Saturday, 2 September 2017

Metered Water

My recent posts on tariffs for A&A actually took an odd turn today.

We offer internet based on usage, and there are levels. We don't quite do "unlimited" but offer tariffs that should, for most home users, be the same, 1TB download a month.

I have equated this to water supply in some ways. One can buy water metered or unmetered.

So this raised a whole load of moral issues.

If I buy unmetered water, can I, morally, run the taps all day pissing water down the drain?

If I but metered water, paying for what I use, can I, morally, run the taps all day pissing water down the drain?

Do either of these relate to broadband usage? That is the question...

I do think water, electricity, gas, etc, are all very similar in many ways to internet access, but in some ways not. They all relate to shared resources, and to some extent only work because people share reasonably.

If everyone ran their taps, metered or unmetered, all day, then water supply would break. No way it has capacity for that even if charging for the water. The same is true of internet access. It only works because most people are "reasonable".

So should a supplier aim to curb the usage of metered and unmetered customers that have intent to piss water down the drain?

Internet is complicated. Usage is growing, and what may previously have been excessive is now normal. I think it is all down to intent.

So, if I have streaming TV on, "in the background", on my TV at home, is that abuse? Is it "pissing water down the drain"? I suspect not as no real intent to waste, just the way the technology is. Technology works like that now.

What if I have paid for 1TB a month, and used only 300GB. If I deliberately download 700GB to throw it away solely because it is "what I have paid for", is that abuse? My view is yes, sorry. Use what you want and need - do not use "just because" or out of spite somehow.

Just like water, if we get this wrong, it all falls apart.



  1. Metered versus non-metered water is not quite the analogy in this situation, to my mind. Were you comparing "unlimited*" with "pay for what you use", yes, it would work, but the situation at issue is slightly different.

    The sitation at issue is essentially "if I buy an allowance of 1000l of water per month", is it abusive if I use that full 1000l, even if that means leaving the taps running on the last day of the month for no reason but to use it up, on the basis that the water company should be capable of fulfilling its commitment of 1000l to me or else they should not have sold it.

    I think the conclusion — wasteful is wasteful — remains, but that the analogy is slightly out.

    1. I agree - metering and buying volume/capacity in advance are different. Imagine if you ordered 1000 bottles of mineral water from Tesco online (or your favourite grocery delivery service :) ) but they only delivered 300. Yes, it's wasteful to use it to wash your patio - but you ordered 1000 and they should be able to deliver that, regardless of what you subsequently intend to do with it.

  2. Some of this feels like it ties in to your feelings on 330 Mbps lines. You are saying, if I have grasped it correctly, that you don't feel you can legitimately take on any 330 Mbps lines because you don't have the back end infrastructure to deliver up data at 330 Mbps 24x7x365 to any more than a handful of such lines. And I fully understand why AAISP takes this approach and it's completely laudable (and that is not meant to sound patronising).

    But I bet the statutory water companies cannot actually deliver up unlimited litres of water to my house, nor yours, nor anyone's. Even if the local water supplier sold me an X gallons per year contract I bet they could not deliver it all to me if everyone used their full X gallons in a particular day, week, month, year.

    Does that matter?

    Water isn't a great comparison because it is required to sustain the life of the 75m people in Britain so there is a legal obligation to provide it at low cost and easily obtainable and it cannot even be cut off for non-payment of the water bill and there is no competition in the supplier market for water - yet.

    But, something to think about? Do you need to relax the "we are never bottleneck" a bit? I assume that "we are never bottleneck" means that if you have 10,000 customers with 80 Mbps FTTC lines then you truly have 10,000 x 80 Mbps of bandwidth to the wider world - is this right? You would have 800 Gbps of pipe to cover this and there is truly no contention with your systems? Or is it that you do some sophisticated calculations based on traffic patterns and work out that to support 10,000 lines at 80 Mbps you actually only need an 8 Gbps pipe to the outside world and will still only hit, say, 75% utilisation for, say, 30 minutes per year and that feels likea safe margin to be at?

