Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cables Fishing For Gigabyte Revenue

If I wore a pacemaker it would have beeped in alarm mode upon reading David Lazarus's column in The Los Angeles Times that my cable company may charge me as much as $150 a month for online access.

By coincidence, an hour earlier I ripped an $82.66 check to Time Warner for Internet and basic cable television access. This monthly ransom note amounts to about 7% of my gross monthly income. For sheer entertainment value, I'm willing to pay the price. Certainly, almost doubling the cost will not offer twice the pleasure.

"The sky-high charge is part of a new 'consumption-based billing' system that Time Warner will test this summer to address what it says is the possibility of "brownouts" on the Net within three years because of soaring usage," Lazarus writes.

Oh, my gosh. I'm surfing the Internet six hours a day. Searching for gems to write about. Straining the innards of my computer until it flashes a warning it's losing its memory capacity.

I really worked up a lather when Lazarus reports the basic problem are video outfits such as Netflix. Yikes! I got Netflix. And then he gently lets me off the hook. It's the downloading of these videos that stretch the resources of the cable operators.

Whew! I don't download movies. Or songs. None of those mega kilobytes or whatever some geek named them in the basement of his parent's home. Who the hell wants to watch a movie on his computer screen when he can relax in a recliner watching the same flick on the TV set? Then, by definition, I'm no contributor to brownouts.

Let me digress here a moment. Only once in my entire life have I been called by a national consumer survey pollster asking my product preferences. After dropping the phone as a result of convulsive laughter, I told the guy I make up my mind what I want, go to the store, find the proper display shelf, buy it and promptly leave. He agreed. I'm a lousy shopper. That's how I must have been put on the national survey no-call list.

My habits with the Net are no different. I have to arm wrestle my firewall to access even the safest websites on cyberspace. And, when the computer flashes me a warning that a particular site or program is unsecured, visions of viruses and worms crawl through my brain.

But Lazarus, God bless him, put my mind to rest. He quotes an authority who claims all Time Warner and the other operators are trying to do is gouge the consumer.

He quotes Karl Bode, editor of "The cable companies argue that they can't handle this demand, but if you look more closely, the growth of the Internet is manageable through reasonable equipment upgrades... By charging a ridiculous amount for Internet viewing, they hope you'll scale back online and go back to watching things on cable."

Finally, Lazarus offers a happy conclusion to all of us:

As it happens, an "under new management" sign is up at the Federal Communications Commission. And President Obama's pick to serve as the agency's chairman, Julius Genachowski, has a background in the online world and is said to be a strong believer that everyone deserves affordable broadband Internet access.

One of the FCC's next steps should be to determine how much the Net really costs on a per-gigabyte basis, and to ensure that access providers charge a fair price.

Heavy Net users should pay more. But not that much more.

No comments: