Metered Broadband: Pay-per-Use or Abuse?

Competition among ISPs used to be fierce in the initial times of dial-ups access, with tens of ISPs in the market. That might explain why ISPs did not manage to retain any control of users and flat rates were made the rule to provide plain open Internet access. Comparatively, the much less competitive mobile market has enjoyed a controlled Internet Access and near-abusive mobile data rates (Ask anybody that has used data while on roaming)

Later ISP consolidation came, together with the increasing investments to deploy broadband. This ended up reducing the number of players and therefore competition. With less options for users, we start to see ISPs experimenting with tiered broadband plans. GigaOm reports that Time Warner Cable Broadband “… has set up a pricing plan that ranges from $29.95 a month for [...] 768 kbps with a 5-gigabyte monthly cap to $54.90 per month for 15 Mbps and a 40-gigabyte cap. Overage fees will be $1 per gigabyte”

Some could argue that these limits are reasonable for a normal use, and could incentive ISPs to invest in infrastructure and provide increasing bandwidth at a better price due to the savings in backbone that the cap would allow. But for users, this is a breach in the current understanding of Internet, and threatens the sense of freedom Internet Access provides. And what is worse, it reminds of the caps and volume-based abusive rates charged by mobile telcos.

Internet is an engine of innovation. First was email and FTP, then Gopher, the Web, ICQ, Messenger, Skype, YouTube, Social Networks, SaaS, P2P file-sharing, iTunes… not to mention scientific initiatives like SETI@home, where you lend some free computing resources in your PC or PS3 for the Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence. How can you donate some spare computing for research if you risk to find an abusive Internet bill at the end of the month? Even if the Tiers are reasonable today, who can guarantee those will be reasonable tomorrow with High-Definition downloads, video communications and new applications coming?