    I have no idea of the scale of AAISP - do you have 10,000 customer lines on FTTC? Don't answer if it's commercially sensitive.

    1. Just to clarify, it is not that we are never the bottleneck. We try not to be by ensuring capacity to cover the usage not to cover total possible usage. If we did that it would cost some orders of magnitude more to run. The 330Mb/s issue is down to many parts of our network being 1Gb/s or 2Gb/s links, albeit lots of them - that is something we are working on though.

  3. Waste of anything is morally difficult to me - water, energy and food especially so as these have an environmental impact and are things that many in the world aren't lucky enough to have access to.

    Waste of bits going over a fibre, well if you are on a low cost consumer 'unlimited' plan, then yes I think explicit waste for no reason isn't really right especially as it will breach the 'fair usage' terms. However at the end of the day it will be picked up by the ISP if they are loosing enough money on it.

    If you sell 1000GB and someone uses 1000GB, I do not think you are in a position to complain as a provider to be honest. It's not like loads of additional c02 has gone into the atmosphere, lots of water down the drain or you ran Pizza Hut Buffet out of food for no reason!

    I think wasting the extra 700GB on the last day of the month is really stupid and pointless. I cannot understand the mindset of someone who wants to waste their time and internet connection on that. Having said I hardly think it is 'morally wrong', he has purchased 1000GB and used 1000GB - sure he wasted the last 700GB but so what? Isn't that his business if he explicitly paid for it? It isn't the ISPs job to check if each packet was 'needed' by the end user or not, or frankly to have any opinion on it! You are mere conduit remember.

    Do NTT, Level 3 or Cogent have a policy where they get upset if you 'wasted' any of your 1G 95%ile that you paid for? Of course not - it would be insane.

    1. I am not suggesting we check what people use. From the other post on tariffs you see there are people that do feel they should find a way to download that 700G on the last day for no reason. My issue is that such an attitude is not conducive to playing a part in society and using a shared resource. If everyone had that attitude it simple would not work. It is interesting that people do understand that if you pay for unlimited you have not bought 25TB on your FTTC and so must use it or you paid for something you did not get, however they can think that way when paying for 1TB. The 1TB figure was not set as selling a terabyte, it was set as level normal usage would not reach but which would deter those that do things like torrent all day. If I picked lower then normal usage may hit it. I could set higher but if people think that they have to use what they have paid for then that becomes a risk too.

  4. In many places you can only get metered water. In most cases you only get unmetered internet. The analogy fails further because small charge aside, I pay for what I use with water. There is no usage allowance. I use 2x as much, I pay that much. Okay if I was wealthy I could piss it away out of spite but this would not have any real impact as the money spent would fund the infrastructure needed to make up. I would waste money harming no one else. In a drought maybe but there would be other penalties then.

    If I pay for 1tb and use nothing then that is wasted money. I could use a cheaper package. Not putting it to use financially harms me. And if I need 1.5tb over 2 months then not using enough affects my services which can have further financial and real life impact.

    I also can't see anyone using bandwidth just because. People use it if they need it. If your usage policy forces me to download stuff in the last few days because it will cost me more money to do it next week (after you've already taken my money for more data allowances) then that's on you. You put the limit and time limit there not me.

    Now if allowances never expired then there's no rush and it can be used as needed. I don't lose money. If there's no limit then there's no rush. I can even schedule it for a quiet time in the interest of fair play. If I ruin things by going beyond reason then take action under fair usage.

    I don't think you can take money for something, incentivise usage in such a way, and then complain personally.

    Why not average usage out over a year? At least that makes the allowance more reasonable since there is no wastage and people who put more stress on the network pay more.

  5. I agree - post-consumption metered billing is different.. Imagine that you ordered 1000 x 1.5 litre bottles of water from Tesco online (or whoever your favourite grocery service is), but they only delivered 300 bottles - you'd be rightly pissed off. It's a separate matter that you're being wasteful using it to wash the patio.

