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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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  • Still same costs (Score:-1, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:34AM (#32474624) Journal

    And ISP's and operators will cut their profit to one-third and still have the same costs? Yeah, that will happen.

    That and TV and internet distribution methods work differently. TV broadcasts the same data to everyone and backbone speeds don't matter. Delivering that same thing over Internet is not yet fully possible, even while we're getting there. But they are fundamentally different technologies.

  • by Bayoudegradeable (1003768) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:34AM (#32474630)
    I, too, wish I could pay once for my data stream. I, too, wish companies would just let me "pay once" for the service. And what are the chances in the U.S. of having telecoms wake up and declare, "Folks, we're just making too damned much money! It's time to think of customers, give them better services and charge them less. I hereby renounce all bonuses and profit!!"
  • by Some Bitch (645438) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:36AM (#32474640)

    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

    So what, all the mobile and fixed line operators have to merge? How about TV service providers, does every infrastructure provider have to buy one of those too? Fucking idiot.

  • by RandomFactor (22447) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:37AM (#32474644)

    "Now, though, with the FCC breathing down carriers' necks about tiered usage plans, 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"

    Granted we're paying multiple times as noted, but...

    Why would the government care to do anything about it? I can buy a song on cassette, album, cd, mp3... government hasn't regulated that. Why would it regulate multiple data-plan channels?

  • ain't gonna happen (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:38AM (#32474648)
    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.'

    Ain't gonna happen so long as America is a capitalist/corporatist society. Asking for this goes against the very ideas of capitalism.
  • by yyxx (1812612) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:43AM (#32474662)

    I don't think "unlimited" plans ever made much sense because some people will abuse it. Costs are proportional to volume, so pricing should be too.

    Reasonably priced universal plans do, however, make sense. In Europe, you can get data plans for something like EU20 / month for 5Gytes with no restrictions on how you use it (cell phone, laptop, etc.). Some companies even give you multiple SIM cards for the same account.

  • I too (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dnaumov (453672) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:51AM (#32474690)
    wish that radio spectrum wasn't finite and would allow for unlimited bandwidth and removal of traffic caps. However, reality begs to differ with my point of view.
  • why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maraist (68387) * <michael@maraistNO.SPAMgmail@n0spam@com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @08:59AM (#32474724) Homepage
    If I pay for electricity at home, why should I be forced to pay for it again at work.. Or at the mall. Or when I'm overseas.. That's not fair.. waaaaaaah.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:00AM (#32474728) Homepage Journal
    The real problem really isn't the data limits per se, but what happens when you go over them. It's really easy to accidentally go over your limit(for instance if you think you are on wifi but are actually on 3g), and when you do you have to pay out the ass. It would be nice if regulators forced providers to offer an option to block internet access until next billing cycle if you go over instead of only finding out after the fact that you now owe hundreds of dollars because you accidentally misconfigured your device.
  • by toppavak (943659) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:01AM (#32474730)
    Well, if they're government-supported monopolies who also get their infrastructure subsidized it's only fair the tax-payers get something in return.
  • How true (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:02AM (#32474734)

    What is even more surprising is brazen device profiling, where you are forced to buy a data plan, even though the quality is bad, just because you have a "smartphone".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:07AM (#32474756)

    She wants unlimited data.
    Someone has to pay for that.
    Those who don't want, need or use the unlimited data end up paying for her desires.
    Like me.
    Let her pay for her own usage and abusage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:27AM (#32474862)
    You are right; they wouldn't. It would be stupid to tell Verizon that they can't charge me for a 3G or 4G or whatever plan because Comcast already charges me for data. And that whole unlimited thing - that's slowly coming to an end. It will eventually be more like electricity I imagine as companies don't want the unlimited and people get fed up paying for set tiers and getting screwed on overages. (And yes, I know that electricity has pseudo "tiers" in some places to encourage conservation however those are either around being "greener" or attempting to get people not to run their clothes dryer at high usage times). In general, there will probably be some kind of a cost per unit assigned (maybe per GB) instead of a tier. This will take a good long time though. As far as the "one bill" it would be tough to say that we are "paying for the same thing" unless you really abstracted the whole infrastructure out of it. It would be like saying "I am being charged twice for travel; a toll on the bridge and then a fee to ride the ferry". Just because both 3G and dsl/cable/fios are both providing data doesn't mean they both share an infrastructure.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:30AM (#32474884)

    What I never understood is on cell phone plans why voice, text, pics, data are all separate charges. It all data, it's all digital, it's all on the same (cell) network, why does it matter? Maybe I'm missing part of the story but it seems to me it should all be one charge.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:34AM (#32474900)

    Because you are paying for different infrastructure. When I pay for my Internet connection to my house, I'm paying for the cable connection that comes in, and the fibre connection that it converts to further up the line. The cable company maintains that physical network and it does cost money to do so. I'm then also paying for their connectivity, which is a fair amount given that it is a fairly high bandwidth line.

    For my mobile phone, I'm instead paying for the cell towers, and the equipment that drives them. I'm also paying for the lines and phone switches and so on further up the chain. There too, I'm paying for bandwidth for the provider though less in that case. The costs there are more the physical infrastructure.

    Saying that I should pay one bill because both services access the Internet is silly. They are different physical systems and in my case different companies. Even in the case of the same company, you need to account for the cost of all the infrastructure and support. It is not free to build and maintain a large network, wired or wireless. It is quite expensive in fact. You can't demand that you be provided with Internet in all forms just because you happen to pay for it in one form.

    Now, as far as cable TV goes, I can see some point there, but still it is a different thing. Different system, other than the final delivery to the customer, different hardware, different providers. Remember that cable isn't free to your cable company. They have to pay to carry many channels (though some, like shopping channels pay them). That's why sometimes you'll find a cable service that doesn't carry a given station, they get in a fight over rates. Cox here nearly cut ESPN off because of a rate fight.

