So today I am going to hang up the running shoes and weights both physically in preparation to be well-rested for my race tomorrow and mentally here to rant about a subject that’s not running, fitness, fashion, or anything similar.  You can fuck with quite a few things in my life and I’ll be laissez-faire.  There are a few exceptions: my family and close friends, my workout time, my weekends, and my internet.  I’m probably forgetting some things but you get the picture.  Internet access is something near and dear to me.  I could probably go without smoking longer than I could without access to Facebook or streaming Netflix.

Time Warner recently announced that they were going to be moving to metered billing later this year, with Austin as one of the cities.  Considering that we are one of the hubs of both technology and media in the US – of course there was a huge outcry here.  Tons of sites just like this popped up all over.  My boss wrote an open letter to one of the mayoral candidates and has a call with him tomorrow about the matter.  Between the time I started writing this and now, TWC has decided to back off.  The problem is – they added the caveat, for now.  Their statement essentially said that consumers misunderstood the intent and they would educate us and try again later.  I don’t think there is much to understand besides my cable bill would go from 40 bucks to 150.

The caps and rates changed around a bit but essentially they were $15 dollars for 1 GB per month (for someone like my parents who check their email once a week and maybe book a trip on travelocity), and had tiers up to 100 GB for $75 dollars per month.  Overage charges for all but the cheapest plan is 1$ per GB (2$ for the lowest plan) and it’s capped at 75$ in overages.  So the heavy internet user has gone from paying about 40 bucks a month to 150.  Yikes!  To give reference – 30 minutes of streaming music per day would take you over that 1 GB cap, and streaming a Netflix movie is 3-5 GB.  An online game doesn’t use all that much per se, but to download a patch – could be a few GB.

What do I think?  Well, I make my living in online gaming.  Particularly, a download-only title.  Time Warner’s cap essentially puts a cost on our free trial, which is one of the cornerstones of our company’s sucess.  My boss said it much more eloquently, and I wish I could link it to you (Facebook is being a jerk) but basically, besides fucking with my personal internetting, they are also fucking with my livelihood and the success of my product.  I don’t talk about work much here because a) I’m under a lot of NDAs and don’t want to accidentally violate them because I am a sharer b) work is work, and while I enjoy what I do most days, it’s something I’m happy to leave behind in a trail of dust when it’s not worktime c) talking only about work for 3 years makes Quix a dull girl and I don’t want to even chance going back to that and d) I can’t tell you the good juicy stuff and can’t rant about the stuff that drives me crazy about my company anyway because that’s just asking to be fired.  Suffice it to say, I’m not looking to get out of what I’m doing, and if I was, it would be in a blaze of glory, not because TWC crippled our company’s business model.

It’s been argued that we use metered systems for a lot of things – why would this not work for internet?  Things such as gas and electricity I understand fully – these are finite resources that we are depleting.  What about the telephone?  While cell phones are metered by the minute, most are only so only during peak hours.  Local phone calls are included with home phone service.  You can pay a slightly larger fee to include long distance, or just pay by the minute.  Cable TV is all or nothing – imagine if they decided to start charging me per program.  I’d certainly save money because I don’t watch that much TV, but I’d still be angry that I didn’t have the option to sit on the couch and watch a marathon of America’s Next Top Model I’ve seen 20 times.  Zliten might be happy, but not I.  Networks would probably be LIVID – if they imposed an up-to-75$ overage charge on couch potatoes, who would soak up all those lovely advertising views for which they get paid so dearly?  Please, they’d never let that happen.  If online games charged per hour played?  Forget it.  Every in-game issue would now relate to a monetary cost (I died and don’t think I should have – you’re costing me 25 cents in bandwith to get back to where I was and start over).

Essentially, they’re trying to take a billing method used by tangible resources and apply it to something intangible.  It’s not as if when I use up a GB, it’s removed from some magic bandwith warehouse that someone had to mine from the ether.  We moved away from this tier of pricing in the 90s because it hampered creativity and innovation.  Think of your favorite websites and services.  Do you like pandora or other streaming music?  They wouldn’t exist because no one could afford it.  Do you like online games?  If the customer base incurred an additional fee from the cable companies, they’d never have broken mainstream.  Love that the networks provide the ability to watch your favorite shows online (FINALLY)?  Never would have gotten off the ground.

Let’s not stifle innovation and creativity and new media so you can make a buck, TWC.  I can guarantee the only reason you are making the money you are now is because the need for internet is so prolific.  10 years ago, meh, I could take it or leave it.  Now, with social networks, games, movies, rss feeds – it’s as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth or going for a run.  Without the freedom a flat-rate bandwith service allowed, I guarantee I would still be ambivilent because there just wouldn’t be much out there.  Cap us now, and you’ve discouraged all those companies out there to offer that one service that might get my parents to FINALLY ditch the dial-up and join the 21st century and actually utilize your service.

My other boss and I in conversation put it very succinctly – “When sign me up for all-you-can-eat, and then you start charging by the dish…especially when you’re the only restaurant allowed in town – that ain’t cool.”

We have won the battle, but the war is not yet over.  You can laugh and say that you’re glad you’re not in Austin with us with targets on our backs, but I guarantee if we (and the other cities slated to be test beds) had taken this lying down, you’d all be next.  What do you think about metered internet?  Is it fair?  Worst idea ever?  What do you use the internet for on a daily basis?  What price do you think is fair for unlimited use?