  6. I'd say comparing to potable water or gas isn't a fair comparison. There is only so much gas / clean water in the world to work with, but, bandwidth is something we're explicitly constraining. If someone is selling x amount of a potentially infinite thing for y then me only using x of it isn't abuse in my mind

    1. Bandwidth is not infinite, it depends on links and servers around the whole world - increasing that costs money. Arguably water is infinite as it simply recycles via the weather but again trying to accommodate everyone running the taps all day would mean changes to infrastructure.

    2. Ah, an opportunity to be hilariously and irrelevantly pedantic, I must take it! Our water supply is not infinite. Earth is running out in two ways, one certain, one not.

      The certain one is loss of water to space via multiple routes (ionization in the upper atmosphere and loss of the resulting hydrogen to space is the big one). We are losing about 50l/s that way. The uncertain one is that it is possible that we are losing water into the mantle: it may be that it is too cold now to return all subducted water to the crust eventually. This is a much larger loss, if it's happening, 100,000l/s or higher, and unlike the 50l/s loss might actually cause the Earth to run out in a billion years or so. (You'd need to wait trillions for the loss to space to be significant, and we don't have that long.)

      I know of no way either loss method is relevant to Internet connection supply. :P

      (However, the local political figure that claimed that fracking is losing water forever because it is draining into the mantle like a plug being pulled and we'd run out in, oh, a few years, and the *other* one who claimed that fracking was like bursting a balloon and the Earth would flood, are both nuts.)

  7. I would like to think people (especially customers of AAisp who I would class as having a higher than average IQ and morals) would use the internet exactly how they want to, and choose a suitable tariff/allowance)

    I switched from 200GB to the TB service last Jan, but average 200-300GB a month and wouldn't dream of downloading/streaming just to use my quota.

    It may be that one month I actually want to DL a 1080p boxset, and its nice to know I can without worrying about using up my allowance like I did when it was 200GB. The only thing that should ever be abused is a drinks package on a cruise ship!

    1. "especially customers of AAisp who I would class as having a higher than average IQ and morals"

      This has to be the funniest thing I've read this week. A&A, the ISP for ethically superior Mensa members! Sorry, this is a geek social fallacy if anything is. Being geeky does not make you especially intelligent or especially ethical.

  8. Ideally all plans would only charge you for actual usage - I am on the 1TB plan but it's only 15 pounds a month more than 100GB so not a big issue, but it would be nice to have some sort of variable pricing for usage between 100GB and 1TB - eg use 500GB and only pay 10 pounds extra, and use 250GB and only pay 5 pounds extra

  9. It's a bit different to me, as water is a fundamentally limited resource that is required to keep people alive, wheras data is not.

    It may be a stupid thing to do to download 700GB just because you can, but if my ISP wrote to me and complained about me doing so and it was within my tariff, I would probably look for another ISP.

    1. I am not suggesting we write to people that use their allowance and ask why, etc. My concern was the attitude in the first place. This came about because someone commenting on tariffs seemed to display an attitude of deliberate waste and not "playing fair". Yes, some people download way more than others and that is why we have a range of tariffs, but I don't think we have customers who feel they have to use a whole TB allowance on some sort of principle.

  10. I'm not sure the analogy works... If I pay for metered water, I pay for what I use... Or rather, I pay for the average of what I use over a year with review periods.

    I pay a fixed price based on my average usage, but if I use more one month my water cut off or the flow reduced - I don't have to pay for a top-up of water to keep the taps running either. In the end, because I am paying for average usage, the times I use less make up for this anyway.

    If my usage raises on a more consistent basis, then the bills go up - but also if it falls they go down.

    With the current Home::1 or SOHO plans I am paying for a fixed amount usage each month, if I use all of that up one month the speed is either slowed down or the internet cut off or I pay for a top-up - It doesn't matter if I used less last month and a little more this month.

    The old units plans allowed for this by allowing usage to roll over, but they also put a penalty on usage during the day.

    Yet still none of these plans quite do things in the same way as other utilities where although supply is metered, it is monitored and the monthly payments are adjusted as needed throughout the year to try and ensure you are paying the average for your actual usage rather than over paying to ensure you do not get cut off or run out.

