On Airtel and Tata Indicom’s Fair Usage Policy – Tragedy of the Commons?

We covered TRAI’s recommendation on introducing regulations to ensure that ISPs provide internet connections based on the capacity of traffic they can carry (i.e. contention ratio).

As per TRAI’s new regulation, telecom operators offering Internet services should not accommodate over 50 users per unit of Internet bandwidth in case of home users and 30 users per unit for business users.

The underlying theory is that telecom operators offering Internet services should not accommodate over 50 users per unit of Internet bandwidth in case of home users and 30 users per unit for business users.

Airtel and Tata Indicom’s Fair Usage Policy

Both Airtel and Tata Indicom have come up with ‘Fair Usage Guide’ wherein they have defined ‘fair usage’ and the repercussion of using unfairly.

Airtel

Under the policy we have defined fair usage levels for unlimited data transfer plans and needless to mention, the usage levels set are very generous such that most customers will not be affected by the Fair Usage Policy.
On reaching the fair usage level, the plan speed would be rationalized by up to 50% for the rest of the monthly billing cycle. You would also be redirected to a page which will inform you that the speeds for the rest of the billing cycle month would be as per the Airtel’s Fair Usage Policy. – source (pdf)

Tata Indicom

Data transfer in excess of Fair Usage Limit as per the applicable tariff plan shall be treated as a violation of TCISL  FUP.
Upon such violation of FUP, TCISL shall contact the Customer suggesting for reduction in usage or upgrade to a higher bandwidth plan.
Despite the above, if the customer fails to upgrade to a high speed plan or continue to violate the TCISL FUP, TCISL reserves the right to suspend or terminate the customer’s account immediately without prejudice to other rights available to TCISL under these Terms and Conditions. – source

Do you blame operators for this? Well, I don’t. Here is why:

I have a Sify unlimited plan which sucks badly – the speed is damn slow. Sify’s reaction to this is quite obvious – there are too many active subs in your region and hence the detoriated performance.

Like 99% of users, I too would like to have the ‘promised’ Internet speed (the one that I am paying for). And TRAI’s new guidelines helps in setting that.

But what about those who crash out their ‘unlimited’ plan within few days? Well, given that they are power users (and are probably downloading whole lot of movies/songs), I believe Tragedy of the Commons example from game theory helps here.

Tragedy of the Commons : illustrates the argument that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately dooms the resource through over-exploitation. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals or groups, each of whom is motivated to maximize use of the resource to the point in which they become reliant on it, while the costs of the exploitation are borne by all those to whom the resource is available (which may be a wider class of individuals than those who are exploiting it).

Before one starts criticizing operators/ISPs for the ‘unfair’ policy, one needs to understand that bringing a cap to subscriber number per  means a direct hit in their revenue and if they need to maintain QoS (quality of service), they also need to ensure that subscribers too maintain the quality of usage (otherwise QoS for other subs suffers).

I agree that imposing contention ratio doesn’t help solve 100% of the problem – but it surely is first step in the right direction. What ISPs need to also ensure is that broadband users are being educated on the usage and repercussions of over-usage – and most importantly, quantifying what is fair-usage (how many MBs of download etc etc).

And no, this has nothing to do with net neutrality – it’s a completely different issue wherein ISPs tend to give preferential treatment to few sites over others, which is ofcourse completely against the democratic nature of Internet.

What’s your opinion?

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