Internet users are feeling the pinch following the implementation of the fair use policy by broadband service providers. Coming at a time when increased bandwidth is the requirement, users are now compelled to budget and monitor their usage. The policy also raises questions about net neutrality, writes Karthik Subramanian

The honeymoon period seems to be over for the bulk of home as well as business consumers of broadband connections. Over the past few months, social networks and online forums are abuzz with the rants of broadband users about the ‘fair use policy' (FUP) of service providers that not only seems to curb network usage but also sends out solicitous alerts, urging users to purchase bandwidth at extra cost.

System shock

The cap on data usage appears to have hit many users like a bolt from the blue. The usage patterns for most of them at least have remained stable. But the sudden bombarding by direct mailers and text messages stating that they have crossed “80 per cent of allotted high-bandwidth usage” has led to anxiety.

Even the most disruptive form of re-directing web traffic to advertisements suggesting that users purchase “high-speed download data” falls between the fine line of advertising and spam.

Interestingly, while the private broadband service provider is keen to send out alerts urging users to buy bandwidth, there is no system in place to monitor usage as it takes place. The skewed logic presented by some of the mid-level executives (which is as far as any consumer can hope to reach in most of Indian telecom companies with their grievance) is that metering is not possible for ‘unlimited' usage accounts.

Unfair turn

There have been instances where small business users have suddenly received exorbitant bills from the service providers after being kept in the dark about the policy change.

For those on ‘unlimited' plans, the service provider re-adjusts the connections to lower speeds, at times to less than half the speed. But in the case of users who have opted for a monthly data plan, say 50 GB a month, the bill gets marked up considerably.

One such user, entrepreneur Vijay Anand from Chennai, in a heart-felt grievance on his blog www.vijayanand.name in November, observes how his broadband bill has gone up from around Rs.3,000 to such an exorbitant amount that it literally makes his small enterprise untenable. In response to his post, several other users on his blog and other social networks have shared similar experiences. Just a search of some of the biggest ISPs (Internet service providers) turns up results on social networks of several such grievances.

In another instance, a home user has this to say: “My house in Mangalore is under lock and key and the modem has been switched off since the month of November. I have received a mail from the ISP saying I have expended 80 per cent of my permitted usage and, after I cross 100 per cent, FUP will apply and the speed will reduce. How could 80 per cent have been used up when I have not used even 0 per cent of broadband? On making an email complaint, they have sent an sms saying the complaint has been solved.”

Self-monitoring

One of the first things to do in such a scenario is secure one's broadband connection using encryptions found on the settings of the modem-router. This should effectively rule out any theft of bandwidth.

There are some free Apps for monitoring broadband usage. One such — Surplus Meter — is available for Apple Mac computers. These tools might become effective in the prevailing scenario.

These steps will help one use the available ‘high-speed' bandwidth wisely. However, the discussions about fair use policy (FUP) go beyond all this.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, has been a vehement voice against Internet service providers offering dual-speed solutions to users. His argument is that such restrictions go against the growth of Internet that has taken place so rapidly in the last two decades. The “bandwidth caps” have the potential to slow down growth and offer a system of control over what is indisputably the biggest social change we have witnessed in recent decades.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012