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Time For Universal Data Plans? 245

Posted by timothy
from the bits-is-bits-you-see dept.
theodp writes "Between multiple cell phones and their add-ons, high-speed Internet connections, and digital TV subscriptions, most households are paying for data delivery at least three times over, often paying the same provider twice. It's time for a universal data plan, [CNET columnist Molly] Wood declares. 'I want to pay once for data, I want that data to be unlimited, and I want to be able to use it in any fashion I choose.' Still, she has hopes that the-times-they-will-be-a-changin'. 'It's only a matter of time before regulators catch wind of just how many times we're being charged for the exact same thing.'"
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Time For Universal Data Plans?

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  • by cavehobbit (652751) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:57AM (#32474714)
    'It's only a matter of time before regulators catch wind of just how many times we're being charged for the exact same thing.'" They do know this. they do not care. The regulators are in the pockets of those they regulate. Look at any regulated industry. Most of the time they support being regulated because they use those regulations for their own benefit. Oil, gas, Finance, banks, autos, pharma, etc. Even if an industry fights against initial regulation, they support it afterward, when then end up controlling it. They use the regulations to justify anti-consumer actions and to drive UP the cost of entry to keep competition down. Or even to eliminate competition if they can slip in a regulation that damages competitors. That is why lobbying is such a big business. the lobbyists win no matter what happens with regulations. They get paid to fight against or for any regulation that comes up. They are worse than lawyers.
  • by Hatta (162192) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:06AM (#32474752) Journal

    Costs are proportional to volume

    Is that true? Does it cost the telcos less to have all those radios and towers sitting around not doing anything? I think the cost lies in building and maintaining the capacity. Once it's there, it's most cost effective (in a bits/dollar sense) to keep your network as close to saturation as possible. Costs are not in fact proportional to volume, and they shouldn't bill as if they were.

  • by M8e (1008767) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:12AM (#32474788)

    Costs like these(and taxes) are not paid multiple times, it's just devided.

    If you want to have unlimited internet at home and in your cellphone you have to pay for it.
    If both cost X$, giving you an total cost of 2X$ you still have to pay 2X$ for your "universal data plan"

    home plan + phone plan = 2X$
    universal data plan = 2X$

    Or actually you would most likely have to pay more for the "universal data plan" or only be able to use one at a time.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:45AM (#32474968)

    Uhm, yes nobody said profit motive is bad. But when the places in the US aren't really competing, well it sucks.

    In Japan things are more expensive in general (because quality is higher), but on the other hand I don't get people trying to triple-dip either.

    I can't blame a carrier charging separately for a mobile data and land-line data, because they are probably two different divisions, and anyway use different infrastructure. The whole "We need to charge extra for tethering", etc., is BS though. That comes from "Unlimited" really meaning "How much we can estimate they will use and allocate for." For a phone "Unlimited" = XX megabytes/month, and for a computer it would be XX + YY since computer users use more. I think it would actually be better when they simply charge per MB, because it would make price comparisons easier. Once people realize how much SMS messages and such cost per MB, there will be outrage.

    Back to Japan, I pay 3 data plans right now.
    1. (Sort-of data) My cell phone.
    2. My e-Mobile wireless broadband (Kind-of like MiFi). This works with my laptop, skype phone, ipod touch, whatever.
    3. My OCN/NTT/Flets (kind of like FiOS). This is 100Mbps to my house. I will cancel it soon, as soon as my 2-year contract is over.

    Really, I can use #2 for everything. The battery life isn't as good for VOIP as native mobile phone yet, so I pay for a real cell phone still. Other than that, I don't have to pay for data more than once if I don't want to, #2 I can take anywhere, and it's reasonably fast. If I had a newer phone with WiFi, I could even use it in place of a data plan.

    In TFA it talks about "mandatory" data plans. That's BS. Buy the phone on your own, and you have no mandatory plan. If you buy it from the carrier with a subsidy, well, that's because they want you to pay more per month - that's why they give you the subsidy (duh).

    At any rate, I can get all the data I want, anywhere I want for $50 a month. If I want to keep my fiber land line, you're talking $100 total. Voice is still separate in general, but if you want to use VOIP in a well supported way, you can get the WiFi blackberries from T-Mobile and try that method.

