Usage Based Billing: Do you know what you’ll need in 10 years?

Originally posted February 2011; html links not included in this version re-published in 2017.

The fight about usage based billing has been raging for years , but, has only recently garnered significant attention. The Prime Minister has commented on this issue as have the opposition parties. Although the issue has reached these levels, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that, as a country, we are not short sighted in our adoption of technology.

Why does this matter to me? I use around 1GB per month to read my email.

Although many Internet users have little or no idea how much network traffic they have in a month. There is a common belief that since they are currently well below the 25GB cap, that they will remain below the current cap for years (or forever). Internet traffic should not be confused with “usage” or even user driven activity.

If you asked me in 1991 how much bandwidth I would require a month, I might have guessed (on the very high side) somewhere around 0.4GB/month (based on a 2400baud modem being on and continuously transferring data 12 hours a day). Would I have used 0.4GB/month?Highly unlikely, given that most information on the internet was text based and streams of information, or dynamic sources of information were less common. Making the same rough (and arbitrary) calculation using a 6MBPS DSL modem connection today, the very rough number would work out to a staggering 1000GB/month (over 2000 times the amount from 1991!) Although I would have been hard pressed to find 0.4GB a month to transfer in 1991, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find 1000GB/month of legal content to transfer (or even generate!) on the Internet today.

If we assume “power internet users” today and in 1991 use roughly 5% of their total available network connection, that would mean a 2400baud “power internet user” would have used 0.04GB/month and a 6MBPS DSL “power internet user” would use 100GB/month today. So, to keep this in perspective, if you are using 1GB/month today, you are using the equivalent of 25 “power internet users” from 1991 (or more!). If “power internet users” are using 100GB today, how much Internet will you be using in 10 years? 20 years? Given geometric trends in data transfer and increases in dynamic content, it is hard to say, but, “more than today” is a fairly certain bet. The 25GB/month usage based cap may seem high today. but for how long?

If the proposed usage based billing changes go through, we will be living with these changes for a very long time. This implicit throttling of access to information will turn Canada into an Internet back-water, unable to keep pace with progress, Canada will no longer be a place to effectively do business, foster innovation or provide world-class facilities for education.

How can I help?

If you live in Canada, please go to today and sign the petition! If you live elsewhere please be vigilant; don’t let your regulators, politicians and ISPs do to your country what the CRTC and the major ISPs are trying to do in Canada!

Update 2017/07/07:

At the time of original publishing I was using around 20-25GB/month of data (Nov,2010-Jan,2011). In Jun,2017 I used over 100GB of data!!  In other words if we had been stuck with a 25GB legislated cap I would currently be 4 times that cap (and paying exorbitant additional usage fees!).  The good news is that I’ve secured an unlimited plan (still through TekSavvy after all these years!).

Update 2021/04/15:

Another few years and a giant leap in usage; since my usage in the month of February 2021 was …. a little bit higher than 25GB caps proposed a decade ago …

As citizens, be sure to remind your legislators to avoid codifying an industries’ prices and feel free to use this example for whatever the next “Usage Based Billing” attempt is in your area!