why usage based billing will hurt online education (and other interesting things)

The CRTC has supported Usage Based Billing (UBB) for Canadian internet service providers. On the surface, paying for what you use sounds entirely rational. But the way UBB is set up is to impose a disincentive for usage, rather than an actual pay-for-use model.

My ISP, Shaw Cable, has a “High Speed” internet service. It is now capped at 60GB per month. Every GB above that is billed at $2 each. It apparently costs the ISP about 1 penny to move 1GB of data. Real UBB would have my monthly bill increased by approximately 1 penny, rather than $2. Maybe the ISP can make a case for a 10x charge. Fine. So a rational UBB at 10x cost would add 10¢ per GB, rather than $2.

But, 60GB? That’s a lot of data, right?

Not really. On Shaw’s own page on data usage, they don’t recommend that I access streaming media with my “high speed” connection:

Screen shot 2011 01 31 at 11 28 47 AM

Suppose I listen to Radio #ds106 (a student-run internet radio station used by a single course) for a month. A quick calculation shows that will use 42GB of data just for that. Leaving less than 20GB for using the web, or streaming media. Take Netflix – the streaming service uses approximately 3MB/sec of bandwidth to stream a high quality movie. That’s 1.35GB per hour of video. So a 2 hour movie takes 2.7GB.

The real move here is for the ISPs trying to kill Netflix to protect their video-on-demand streaming video services. The ISPs would now like to charge you an additional $4 bandwidth disincentive tax to let you watch a high quality movie on Netflix. Or, you could just give the ISP the $4 in the first place and watch the video through their streaming service.

What does this mean for education? Most courses now have online components – videos to watch online, videos to publish by students, applications to download. Now, students will have to monitor their monthly bandwidth usage to decide if they can fully participate, or if they’ll risk publishing a contribution and take a potential hit on their monthly bill.

Many courses take place in online meeting rooms – with streaming audio, video, and media. A student in such a class may be chewing up substantial bandwidth, pushing them toward their monthly cap with every session they participate in. Instructors often provide large files for students to download – each of these files, which can be over 100MB, counts against the student’s monthly data cap.

A student trying to survive on a budget connection is imposed a 15GB/month cap (with an additional bandwidth throttle) by their ISP. That means they are now functioning as second (or third) class citizens online. The ISP is imposing the bandwidth cap at an artificially low limit, and then charging obscenely high overage fees as disincentives for use.

If I want to watch Al Jazeera English, whose coverage of the protests in Egypt have been exceptional and far more useful than those of North American news channels, I can tune in to their live video stream online. The Al Jazeera English channel isn’t part of my basic cable package, so unless I want to pay for another tier package, the online stream is the only option. Watching their outstanding coverage for an hour uses about 720 MB of data. Approximately 0.72GB/hour. That will eat up the allotted data very quickly. I’d better cough up for the Digital Premium channel package if I want to avoid surprise bills from my ISP.

Or, if I want to buy a copy of Call of Duty 4 via the new Mac App Store, I’d better make sure I have room left in my monthly data cap to accommodate the 7GB download. Same thing, if I want to buy some albums or HD movies via iTunes. Or follow course materials via iTunesU.

Usage Based Billing has nothing to do with charging for actual usage. It’s about using extraordinarily inflated penalties to shape social behaviour in an attempt to protect services offered by the large Canadian ISPs. It’s about punishing people for fully using the internet.

In 2011, this is not OK.

on broadcasting to radio #ds106

The Radio #ds106 phenomenon has totally changed how I think of social presence in a course experience. There is something magic (and yet not magic) about a bunch of people coming together to play and collaborate in various forms, just for shits and giggles. It’s awesome in so many ways.

It’s also a little like living in science fiction.

Grant Potter set up a radio station for the DS106 course. Which has been amazing. And then he shared the live broadcasting info, so people can tap into the server and broadcast live audio from wherever they are.

Everything in the radio station technology stack is several years old – with the exception of mobile apps for live broadcasting. But that mobile ability – to broadcast live from anywhere – is a real game changer.

I was on the train this morning, and there was a guy playing a guitar. I thought “hey, I should share this with #ds106″ and fired up the Papaya app on my iPhone. With one click, I was streaming the guy live to whoever was listening to Radio #ds106.

Train guitar dude

Sure, the guy’s playing was a little rough. And his guitar was painfully out of tune. But he was giving it a shot. And I was streaming his music, live, from a moving train, to anyone tuned into Radio #ds106.

That is pretty mindblowing stuff.

How does the ability to instantly broadcast live audio to a group of people impact what we do? How does this instant synchronous connection effect the sense of social presence? And how does having to make the decision of streaming vs. recording effect the experience of sharing?


2011-01-28 treacherous.jpg

The most dangerous stretch of my commute, by far (not counting dealing with cars). The snow wasn’t cleared, and was left in giant drifts on each side of the sidewalk/pathway. It hit +13˚C yesterday, so most of it melted, only to freeze overnight. Slick. Hard. Sharp. Dangerous. I wiped out on this spot. Thankfully, I wasn’t going very fast (but I did have to duck my head, so it didn’t smash one of the cement pillars). Fun times.