  • by AHuxley (892839) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:46AM (#32474980) Homepage Journal
    The older optical nation building did get some tax payers input and the telcos are sort of granted areas of consumers in bulk form.
    With the ability to have lock in comes a few options to be regulated.
    The telcos spent billions and feel they are making millions while their networks are just dumb packet pipes for others to make billions.
    So they will sell speed and sell all they can as extras.
    They missed the idea of data caps and counting data usage up and down, but I am sure they have creative plans for the next gen networks.
    VoIP was just the wake up to dumb packet pushing, now its a race to ensure dumb packet pushing can never enter the publics mind again.
  • by raddan (519638) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:58AM (#32475044)
    No, that's not true. Saturation with Internet protocols is extremely bad; likewise for radio signals. Many of you probably think that if you have a 100 Mbit connection that you should be able to use 100 Mbits. Sounds fair, right? Sadly, TCP suffers from something called "congestion collapse" when it hits roughly 40% of utilization, so a congestion-avoidance mechanism was introduced to constantly back-off your send rate (it's called "exponential backoff") to prevent this from happening. The only way to fix this is either to over-provision, or to impose heavy-handed QoS parameters. Not to mention-- what does "saturation" mean? If all of us get 5 Mbit plans, does that mean that our ISP needs 5n (where n is the number of customers) available bandwidth? What about upstream of them? What about upstream of that? Such a provisioning scheme is a fantasy.

    Wireless is in a similar, but slightly different boat: wireless is sort of like our old hub infrastructure, before switches were affordable. That essentially means that the network is like a bus, and that clients themselves need to handle collisions, which are frequent. Because of TCP's congestion avoidance mechanism, it can't tell the difference between a packet lost due to a collision and one dropped because of network saturation, so it does the same thing, it backs off. In wireless, the data link layer tries to address this (at least in the 802.11 protocols), but it is not terribly successful, and that is because there are all other kinds of problems with radio transmission, like the "hidden terminal problem", etc, that don't exist in "well-behaved" networks.

    Anyway, all of this means that as you add customers to a wireless network, your capacity may decrease. I'm not saying that telco prices are fair, but the economics of managing such a resource are not simple.
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:35AM (#32475228) Homepage

    Here is where your argument fails - how much capacity should BT have in the first place?

    If people use lots of bandwidth, then they get saturated, and then people browsing the web get annoyed at page load rates.

    So, they add more capacity. However, since there is no per-kb rate/etc on usage people just up their demand for bandwidth accordingly, so they're instantly at 100% capacity again.

    So, then you get into fights over what is and isn't network abuse and all that. ISPs try to filter torrents and all that nonsense, then that leads to encryption and a war of escalation in technology. It doesn't really resolve the problem.

    Instead, if you just charge a reasonable amount per gigabyte then usage is self-regulated. If you want to seed torrents all day, have at it. BT will even run dedicated fiber to your house if that is what it takes to keep you going. However, you'll pay for it, and if the price is worth it to you then by all means go.

    Unlimited plans usually translate into people who barely use the service paying for those who heavily use it.

    The key is to regulate so that telecoms end up charging reasonable usage rates. Maybe force them to charge the same rates for corporate and home users - no way they'll try to charge fortune 500 companies crazy rates...

  • by rdebath (884132) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @01:17PM (#32476416)

    TCP does NOT suffer from congestion collapse until well past 40%, congestion collapse of TCP requires the line to be running at 100% with enough channels that the transmit windows overload a router's memory buffers because the packets in the buffers get stored for longer than the retransmit time of the connections. For modern routers RED (Random Early Drop) tends to avoid the problem.

    For the 40% rules you're probably talking about a CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection) connection like old 10Base2 (coax, cheapernet). Nearly all modern networks share the connections for more effectively than that; the major exception being, of course, WiFi.

    But the GSM (3G etc) protocols don't work the same as WiFi. Those protocols use time division multiplexing like techniques and so don't suffer as badly from collisions as WiFi. However, they do suffer from the same limited total bandwidth, a switched 100BaseT network can reasonably have a Gbit/s flowing through the switch but radio is limited to the amount that can fit in the channel no matter how many devices there are.

    So fast-forward 100 years. The wired networks with have insane speeds, optical wave guides (aka fibres) with terabit rates for everyone at the same time, but the radio wireless can't physically get past a few gigabits shared between everyone in a cell (when all radio is cell packet data).

    Right now the cell radios are limited to a few megahertz bandwidth so you get a few megabits per second and only if you're the only one in the cell on that channel.

  • by jesset77 (759149) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @05:59PM (#32478376)

    Okay, I'm in LA. Show me a mobile operator that will let me just get an Internet connection for my smart phone.

    Uh...... this has got to be a trick question, right? Like the carrier has to support YOUR smartphone, or you fear jailbreaking or you've already sliced it up with a chainsaw, or don't want out of a contract, or something?

    If not, then this is just the first thing that I found [t-mobile.com]. 8I

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