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Usage-Based Billing: a threat to Internet radio?

Like lots of folks, I’ve got the jitters about Canada’s impending metered Internet billing system (Usage-Based Billing they call it there), especially when it comes to online radio and music services.

Ars Technica has a pretty decent piece about the UBB development, if I say so myself. The Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission approved the pay-by-the-gigabyte policy for Bell Canada late last year, and that means that smaller ISPs that connect to Bell for access have to buy broadband a la UBB, and pass the metered costs onto their customers.

So Ontario’s indie ISP TekSavvy (which hates the CRTC decision) has announced that the new monthly usage cap for their premium DSL broadband subscribers will soon be dropped from 200GB a month to 25GB! You can buy “insurance” now to make sure you don’t go over your allotted limit, and you better keep a top eye on your usage, the ISP warns its subscribers.

What will send you over the limit? Here’s the table that TekSavvy provides.

Intended Internet Activity Average Monthly Usage
Primarily use email combined with a light amount of web surfing. < 25GB
Moderate web surfing, occasional file sharing, online shopping and email. < 25GB
Extensive web surfing, sharing music, video streaming, downloading and playing games, online shopping and email. Power users that use multiple computers, smartphones, and game consoles at the same time. Potentially > 25GB

So basically if you start using the Net the way most people are starting to use it—for all entertainment and information sharing activities—UBB is eventually going to snag you in the wallet.

Obviously this is a crucial issue for Canadians, but everyone else should be concerned too, since the policy could be extended anywhere (and is being implemented in various ways here in the States). My biggest concern is whether this could hurt Internet radio.

TekSavvy also offers a usage chart to give subscribers a sense of what 1GB is good for (I’ve bolded the music streaming figure).

1GB of usage will allow you to do the following things (approximate measurements)
– View 26,000 web pages or
– Send/receive 105,000 e-mails or
– Exchange over 2,000 Microsoft Word documents (of about 10 pages each) or
– Exchange up to 500 digital photos or
– Download more than 200 songs or
– Stream 18 hours of music from the web or
– Download 1.5 movies (or 2/3 of a movie in high definition) or
– Play games online for 240 hours (or 10 days)

My worry is that as the consequences of UBB set in, consumers will become more reluctant to stream on-line radio services in the background like they do FM. They’ll start to prioritize which kinds of entertainment they use the ‘Net for, privileging video and games, while avoiding online radio for fear that it might send them over their monthly usage allotment.

This is why I’m so disappointed that the big streamers here in the United States and Canada haven’t been more active around these regulatory issues. Maybe they’ll wake up now.

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