ISPs need to rally around metered billing

Time-Warner Cable’s decision to suspend its Consumption Based Billingtrial is being hailed asa victory for consumers, but is it really? Time-Warner says the suspension is temporary, and the company will now do more consumer education around the idea of paying for how much Internet access you consume. I think consumer education is always a good thing, but in this circumstance, one company can’t take on that task and succeed.

AT&T has also ventured into testing metered billing and caught similar flak for it. In Time-Warner Cable’s case, a congressman got involved, protesting the use of Rochester, N.Y. as a testing grounds given that there are only two sources of high-speed Internet access in that city and Frontier - the local telco — doesn’t offer the same speeds as Time-Warner. Rep. Charles Schumer didn’t comment on how Time-Warner Cable is supposed to continue supporting its high-speed offering as its customers consume more bandwidth.

And this is where the Internet service provider community needs to come together to explain repeatedly - as often as needed — that Internet access is like everything else in life. The more you consume, the more you pay. It’s true for water, from tap or in a bottle, it’s true for electricity and gas, it’s true for food, for clothing, for everything. Cars are priced differently, depending on size and features. You want more car, you pay more cash (or take on more debt).

Somehow, the Internet is seen as something that is inherently free. And now high-speed Internet access, something we all once paid dearly forand did so happily, is being viewed similarly. Use all you want, nobody pays more. This is ludicrous.

To a large extent,ISPs have created their own problem with the race to the bottom on HSI pricing. Now it’s up to the industry as a whole to put forth a basic, dollars and cents, explanation of what it costs to deliver streaming video to the masses, and what is likely to happen if the people consuming more and more bandwidth aren’t required to pay for it.

Some service providers have done this successfully. Research has shown that consumers will pay more when they think they are getting more. ISPs need to do a better job of showing their customers all they are getting, and this can’t just be Time-Warner’s problem to solve.

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