The internet we currently have is riddled with malware ads for revenue, network neutrality is threatened in the name of profit, and little headway has been made on reforming copyright.
Could we use the way internet service pricing is structured to change that? I think so.
Instead of one figure covering everything, an ISP should charge a flat rate for the actual connection, a tiny per-MB fee for data usage that the customer initiates, and credit the customer an even tinier per-MB fee for data usage that someone else initiates from the customer.
Such a pricing model would acknowledge the value of data as being the reason people connect to the internet at all. It would provide a revenue model for websites that doesn’t involve advertising. It would encourage filesharing. It would even encourage internet service to be thought of as a utility like electricity or water, framing the net neutrality issue in a sane way.
Problems with the idea include that it encourages website size bloat, the potential difficulty in determining who initiates data usage without being too invasive, and getting the ISP industry to adopt the model to begin with.
I’ve been turning this idea over in my head for a while, but I’m not really in a position to do anything with it. So I’ll settle for spreading it around. What do people think? Is there a major flaw I’ve missed? Any obvious improvements?
You can’t create an arbitrary value to charge for something. It’s a bit like introducing a carbon tax in Australia except the whole world is producing content and you are very very minor supplier even for your home market. It will just further disincentivise local content. It is not like crediting for producing power back to the grid like running your own solar farm.
You have to solve the problem with mutual self interest. The core problem of the internet is that many of it’s protocols make assumptions about trust and selflessness. This is what is exploited.
W3C is designing and building a model for next generaton of the net, and it is very promising both conceptually and many of the protocols and technologies emerging. One of these is around ownership of data - where you actually own and control data about you - not through some legislation and compliance regime - but cryptographically giving you actual control rather than the illusion of it like at present.
The other point your raising is about payment for providing content. Micro-transactions to either the end users or content aggregators (which could be an ISP, but dont forget they are in competition with ISPs that wont pay it, and if your a content producer in Australia your going to starve selling your content to Australian ISPs) No one is paying for your content if its not for themselves or to make money from. No law can change that.
I’m a bit confused by the wording of your proposal. When you say ‘customer’, are you referring to end users and webhosts/content providers interchangeably? i.e. when I view a webpage, I’m charged and the site owner gets money and when someone tries to download a file from me, I get money and the recipient is charged? Or are you saying that people viewing advertisements should be credited on their internet bill (then the ISP charges the content provider?)
Also I’m unclear on how you’d charge in either scenario because they don’t really work if you talk in terms of who ‘initiates’ connections. Basically everything you view on the web comes through connections initiated by your browser, even third-party ads. To your ISP, there’s no difference between connecting to the website you typed in your address bar and connecting to whatever sites host the content shown on that page. Indeed, if advertisers could open connections to your computer whenever they felt like it, the web would be a very scary place.
Either way I think it’s an interesting thought experiment, but totally unworkable from technical and business standpoints. Not to mention… a massive threat to net neutrality in the name of profit!
Yes, I’m referring to end users and webhosts interchangeably. In my mind there isn’t any difference beyond the quality of their connections and the physical locations.
Figuring out who requested what is technically tricky, but necessary. Otherwise, if you just debited for downloads and credited for uploads, anyone could spam anyone else and get paid for it.
But yes, the idea is that any data transfer that happens as a result of something you request (in your browser or whatever other method) is something you get charged for. Third party ads included. So it gives even more incentive to use an ad blocker. Any data transfer that happens as a result of someone requesting something from you (eg hosting a website on a home server) should be something you get credited for.
Every internet connection should be enabled for the highest possible speed at that location. Internet speed should not be determined by socioeconomic status. Charging extra for higher amounts of downloaded data makes sense. Another option is speed throttling after a bandwidth limit is exceeded. ISPs have limited total bandwidth to share with their customers, and data limits discourage wasteful consumption of a finite resource. We literally can’t handle every customer downloading at full speed all the time. Uploads should be free to encourage content creation and hosting content at home (Diaspora, anyone?) but I don’t agree with jebd’s proposal to credit the customer for uploading data. It sounds nice in theory, if you were designing a new internet from scratch, but right now the biggest types of data coming out of Australian residencies are social media posts, gaming data, and illegal bittorrent uploads going overseas. None of these are worthy of monetary reward.
You have just described the current ad-riddled internet as served over copper. The idea is to restructure incentives to get away from that.
Bandwidth is a renewable resource though, not finite. Contention ratios and guaranteed service levels are already points of price differentiation and I don’t know of any reasons that should be changed.
The value of connecting to a network is in the data you can access from it. People are requesting that data. Therefore, it has value. By acknowledging that it gives the network value and compensating the source for it, other less desirable revenue models are discouraged. An ISP should not be in the business of deciding what is and isn’t worth something.
Vaguely related anecdote: back in the dark ages (i.e. the mid-nineties), I had a chat to someone at Melbourne Uni (who was probably involved with AARNet, I forget now), who explained how Australia’s internet connection to the US worked. It was all about paying for data, specifically:
If an organisation in Australia got a pipe connected to the US, the AU org had to pay the US org for data it received from them by volume (data and/or bandwidth being valuable).
The US org wouldn’t pay the Australian org for data going the other way (or possibly would pay a pittance), because, basically, all the data was in the US, and there was nothing interesting coming out of Australia.
I’ve no idea whether or not this is still the case.
There are limits to how much data can be transferred from your device to your modem (WiFi), to the local phone exchange (ADSL, Fiber), to the ISP (backbone), to other ISPs (peering), and to other countries (submarine cables). Years ago Exetel had an excellent page showing how much of their international bandwidth was being consumed each hour (it was often near 100%) but they appear to have removed it.
Why would an Australian ISP pay a customer for uploading a video to a Snapchat server in the US? Or for uploading torrent chunks to a teen in Estonia? The foreign ISP will not pay the Australian ISP for the data, so money has to come from other Australian customers who aren’t benefiting from the data that was sent overseas.
You seem to be describing an international trade agreement. If you could get several important countries to agree, including US and UK where much data lives, then maybe you could reshape the way the world pays for international data transfer. I think it’s outside the scope of PPAU.
An ideal implementation would debit the customer for uploading a video to Snapchat, as the customer requested that, and credit the customer for the torrent chunk, as the teen in Estonia requested that. Proper detection of this is a major technical hurdle, because while it’s relatively easy to figure out who initiates a TCP connection, it’s not so easy with UDP and other protocols.
Not at all. As long as the amount of data movement requests originating from the ISP’s customers exceeds the amount directed to the ISP’s customers from elsewhere, then there’s no problem even if everyone else is on the old payment model. Not a big issue when most customers are home users, but care would need to be taken with webhosting customers signing on. And they would, because the entire idea is to compensate them for the value they provide as evidenced by the users’ requests.
Agreed. The necessary implementation is in the realm of business, not politics. I posted it here because it’s an idea that would have agreeable outcomes in terms of ads and copyright reform.
This used to be the case in transit networks, what was ‘on net’ was free and ‘off net’ incurred a transaction. Over-the-top content delivery networks have effectively killed the transit model, and ironically net neutrality as well.