Extra fuel charges when carrying passengers in your car?

Some people seem to be justifying the way mobile networks try to discriminate against tethering. One comment even suggests that multiple devices is a valid justification. Really? Isn't it just as simple as measuring the actual volume of megabytes used, regardless of how many devices are connected?

Lets consider a couple of analogies:

  • A petrol station puts some fine print at the bottom of their sign in the street: cars with passengers pay an extra 0.05 per litre (or gallon). It is just a gimmick: the marketing man has worked out that he can put a lower price on his big sign this way and people with passengers may well be splitting the fuel bill between them. There is no technical reason for the charge however - the car actually uses more fuel carrying the extra weight anyway.
  • Or imagine this: the marketing man puts up small print that advises a higher charge of 0.05 per litre for fuelling an exotic car like a Ferrari. The only reason for this, of course, is that the Ferrari driver is probably busy (so he doesn't have time to shop around) and wealthy (so the extra charge won't deter him from making any purchase at all, because he has money to pay it).

Of course, these ideas sound a bit outlandish but the only difference between these crazy ideas and tethering charges is that mobile phone networks usually have the monopoly/duopoly to get away with it.

Mobile networks actually dread the idea of becoming commodities like fuel. They thrive on price discrimination and they seem to have an endless number of tricks to get extra money out of people who may have it by deliberately crippling parts of the service for everybody else. This goes against the ideals of innovation and efficiency and in the most extreme cases their practices are widely recognised for the sham that they are.

Revealing that you have connected a laptop to your phone may be like revealing you live in an affluent area or that you have an expensive car. Plenty of businesses try to exploit such knowledge when deciding how much they can charge you or other aspects of how they provide you with a service. This is why privacy is important in every feature of the technology we use.

This rogue behaviour by "creative" marketing men also helps to understand just what would happen in the world of technology if it wasn't for the use of free licenses, open standards, accessible encryption and net neutrality.


We dislike being ripped off, but then, we individuals do not have the power to stop the practice.

Can you please post your blog to slasdot (www.slashdot.com) This website will reach a large international group of users.

It does in some ways cost the provider more to support multiple devices. Remember this is wireless communication, which means everything is effectively on a bus, and there's significant effort involved in coordinating the devices that are connected. If you think of it in terms of hub-era ethernet, two clients transmitting 5mb/s are going to generate more total traffic than one client generating 10mb/s, because they'll spend some portion of their time talking over oneanother and then transmitting jamming noise, effectively occupying the bus with garbage.

Cell networks coordinate in a more efficient way, but there are still analogues to the problem.

two clients transmitting 5mb/s are going to generate more total traffic than one client generating 10mb/s

This is irrelevant to tethering. Your phone aggregates the traffic generated by something else and as far as the wireless connection is concerned, there's no difference.

When I buy fuel, I expect to buy it on the basis of its energy content. How I use it is none of the petroco's business. Price discrimination on the basis of use is just wrong. Same with data. Joules is joules, bytes is bytes.

Again, the government does this all of the time. Some fuels are untaxed and intended for off-road use only, typically dyed a certain color to indicate such usage.

is Verizon's insistence on charging users of Good email an extra charge. My boss recently had to shut hers off and start trialing an ActiveSync solution, because she was on a family plan that would not allow Good at all, and switching up along with the Good fee would have cost her an extra $45 per month!

She's still getting work email, but now they don't know and they have yet another pissed off customer on their hands.

Actually your second example is quite common, its just not paid at the pump. Many jurisdictions subject fuel inefficient cars (mainly sport and big luxury) to additional taxation. So you do pay a tax for your choice, just not a per-usage tax.

While there is no question that mobile network operators' tethering charges are little more than profit mongering, there's also little question that they have some valid reasons to deter such behavior. Traditional computers use more data. Bandwidth is a precious and shared commodity. Then again, I've certainly had far more bandwidth problems from the guy next to me using YouTube on his phone than the guy next to me has using mobile broadband (which has never happened)

Some people in the comments of this and of the previous post seem to justify the discrimination against tethering by equating it with high bandwidth usage.

However, you are wrong: If the problem is bandwidth hogging, then a) you should know that you can watch Youtube or download torrents also from a mobile device, no tethering required, and b) if the issue is bandwidth hogging, then they should discriminate directly against that, rather than assuming that anyone who tethers is going to use lots of bandwidth. Not to mention the fact that, as Daniel has already written, 1 byte = 1 byte. This is a net neutrality issue!