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FUP (Fair Usage Policy) is a UFP (Unfair Policy)

FUP (Fair Usage Policy) is a UFP (Unfair Policy)

FUP (Fair Usage Policy) is a UFP (Unfair Policy)

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The internet has evolved a lot over the years, and the number of connected devices in one household – and the number of different ways we use them – means we’re using the Net like never before. From the thick old Ethernet cables, the world has gradually improved and we live in an era of super-fast broadband powered by Wi-Fi. Well, most of the time anyway. About three weeks into each month, our connection reaches its “limit” and begins to crawl painfully – and some very unscientific polls at least tell us that this is the case for many other ordinary users like us.

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Internet speed and range are steadily improving, but there is one big problem for ordinary users in India – and that is bandwidth caps. Also known as FUP (Fair Usage Policy), this concept was introduced to ensure that a few customers who were heavy users did not fill up the available bandwidth, making the overall experience poor for others on the same network. While the concept may not be popular, if it helps the average user have a good experience, it at least makes sense. But the problem is that FUP limits in India have not kept pace with the changing needs of the average user.

Today, the “average” use has increased a lot. A little over a decade ago, my dad was the only person in my family who used a cell phone with internet access. Today we have four smartphones, each using significantly more data than the decade-old handset. There are also three laptops, a tablet and a smart TV that are connected to the Internet in this household, and we consume more than 50 GB of Internet data in 30 days. For a family of four heavy internet users, that’s not exactly unusual either – you can leave out the tablet and the smart TV, but even so, you’re going to run into this FUP pretty quickly.

Smartphones, which we use daily, have started consuming data through social apps or streaming videos from YouTube, voice and video chats and even games. For me, on average, a 3 minute video on YouTube takes up 8-11MB, and that too when viewed at normal 320p resolution, which by today’s standards is low. YouTube of course tries to default to the highest quality your connection will support, so unless you keep an eye on the quality settings at all times, your usage can skyrocket. A Skype-to-Skype call for 60 seconds takes 3MB, so a 30-minute Skype call uses 90MB of data. It’s just one of the apps we use every day. So you can imagine the numbers.

I’ll give an example from my own family of four, using basic internet. Maybe someone will watch a few music videos; someone else might check out some instruction videos. Another family member can watch an episode of an old TV show that has been legally uploaded to YouTube. Between the whole family, 60 minutes of YouTube totals over 300MB, as long as the resolution is 480p or higher.

Browsing web pages and social media websites is around 100MB more, while emailing and other web applications require almost 100MB more. For average users like us streaming audio and video consumers still have 200MB. And then there are other ways to use the data – say an extra-long Skype call to a relative you don’t have met for a while, or a few GB used to update your applications, or if you want to install a new game on your phone. It all starts to add up, and what started out to look like a reasonable FUP actually looks like the bare minimum you’ll ever use.

Also, FUP shouldn’t exist at all if companies mention “Unlimited” in Internet packs. A report earlier this month indicates that in 2012, Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) issued a directive to telecommunications companies offering broadband, telling them to give clear information to users and not to deceive them by using some parts for advertisements. The authority gave the example of telcos advertising “unlimited” internet everywhere, then setting a bandwidth cap/lowering internet speeds after a certain limit. Three years after the publication of the directive, and telecommunications companies are still following the same advertising techniques.

It’s high time to move beyond FUPs, and for companies to truly introduce unlimited plans, or at least have more realistic limits. In the US, the caps are usually around 300GB, which always gets huge consumer reactions. Here we have been trained to accept limits so small that they limit the potential of the Internet in India. Businesses cannot rely on their customers’ ability to reach them online if users are constantly limited to 512 kbps. The government talks about Digital India and digital documents to remove the need for paper. But if you need half an hour to download your passport, what use will it be? Our policymakers are weighing the issues of net neutrality and free access – but fair access is another issue that needs to be addressed, and urgently.

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