  11. Wasting water in the sorts of ways described above is actually an offence (s73 Water Industry Act 1991). You can be fined up to £1000.

    It doesn't make the slightest difference whether the supply is metered or not.

    On that basis it seems that parliament at least believes that such an act is immoral.

    Similarly I can see how a similar offence might be created for data transfer across a shared resource like the internet (though I doubt it ever will).

    In the case of transferred data, it does feel like there's some distinction between for example

    (a) downloading a load of movies that you might watch at some point (but have no particular plans to do so, and indeed might just as well delete them unwatched next month to make room on your NAS for something else) and

    (b) just transferring random data between nodes purely for the sake of busying up the links and ensuring some counters reach a particular value.

    The former is a bit inconsiderate but not breaking any rules - and critically I think it's possible to do it entirely innocently without it even occurring to you that there might be an issue.

    The latter however is wilful and to my mind abusive. I've not read A&A's T&Cs lately but I would absolutely expect the latter behaviour to be prohibited.

    As always the fun is finding where the line in between these two cases is...!

  12. I'm split from what you're saying here.

    On the one hand, I believe in people paying for what they use (as I wouldn't want to be subsiding others' waste). So if someone pays per GB/cubic meter/kWh, then I don't see anything morally wrong with wasting it.

    On the other hand, if electricity worked like AAISP internet, you would estimate in advance that you will use e.g. 200kWh a month. If you use less, you've wasted your money and are subsiding others' gluttony/waste. If you use more, you'll get charged some horrendous excess usage fee and next month when you use less you won't be refunded.

    I suppose it's the fixed nature of "allowances" that I disagree with - if you've paid for it, you should receive it. Alternatively, simply charge per GB or refund unused allowances.

    Although generally speaking (on the side of the backhaul carriers) there is no real, direct cost to transmitting 10TB compared to 10GB a month, clearly you get charged by the size of your backhaul as well as how much you use it.

    That's why I can understand your reservations to someone using their allowance "because they've paid for it" - there's no need, and it's costing you money.

    Perhaps the best approach then, would be to launch a tariff where customers commit to a certain usage that they know they'll mostly always use, but the allowance is completely flexible (e.g. pay say 10p/GB and can be from 1GB to 10TB, changeable month by month). If you use less than you committed, you'll get refunded some of the money (e.g. say 6p/GB), if you use more, you pay a higher rate (e.g. 15p/GB). Of course, this would be on top of the usual rental fee of WLR + ADSL/GEA + support costs/profit, just like electricity, gas and water have standing charges.

    That way, you're encouraged to accurately predict your usage, but you're not overly penalised for over or underpredicting it. It fairly reflects your cost - being both the size of the pipe as well as the committed/burst usage.

    I would appreciate constructive criticism of my suggestion. If it's at all workable, I'd be happy to try it out, as at the moment I don't feel I'm getting optimal value from my package, some months paying for allowance I'm never going to use, other months having to turn down video quality severely or even tethering, just to avoid sky-high overage fees whose allowance will soon expire.

    1. Several people have asked for a simple metered service. Your idea is slightly more complex and I see why you suggested it. I am sure we could do a metered service but I am not sure many people would actually use it. The world is moving to higher usage, fixed price packages, and "unlimited" packages. We are trying to move closer to that where we can but want to be honest on actual limits and discourage that tiny percentage of very high users that would disproportionately impact our network. So yes, interesting idea.

    2. your model is very complex. We should be thinking more of an "insurance" model where risk is pooled - that's basically what they do today. And perhaps taper the cost of over consumption so that minor excess is charged at the same rate, then if you're > 20% out a slightly higher fee, significant (> 50% of predicted demand perhaps) is charged at a higher fee etc. But charge excess per consumed data, not in big buckets.

