The latest story about the CRTC is something much more insidious but possibly slightly harder to grasp the importance of than their Dire Straits media guffaw. Metered Internet, otherwise known as Usage Based Billing or UBB, sounds innocuous enough but the long and short of it means that you will pay more for your Internet. What this means for artists, and more specifically musicians, is that sending that modest two gigabyte Ableton Live set to your friend across the country in Toronto could cost you between $4 and $10 extra on your internet bill.
What happens under this new billing system is you will pay for a limited amount of data or bandwidth every month with overages if you go over. Currently this amount has been unlimited for all intents and purposes and the main differences in the internet service providers plans has been the maximum download speed. Starting March 1st this will be a very limited amount of bandwidth with overage charges similar to that of cellphone minutes. Break the limit of your allotted bandwidth and you pay per gigabyte of overage.
Some media outlets have mentioned the giant strain and pressure that this will put on small budget new media startups. If someone started a service that took off the way facebook or twitter have, it’s growth could be highly constrained by these limits. These sorts of companies and startups should know how to grow in the extreme ways that they need to to stay afloat.
A real world example
Now, where metered internet starts to get crazy destructive to artists is with online collaboration. I share large 24bit 96khz uncompressed audio files over the Internet daily. A five minute stereo .wav file at this resolution is approximately 165 megabytes. This may not seem very big, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Multiply that by 16 tracks and you’re already up to 2640MB or 2.58GB. Some of the projects I send back and forth with other producers are 32 or more tracks. So we’ve got about 5GB ONE WAY and 10GB to then download the same project after any changes are made, provided no additional audio tracks are added. Multiply that by the 10 or more times a file may go back and forth and I’m looking at over 100GB of bandwidth every month for a single collaboration.
I’m a fairly budget conscious person and currently only have the lite plan with my Internet service provider. Speed isn’t a gigantic problem for me as I usually will send files like this at the end of my day. By the time the morning rolls around the file is on my server and ready for my collaborators to download (download speeds are generally hundreds of times faster than uploads). The current billing system works perfectly for my needs. Under the metered billing I get 15GB bandwidth, and I will have to pay an additional $170 a month. You read that right! 85GB of overage at $2/GB = $170 (on a different ISP’s lite plan it actually works out to $435 of overage!). That doesn’t even include watching movies or shows on my Apple TV or Netflix (1-3GB/hour) or other recreational Internet surfing.
One simple solution is to upgrade to a plan that ‘s more in line with my usage. I found a plan with 175 GB of bandwidth with lower overage costs ($1/GB) but the cost to upgrade to that plan is about $75 more every month. Want to collaborate with more than one person every month and you’re into the 350GB/month for $150 plan. These plans are also, from what I’ve seen online, some of the best value plans available. Many ISPs charge much much more for overage.
These costs are completely ridiculous! For struggling artists doubly so. Does your average musician make enough money to spend $150+ a month on Internet? No. We’re not all millionaires swimming in money that we can just throw at a problem to make it go away. I have a day job, I carry my own gear to and from shows, and after expenses (including Internet), I likely am in the red if you were to just count the little I make in my music career. Like most musicians, my day job subsidizes my music.
Other areas that will likely suffer
Now my case might be somewhat extreme. But if you think my file sizes are large consider video! If you watch an hour of Netflix every day, and let’s estimate that one hour of video is about 1GB, you’ve already likely doubled the bandwidth limits of the lite plans offered by the providers. This is with highly compressed video and audio streams. People who work with uncompressed video have hundreds of gigabytes per hour of video.
What can you do?
To stop the CRTC and telecom giants from stifling the creativity of musicians, videographers, and other online artists in Canada join the fight and sign your name on the official petition to stop these new rules at stopthemeter.ca. There are already over 107000 names, but every one counts. Let the government of Canada know that you won’t stand to let a few of these monopolistic internet providers hurt the creativity of Canadians. Write your MP a letter, email or better yet phone them to state your dissatisfaction.
Another great source of information and ways you can fight this new policy is antiubb.com