Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mobile Internet | Epicenter |

Mobile Carriers Dream of Charging per Page

Just a week before the FCC holds a vote on whether to apply fairness rules to some of the nation’s internet service providers, two companies that sell their services to the country’s largest cellular companies showed off a different vision of the future: one where you’ll have to pay extra to watch YouTube or use Facebook.

The companies, Allot Communications and Openetsuppliers to large wireless companies including AT&T and Verizon — showed off a new product in a web seminar Tuesday, which included a PowerPoint presentation (1.5-MB .pdf) that was sent to Wired by a trusted source.

The idea? Make it possible for your wireless provider to monitor everything you do online and charge you extra for using Facebook, Skype or Netflix. For instance, in the seventh slide of the above PowerPoint, a Vodafone user would be charged two cents per MB for using Facebook, three euros a month to use Skype and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. But traffic to Vodafone’s services would be free, allowing the mobile carrier to create video services that could undercut NetFlix on price.

In short, you’d have a hard time creating a better graphic of the future that net neutrality advocates warn will be imminent if the federal government does not apply fairness rules to the mobile internet. A court struck down an earlier set of fairness rules in the spring, but it was never clear if those rules applied to wireless carriers.

“It certainly is exactly the thing we have been warning the companies will do if they have the opportunity and explains why AT&T and Verizon are so insistent that the wireless rules be solely about blocking and not anything else,” said Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld. “If you want the slide deck to show why we need the same rules for wireless and wireline, this is it.”

The FCC is set to adopt some net neutrality provisions Tuesday, but they will not apply to mobile devices.

Feld says the slide shows that the wireless companies’ seemingly successful fight to not have net neutrality rules apply to them is not about a desire to make sure that critical services get priority.

“It’s not about wirelessly monitoring people’s pacemaker data,” Feld said. “Its about charging you extra to access Facebook.”

In fact, it looks suspiciously similar to a graphic created by a net neutrality advocate to satirize the dreams of ISPs.

The ideas don’t look too different from the way cable companies price their video offerings, with different packages of programming at different levels.

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