  13. economists would probably refer to the "externalities" of consumption - the effect of consumption on others. The fact is that potable water is finite to the point of production capacity, and that bandwidth is finite to the point of provisioned backhaul etc. Consider the cost of running a car - when maintenance and purchase costs are high, there's an incentive to drive more to amortize that cost over as many miles as possible. If there was a "driving tax" which increased with miles driven, you'd be incentivised to drive less - but you'd probably also be incentivised to do more shorter journeys. So, to encourage "responsible" consumption, pricing needs to be carefully worked out to reflect human behaviour. If you charge £10/TB, downloading 50TB costs £500. But if you increase the charge each time (e.g.£10 for 1TB, £11 for the next TB, £12 for the next etc.), the 50th TB is £59, meaning that downloading 50TB of data would cost over £1,700.

  14. Really you're not paying for 1TB, you're paying for 1TB shared between a number of people needed to get the price to what anyone is prepared to pay. It used to be that contention ratios were openly shared as part of advertising, but now less so.

    I use a fair chunk of that, but I'm aware I'm borrowing from other people who use much less. That's not a problem.. it's just how the system works (and favours large ISPs who can spread the load across a lot more users and sell 'unlimited' with the occasional user grabbing 25TB in a month).

  15. I think (again) you are probably overly obsessing about the weird reaction of one individual. For most people, if they had 1TB usage and were only using a little of it, they'd either switch to a cheaper tariff or not worry about it. I sometimes look at how much data I have left near the end of the month and if there's a lot spare take the opportunity to download any software updates or perhaps a film or something I want to see, but it usually only comes to a few GB. Nobody says out of spite, right, I'm going to randomly use as much as I can, that'll show them...

    Just keep a hard usage limit, keep slowly increasing the basic amount as costs permit, and give heavy users an ability to topup beyond 1TB or whatever.

    Also, make it easy for people to buy the amount of data closest to what they actually use - i.e. 1GB or 50GB or 100GB at a time. Don't do what mobile phone companies do and have a series of tariffs that are too small for most people and others that are far too big and deliberately not provide several in the middle that would suit many people best, because you want to force them to pay more.

    1. I agree - as Cory Doctorow points out - systems like eBay and airbnb work not because of feedback systems, but because most people are honest:

    2. Completely agree! I'm paying for the lowest level package for a stable connection in a house that is only occupied for about half the month. We've yet to even reach half the limit, and this is something that I'm not fussed about - I'd used an 'unlimited' el-cheapo provider prior to AAISP and the hassle with the connection being broken when it was needed was just not worth the saving. I knew this going in, and I was also aware that I was not buying 150GB (wait, 200 now! Thanks! :D ) of 'data' (as if it would turn up in a box at the start of the month or something), more the ability to use up to that.

  16. It's also about what you may consider wastage others may not.
    For instance rebuilding a PC/Replacing the HDD with an SSD it's more convenient to re-download games off steam than go through the process of trying to back them up/restore them.

    Likewise If I have a Movie on DVD/Blu-Ray but it's also on Netflix is watching the NetFlix version because that's more convenient considered wasting bandwidth.

    I'd even argue periodically downloading something to > /dev/null is not always wasting bandwidth if it's during trying to troubleshoot a speed issue. As long as you remember to stop it once you have sufficient results of course.

  17. It's more like having a 20kg luggage allowance on a flight, weighing your suitcase and finding it weighs 15kg, and then putting 5kg of rocks into your suitcase to make sure you have used the 20kg you paid for. Utterly pointless, just the same as deliberately chewing bandwidth just for the hell of it. And both cost someone money, the 5kg rocks would mean the plane used more fuel to get where it was going. And I suspect the airlines assume the average suitcase is a bit less than the weight limit, so if everyone bulked their suitcases up with rocks we would all have to pay more for hold luggage.

  18. The mindset that goes with the "Ive paid for X so I'm going to piss it up the wall to get my moneys worth" attitude belongs to the same sort of Muppet who will then Bitch & whine if/when others do the same and he then isnt getting *The speed I pay for" because the links are flooded. This is such a childish attitude.

    Soon I will be moving to AAISP, not because I need a huge allowance - but because I want a quality ISP,I will probably be taking the Tb package, although I cant ever see my usage hitting that level, even when I have guests, Im happy that some of my data allowance will remain unused and in some small way will help to keep the network viable and sustainable.