Friday, July 15, 2011

Is the internet now an "essential service"?

As our lives become increasingly wired (or wirelessed if you use mobile/WiFi), there are those who believe that internet connectivity is rapidly becoming a "right" rather than an option.

Recent discussion in relation to the amended NZ copyright law and its three-strikes policy brought the whole issue of "the right to access" into the public spotlight.

Advocates of "the right" claim that Net connectivity is now just as essential as other utilities such as telephone, power and water. To force someone to be disconnected, they say, would be an infringement of their human rights.

Personally, I think that's a little bit of a long bow to draw but one has to concede that in a world where we increasingly rely on the Net to perform a growing array of tasks from managing our bank account through paying bills and filing business tax returns -- unwanted removal of internet access can indeed be seen as something that is difficult to justify.

Perhaps the only justification would be persistent abuse of the Net for illegal activities such as copyright infringement, accessing objectionable material or similar offending.

However, in the USA, one man has had his internet access revoked for a period of 12 months by service provider Comcast. His crime?

He simply used too much data.

It seems that because he used more than 250GB per month for two months in a row, Comcast invoked their "over-use" policy which, according to the fine print, allows them to decline to provide service in such cases -- for a period of up to 12 months.

While you might think that this guy could simply sign up with a new ISP, it's not that simple. Comcast are the only provider of high-speed broadband in the area where he lives. His alternatives are not really suited to the kind of hi-bandwidth use he makes of the Net.

In the USA, ISPs have attempted to introduce data-caps to avoid over-use by those who make heavy use of the Net. This move has been roundly criticised by both the public and politicians - to the extent that in a growing number of cases, these caps have been removed or greatly relaxed.

Now, given NZ's meagre data caps and the growing popularity of bandwidth-heavy services such as video on demand, social networking, video-calling/conferencing, etc -- I wonder how long before the issue of data-caps becomes a real bone of contention with Net users.

While it's unlikely any NZ ISP will try to follow Comcast's lead by refusing to connect "heavy users", the cost of over-cap data could soon become a factor that starts to cramp the utility of the internet for a growing number of Kiwi users.

The problem is likely to get worse when the UFB is commissioned. Faster speeds will make it easier to exceed data caps by increasing the viability of accessing HD-quality video and other bandwidth-heavy material.

Perhaps internet access is a right -- but only if you can afford to pay for it.

1 comment:

  1. Right now majority of things we do depend on online access from cheap cable and internet packages and access that is sufficient enough for day to day activities.