Mac Musings

Telcos Seek to Bill Apple, Google, and Facebook for Wireless Network Improvements

Dan Knight - 2010.12.08 - Tip Jar

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According to an article posted on AppleInsider this morning, iPhone 4 users and Android users on average consume a lot more bandwidth than iPhone 3 users - and European telcos want Apple, Google, and others to help pay for network improvements necessary to support the growing bandwidth demands.

That's right, the telcos want Apple, which makes and sells the iPhone, and Google, which helped bring the free Android OS to market, to help pay for the telco's wireless infrastructure.

I have to say that I don't understand this at all. Maybe it's my North American mindset, but the best analogy I can come up with would be the federal and state governments asking Ford, Chrysler, GM, Toyota, and other car makers to help pay for the interstate highways and local road system because car owners have been making increasing demands on their capacity.

Does that make sense to you?

It doesn't to me.

Telcos can say what they want to about capacity and bandwidth costs, but in the end it is the smartphone user - not the handset maker - who makes demands of the system. It isn't Apple's fault or Google's problem if AT&T, Verizon, France Telecom, Telecom Italia Spa, Vodafone Group, and others haven't developed sufficient capacity for today's users, let alone next year's demands on their networks.

It is also disingenuous for them to argue that their wireless data networks are fundamentally different from Internet data networks. Data is data, and if the telcos can't figure out how to develop the capacity their users require at a fair cost to those users, perhaps it's time for other competitors to provide what they cannot.

Asking Apple, Google, and Facebook to help fund network improvements is the same as asking them to pay for improvements to the Internet infrastructure. The problem isn't the amount of bandwidth iPhones, Google services, or Facebook use; the issue is that users are already paying for this bandwidth.

What the telcos are proposing amounts to double-dipping, charging end users for the bandwidth they use and charging for that data a second time by billing Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.

Wireless users are accessing online services exactly as they do on the Internet, so the same rules should apply. You bill the end user for mobile phone minutes and data bandwidth, not the websites they visit.

It is the telco's responsibility to build sufficient capacity, not to oversell (such as AT&T installing U-verse with only a single high definition stream - and never mentioning that to the end user - when it promotes three HD streams in all of its advertising), and to develop a billing structure that works. AT&T took a big step in that direction earlier this year when it stopped offering unlimited wireless data plans, forcing consumers to choose one of two service levels.

If iPhone 4 and Android users are consuming more bandwidth, the fair thing is to charge them for bandwidth. Asking Apple, Google, Facebook, and other "content providers" to cover those costs is unfair and unreasonable.

This would be a step in the wrong direction, and if the telcos ever bill us for the bandwidth used by visitors to lowendmac.com - the ultimate outcome of charging content providers instead of content users - we will not pay. LEM

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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