    I can certainly see the argument that perhaps things should cost less than they do now, but this idea that you should only have to pay once is silly, especially when you are talking different formats. The money you spend on a HFC network is different from the money spent on a broadcast satellite is different from the money on a cell network. They all cost a lot to build and operate.

  • by raddan (519638) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:43AM (#32474952)
    You can pay once for a data stream. It's called Internet service.

    Telephone and television are services on top of those data plans, and as such, they are extras. You pay extra for more. In an ideal world, that extra work is easy (just provide the "television" and "telephone" services on top of IP transports), but actually, because of a mixture of legacy systems (e.g., analog television) and QoS requirements (your telephone-over-cable connection is only pretending to be POTS), running these services is not so straightforward. It's fair to pay more for more services. "More is better", remember, and we pay more for better.

    Because TFA is filled with gems like:

    You're paying multiple times for "unlimited" data? Isn't that like multiplying by zero? Either way, you lose.

    which is obvious idiocy. So, translation: "we think we're paying too much".

    And, we are paying too much. But her argument is stupid.

  • by tepples (727027) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [selppet]> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:55AM (#32475028) Homepage Journal

    I can buy a song on cassette, album, cd, mp3... government hasn't regulated that.

    Title 17 of the United States Code heavily regulates that.

  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:42AM (#32475268) Homepage

    How about just regulating overage fees to be capped at the same rate as what you are already paying for service?

    For instance, if you pay $60 a month for 5GB of transfer, and use 10GB of transfer, the provider cannot legally charge you more than $120 for that month.

    Right now you pay an arguably fair rate until you reach your cap, then you are utterly *reamed* for any additional usage. This is even worse on voice plans, where additional minutes can cost close to a dollar when you've paid only cents for the original minutes in your plan.

    This would go a long way towards solving the problem.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:51AM (#32475358)

    Yes, oversubscription is essential to cheap Internet. If you tried to provide full, guaranteed no matter what, bandwidth to every connection you'd have very little bandwidth to each individual. Instead you oversubscribe and so long as people play nice and don't try and use 100% all the time, it works.

    As an example, take an office network. Suppose you have a building with 5 floors, 40 PCs per floor. You want to provide gigabit to the desktop and to the servers. Well, for about $8500 or so you could do the whole building with nice, managed gig switches. You'd have a core gig switch for your servers and connections to the other switches, and a gig switch on each floor. You'd discover that so long as people played nice, they'd generally get their gig, or near enough. They could transfer their files and then let their connection sit idle. Despite the fact that there'd be a great deal of oversubscripton per floor, it'd work well.

    Now assume you wanted dedicated bandwidth for every person to the core, and then to the server. Ok well now you'd need to go two switches per floor. 20 computers per switch, and 2 10gbps uplinks from those switches to your core. So instead of about $1400 per floor you are now at $6000 per floor. Your core switch is also going massively up in price. Just to handle the 20 10gb connections it would have you'd need to spend in the range of $12,000 for it. So just for the desktops you are at $42,000. Of course if you want the server to have bandwidth for everyone it is going to need 200gbps of connections. I don't even know what kind of cards you'd have to get for that, never mind the disks to support it.

    Oversubscription is key to low cost. Prices start to go up exponentially for bigger switching (and routing) hardware. As such the only reasonable way to provide people with bandwidth at a low cost is to oversubscribe. This tends to work ok since most people use their net connection in spurts, they don't use it full blast 24/7.

  • by shentino (1139071) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:53AM (#32475368)

    With fixed costs, billing by usage is equitable.

    Say you invest a fixed amount of resources to bake a huge pie. How much should you charge people for a piece of it?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @01:07PM (#32476326)

    The article did make a point about how a single data connection at home does not charge for all the devices that you put on it. So I can see her point about family plans and the added line charge.

    However, I think she is being greedy by asking for a single, unlimited plan. I do like the all you can eat reference. What the family plan needs is a peak usage limit and cost for going over. All networks have finite space and that needs to be controlled and managed, hence the problem. As a single person, I do not want to be paying the same rate for my one device that her family of 4 are paying. Data is bandwidth size (bits per second) and duration (total bits over time). That is how all plans should be measured and built. Once they do this then we could have a single plan that allows for video, voice, and data. I know that video and voice are really data, but I was leaning on the QoS rankings there. With this single plan, you would know that SMS takes less bandwidth then talking or video conferencing does.

    We need to separate the services from the network.

  • by VTI9600 (1143169) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @01:58PM (#32476688)

    The only telecom "subsidy" I am aware of is the Universal Service Fund [wikipedia.org], which is paid for not by tax dollars, but by mandatory contributions from telecom carriers. The stated purpose of the USF was simply to provide access, not to make sure that prices stay low. That being said, I do think that the USF has run its course and ought to be ended, but I digress.

    It is only natural that AT&T and all other wireless carriers would put strict caps on the usage of their wireless service, and increase prices per Mb as demand goes up, because the 3G wireless band has a finite limit to the data it can carry, and there's no indication it will expand any time soon. When resources are scarce, one should expect prices to increase. On the other hand, its always possible to lay new fiber and copper so we can expect cable and DSL plans to stay unlimited and be competitively priced for the forseeable future.

    Of course, one thing that TFA points out that really is quite frustrating is the fact that companies always charge extra for SMS messaging. SMS messages (at least in GSM implementations) use a rather ingenious method of piggybacking ontop of the SS7 protocol that requires no additional bandwidth from the GSM carrier! Yet we still get charged outrageous fees for them because of high demand...I predict that this will change as more people switch to data-based texting services such as GChat, but I'm not holding my breath.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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