Usage-Based Billing Could Spell Trouble For the Internet's Future

By Matthew Braga

Pay-as-you-go internet might be coming — a move that would severely inhibit the development and innovation of content online.

Pay-as-you go internet access is coming — at least, if the FCC has it's way. Chairman Julius Genachowski, in discussing the commission's latest net neutrality proposal this week, said he would be open to the idea of usage-based-billing as a means of curbing network congestion and strain upon American ISPs. However, the move is shaping up to be a contentious one amongst subscribers — particularly heavier bandwidth users — as it could effectively destroy the media-rich web as we know it.
Current internet subscribers tend to operate within a cap — a predetermined bandwidth limit with which the user can do anything they please. But while some may find even this model restricting, the alternative is much worse; a usage-based strategy would charge a user only for the bandwidth he or she uses, punishing those who who stream or download heavily. 

If the U.S broadband market had any semblance of competition, this might not have been an issue. The FCC, of course, says it plans to police any such implementation by ISPs to prevent "anti-consumer, or anti-competitive tiered pricing plans." However, that's not to say the possibility for abuse could not remain. The Washington Post suggests the proposal could make it easier for companies like Time Warner Cable to offer access to sites like Hulu, while charging usage-based access to Netflix, for example. 

a CBC article on the decision last month.

The good news, however, is that not all American ISPs are onboard — yet. Comcast, at least, has stated that it has no immediate plans to move customers to tiered, usage-based plans, though the intentions of both Time Warner and AT&T are much less clear. Regardless, American subscribers should find out soon enough; the FCC will vote on the proposal December 21.      
Lead image via Flickr user .imelda