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Graham Davies

Higher broadband charges

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My Internet Services Provider - in common with many other ISPs - is about to introduce a sliding scale of broadband charges reflecting users' monthly downloads. I was a bit concerned about this as I use the Internet for several hours every day, but when I looked at my average monthly usage it was well within the usage recommended for the cheap broadband rate that I currently pay. I use the Internet mainly for email and for browsing Web pages, and I hardly ever download large files. My ISP indicates that I could browse up to 5000 Web pages per day before reaching my bandwidth limit. That'll do!

It appears the sliding scale is being introduced to curtail the activities of "bandwidth hogs", who download hundreds of gigabytes of music and video files and clog up the ISP's system, thereby slowing it down for moderate users. The "bandwidth hogs" will be cut off as soon as they reach their limit and may be forced to pay a higher charge as high as 300 pounds per month.

This appears to part of a growing trend to make the costs of Internet access reflect usage, i.e. pay as you go. An increasing number of websites levy subscription charges, for example, and now ISPs are raising their broadband charges to reflect usage.

I had a look at the language courses offered at the LearnDirect site: http://www.learndirect.co.uk

Fun With French (Intermediate) is available only on CD-ROM, and other courses, e.g. Everyday French (Beginner) is available in mixed mode, CD-ROM and online, described thus:

"With these courses you have a choice. You can choose to learn over the Internet, or combine using a CD-ROM with the Internet. If you have a slow Internet connection, we recommend you use the combined Internet and CD-ROM to get the most out of this course. If you have a faster connection, such as broadband, you may prefer to learn online without the need for the CD-ROM."

If heavy users of broadband, i.e. those who download a lot of audio and video files, are to be penalised with higher charges, then this mixed mode approach appears to be likely to become the trend. This should also be a warning to Web page designers not to clog up their pages with large image files, audio files and flashy animations, and to to software designers to stop producing "bloatware".

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However - and it is quite a large however - most broadband backages are even more generous than you suggest. The ISPs are obviously not keen to give people downloads for nothing, but the prices and features are getting better and better. For instance my ISP, BTYahoo doubled the speed of our connection yesterday and reduced the price by £2 last month.

The capping of downloads is surely most to do with those who are downloading all the pirated material - and this has given ISPs the opportunity to 'extend their provision'

I think we are seeing greater compition in the whole broadband provision 'industry' so I suspect things are afoot to complicate the issues further, a little like mobile phones. No longer will we pay for broadband, instead you will pay for what you get - the faster the speed, the greater the price.

One might suggest that doubling connection speeds is a cynical attempt to help you beat their download tariffs, and this could be correct, but I think it is more to establish different options and price points so they can sell consumers more.

In terms of internet access I've gone from paying a minium of 0.42p for every minute at 36kb in 1996-97 to paying £27.99 for 30 gig of data transfer a month with a 2MB connection. I'm certainly happy with that.

Finally, clever use of Flash animations and suchline will actually reduce the bandwidth requirements. For instance on my history site I've developed a way of loading the games dynamically - you load the game file once and then only load the questions. Issues like this - where both the webmaster and the browser are looking to save bandwidth will help everyone.

In the end it is all the same - you get what you pay for.

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As a (retired) teacher of Modern Foreign Languages I was initially a bit concerned about capping downloads. MFL teachers and learners make a lot of use of audio and video files - which can be streamed, of course, but you get higher quality (high quality sound is crucial in MFL) and better interaction if you can download the file once and then work with it offline. However, I think my concern is unfounded. As Andrew says, it has more to do with people (mainly teenagers, I guess) who are grabbing all the pirated stuff.

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