How much should it cost to use the internet?
Thursday's CRTC decision granted Bell Canada the ability to charge its customers based on the amount of data they download.
Of course, this is already happening. Internet service providers (ISPs) like Bell, and its main competitors Rogers, Telus and Shaw, have long instituted plans with a monthly cap of gigabytes, with additional GBs being charged a la carte.
However, unlike traditional commodities, where the market sets the price, there isn't a clear idea of how much a GB of traffic is really worth. The ISP sets the price, and you have to pay it.
For example, Rogers' Express plan provides a 60 GB monthly usage limit, and charges $2.00 per additional GB. More confusingly, Bell's Fibe 12 plan offers a 50 GB monthly usage limit, but offers a $5 per month "Usage Insurance Plan", which provides up to an additional 40 GB of data -- that boils down to 12.5 cents per GB. Without "Insurance" the cost per GB can be about $2 per GB.
So how much is a GB really worth?
Right now, customer service and the average community usage of all users is factored into the price and a profit point is set. Add the ability to set new pricing limits on data, and consumers are going to be even more confused when trying to compare the cost of internet service.
So if the ISPs want to go down this usage-based path -- perhaps the CRTC should make the cost of usage more clear. Here's just one suggestion on how that might work:
Say you want to sign up for one of Rogers's internet plans. Depending on the amount of download speed you want, the base cost of service, including technical support is, say, $20. Data is then charged at the going cost-per-gigabyte rate of, say, 50 cents.
An average internet user -- who checks email, visits a few websites, and watches a few YouTube videos -- would probably never hit more than 6 GB a month. Gamers, streaming video fans, and major downloaders would probably hit or go well beyond 60 GB a month.
Does that sound fair? How would you prefer to pay for using internet services - via a fixed plan or per gigabyte? And what do you think about metered internet usage in general?