobile spokesperson has said the new policy will apply to all customers, including those who have already signed contracts with a higher cap. A message on the company’s official Twitter account said: We have to give you reasonable notice that our fair use policy is changing.

T-Mobile is touting the change as a benefit for customers, saying they won’t be charged for going over that 500MB limit. Instead, they’ll simply be banned for the rest of the month from downloading large files or viewing video via their handsets.

Browsing means looking at websites and checking email, but not watching videos, downloading files or playing games, the company claimed. We’ve got a fair use policy, but ours means that you’ll always be able to browse the internet, it’s only when you go over the fair use amount that you won’t be able to download, stream and watch video clips.

This kind of thing is exactly what many of us fear from any rule that distinguishes wireless/mobile Internet from home broadband. Had these sorts of restrictions been in place for wireline Internet access, many innovations, many services and web sites that we take for granted now would never have been able to exist. By implication, putting such restrictions on mobile access to the Internet will block new and innovative uses and services, keeping them from ever getting off the ground.

Think about some of the stuff we’re used to, that millions of Internet users depend on every day. Oversimplifying, a bit:

  1. YouTube was enabled by the lack of limitations on data transfer. If you have to pay by the megabyte, watching videos, even low-quality, highly compressed ones, gets too expensive too fast.
  2. Facebook was enabled by the elimination of time constraints on online use. Remember when you got 50 hours a month of Internet access, and had to pay by the hour (or minute) for more?
  3. Twitter was enabled by the always on aspect of Internet access. It just wouldn’t have ever worked if when you got the urge to tweet you had to go to your computer and dial up through your modem.

The wireless carriers want to change at least some of those aspects, and if we accept their doing that we’ll accept the limitations on technology development that goes with it.

Watch YouTube at home, not on your mobile, says T-Mobile U.K.

Bollocks!, we need to say back. Change carriers while there’s still a choice, and show the other carriers what we think of that sort of policy. Even if you’ll never use more than 500 MB in a month, find a new carrier that doesn’t have this limitation. Take a stand on network neutrality before it’s too late to.


Ray said...

Change carriers while there’s still a choice...

But surely, once one carrier has made this change, don't you think the others will simply follow suit?

Barry Leiba said...

Maybe... but maybe some, at least, will get the message that the last carriers not to will wind up with all the business.