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Time-Warner to try letting users decide

Time-Warner apparently is going to try an experiment in which users will get charged if they download (and upload?) more than the bandwidth they’re paying for. If you’re in a particular tier of service, you’ll be able to see a meter telling you when you’ve gone over your limit, and then you’ll be charged for the overage. That’s pretty much how cellphone billing works for most of us, and it only sucks reasonably — it’s a bit of a hassle and can result in surprisingly high bills, but does seem roughly fair.

So, it sounds like a step forward, and it’s a far preferable way to manage network congestion than having the cable company decide what content has priority. This approach does not, in my understanding, violate Net neutrality. It is, however, merely a very limited trial. If that.

If this heads towards an untiered pay-per-bit system, I’ll be concerned, however, because paying per bit discourages the exchange of ideas and creative works on the Net, and disproportionately affects the poor. (Tiering affects the poor, too, of course, which is an argument for socializing the Net. But, well, that’s a different can of Vermes.)

If only we could introduce some real competition into the system so connectivity becomes a commodity, as providers race to provide the most bits at the lowest price. In a truly competitive market, a whole bunch of business models, including ones not yet invented, could slug it out as users decide what’s best for them.

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Ben Scott of Free Press says, in a press release thingy:

“Compared to that approach [unilaterally blocking traffic], Time Warner’s proposal is better — at least customers will know what they’re getting into. But metered prices may chill innovation in cutting-edge applications because consumers will have a disincentive to use them. Viewed in the context of our long-term national goals for a world-class broadband infrastructure, telling consumers they must choose between blocking and metered pricing is a worrying development.

Yup.

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