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Telecoms continue move to metered Internet, AT&T CEO says

March 3, 2010 |  5:46 pm
FredInternet sensation Fred. Would his parents have let him jack up their broadband bill with all of his video uploads? Credit: YouTube.com

Pay-per-download Internet may sweep the industry sooner than you think.

At the AT&T investor conference Tuesday, Chief Executive Randall Stephenson -- in addition to cooling expectations for Apple's 3G-enabled iPad -- addressed a more long-term idea that's unpopular with many tech enthusiasts. Yep, metered Internet access.

"For the industry, we'll progressively move towards more of what I call variable pricing, so the heavy[-use] consumers will pay more than the lower consumers," Stephenson said in the webcast of the meeting.

The telecom industry has rumbled for some time about charging consumers based on household usage. The Federal Communications Commission opposes the telecom companies' other proposed option -- limiting access to certain sites on a pay scale, the way cable companies do with TV channels. The debate over Net neutrality, as the issue is called, has been a hot topic among government officials and lobbyists.

"I'm actually fairly optimistic Net neutrality will land at a reasonable place," Stephenson said.

In the wireless space, the iPad's $14.99-per-month data plan, which grants users 250 megabytes, is an example of metered Web access. But subscribers can upgrade to unlimited access for $29.99.

Those who oppose metered Internet argue that the ability to operate on the Web unfettered -- to upload as many videos as they want and play high-bandwidth games for as long as they're bored -- is what sparked the Internet renaissance.

Moving to a model like gas or water utilities could mean more conservative usage and less innovation. Now, from a bedroom, anyone can be a video or radio broadcaster. Perhaps that won't be the case if producers have to pay for every byte they put out.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

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