Monday, June 16, 2008

Controversy over whether home digital movie downloads could trigger Internet metering charges

Some home computer users could find themselves pushed into the ranges of “Internet metering” in the future by media companies, as movie studios and particularly movie rental companies like Blockbuster and Netflix offer more feature films to be watched online. Other specialty companies, like Logoonline (for the LGBT market) offer a large number of shorts online (and encourage users to submit them) for free (that is, advertiser-motivated) viewing, and these include films of some substance with major corporate indie distributors. Furthermore, the quality and resolution of films improves with time, and more of them are full wide screen, with more information to transmit. A typical feature can use up about five gigabytes. Use of services like Skype and Vonage to transmit Internet phone calls also can push up usage for heavy cell users. (I have to say this: I wonder how people can carry on cell conversations for so long on disco floors on Saturday nights.)

Companies like Time Warner say that excess use metering will not affect ordinary home or small business users. Comcast slows down excess peer-peer traffic and AT&T admits that some sort of excess per-byte charge is inevitable. ISPs usually have bandwidth limits for shared hosting websites (with steep overage charges), but in practice the limits are quite generous for ordinary self-publishers. One potential problem is that overage detection only runs at discrete times in the day, and could suddenly happen and accumulate for a few hours without a subscriber’s knowledge.

The news story appeared Sunday June 15 in The New York Times, front page, as “Charging by the Byte to Curb Internet Traffic,” by Brian Stelter, here.

Previously, this blog has reported "beta test" experiments in Internet metering in a few communities around the country.

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