ISP To FCC: The Internet Is Oreos So Therefore We Should Be Able To Charge More

Image courtesy of David H

Internet service providers have come up with all kinds of interesting reasons for why they should be able to cap your internet usage and charge you more money when you want to go above it. The newest example for the gallery is a doozy, though. The literal argument — and no, we are not making this up — is that Double Stuf Oreos cost more than regular ones, and therefore you should pay more for more internet. Yes, really.

Ars Technica first spotted the crumbly filing, from small (and much-loathed) provider Mediacom.

Mediacom’s comment is in response to the same proceeding that Netflix commented on earlier this month. However, while Netflix actually addressed data and the ways in which their customers use it, Mediacom went for the more… metaphor-driven approach.

The letter literally starts out under the header, “You Have to Pay Extra For Double-Stuffed,” and posits that you, the consumer, are out for a walk with $2 in your pocket when you suddenly develop a ferocious craving for Oreo (®) cookies.

You can’t buy a family pack with that $2, Mediacom general counsel Joseph E. Young explains somewhat condescendingly: “It would be nice if your two dollars bought you the right to eat an unlimited number of cookies, but you know that is not the way our economy works.”

“It is the same,” Young continues, “for the Starbucks latte you might want to drink with your cookies and for socks, gasoline and just about every single one of the thousands of other products and services that are for sale in the United States, including essentials like water and electricity.”

Got that? Broadband is not only Oreo cookies but also lattes, socks, gas, and your electric and water utilities.

The argument Mediacom was trying to make, before it became inexplicably bogged down in creme filling, is the same hoary old chestnut we’ve heard from ISPs time and time again: the more you use, the more you pay.

“In the case of virtually everything you buy, the fact that your cost goes up as you consume more will neither surprise you nor set you off on a passionate crusade to get the government to force producers to sell an unlimited quantity at a fixed price,” Young writes. “Remarkably, the only exception to this truism we can think of is bandwidth. A fair number of otherwise intelligent people vociferously complain about ISPs imposing a ‘cap’ on bandwidth usage.”

“Even though virtually every other industry prices its products and services in the same way, some people think that ISPs should be the exception and run their businesses like an all-you-can-eat buffet,” the letter continues. ”

Young then digresses to a footnote to say that Mediacom does not have a “bandwidth cap” but instead a “bandwidth allowance,” much like Comcast’s 2014 attempt to reframe its data caps as “data thresholds.”

Mediacom is taking a page out of Comcast’s book in more ways than one here, too: In 2015, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts explicitly likened it to your electric bill.

However what Roberts, Young, and others always seem to miss is that if you go out of town for a month and unplug everything, your electric bill can go down for a while — but you’re still on the hook for your $50 or $150 to the cable company regardless of whether you actually used any of the data or not.

Not only that, but you have recourse and a utility commission backing you up when your electric, gas, or water meters go out of whack. ISPs, on the other hand, can basically make up their own usage data, leaving customers on the hook for inexplicable bills unrelated to reality.

Still, Young pushes hard on the “everyone does it” angle, rhetorically joining Mediacom to Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and others without whose investments in infrastructure modern internet access would be impossible. The implication is that we should be thanking them, instead of calling them “greedy pigs or evil villains” — Young’s words, not ours.

But when Young says consumers, “do not expect to be able to get Lamborghini performance for a Kia price,” he’s not only dangerously mixing metaphors but also getting it backwards.

The car, in his setup, is not the internet you use but rather the device from which you access it. A new iPhone 7 Plus may be the high-end sports car, and the free low-power five-year-old smartphone you get from a wireless carrier might be the jalopy — but they both drive on the same road, and may cover as many miles in a day as the driver sees fit. In the 90s, marketers knew that the internet was the superhighway, not the vehicle or the destination; that’s a lesson it seems Mediacom could stand to hear.

Really, it all boils down to money, and who’s making it. Mediacom and its peers need more money to run, expand, and invest in their service, Young writes. Edge providers like Google, Amazon, and Netflix “have grown rich and powerful” — he’s not wrong, there — and have created “excplosive growth in bandwidth usage.” If they don’t want to pay for all that usage, Young seems to conclude, then consumers will.

For what it’s worth… as a consumer site, we feel compelled to point out that not only is the headline analogy about Oreo cookies a little bonkers, but also it’s wrong on the face of it. While you do pay more for a package of 50 cookies than one of two or four, there’s no appreciable price difference for Double Stuf. Right now on Target’s website, the family size packages of both regular and Double Stuf Oreos are the exact same price, $3.69 per pack. And over on Walmart’s website, at $3.68 the Double Stuf does cost $0.08 more than the regular package… but it also has more in it, and therefore comes in cheaper per-ounce than the regular ones do, at $0.184 for the Double Stuf to $0.189 for the regular variety.

ISP explains data caps to FCC: Using the Internet is like eating Oreos [Ars Technica]

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