Optus uploads: A revolution in the making?

As Optus joins the likes of Telstra and others in now counting uploads as well as downloads in its service plans, has our new found enthusiasm for posting ourselves all over Facebook and YouTube set us up for higher prices?

news analysis As Optus joins the likes of Telstra and others in now counting uploads as well as downloads in its service plans, has our new found enthusiasm for posting ourselves all over Facebook and YouTube set us up for higher prices?

Other broadband providers, however, have been sceptical of following Optus's lead -- but should consumers move to even greater levels of uploading, then counting uploads as well as downloads could soon become the norm.

A spokesperson for Westnet said: "We have no plans to count uploads at this time in our plans. However, we will watch the down/up ratios closely, and if this becomes a major impact on cost for Westnet, we wouldn't rule out addressing it in some way in the future."

Internode and iiNet echoed the sentiment, although iiNet has suggested it would be more likely to consider plans that were capped on either uploads or downloads, depending on which was greater.

Optus is not the first company to use such a marker of online activities -- Telstra already counts both uploads and downloads in its data caps for cable and ADSL subscriptions. While reaction in industry forums has railed against such a move, analysts believe that consumers may not need to fear the introduction of upload caps.

Ian Fogg, analyst at JupiterResearch, told ZDNet Australia that as long as the caps are managed correctly, consumers won't necessarily baulk at them. "Provided a broadband market is competitive, and ISPs offer consumers clearly described choices between broadband packages with and without data quotas, then there is nothing wrong with such quotas. If there is little consumer choice of broadband packages, or quotas are imposed retroactively on existing customers, then consumers will complain loudly and persistently," he said.

Optus has already taken a more sensible route than some in defining its plans. Rather than offer a simple X GB definition of a plan, the telco has gone further, flagging different caps in terms of a suitable user: those who simply use the Internet for e-mail and light browsing or those who regularly download songs and large files as well as regularly posting videos.

For the average user, however, it's not necessarily photo sharing that would cause an unhappy altercation with their upstream caps. JupiterResearch's Fogg said that P2P will typically be the reason behind the decision to focus on uploads.

"P2P usage will be the route of ISPs' concerns, whether it is illegal file sharing, or legitimate content distribution using similar P2P techniques ... Such P2P applications essentially transfer most of the delivery cost of Internet video onto an ISP from the publisher, content owner, or TV channel. All ISPs are concerned about the impact of this legitimate P2P distribution as it becomes common on the Internet."

Torrents, for example, are one source of discomfort at ISPs, as users don't upload content once, as they would with posting a video on YouTube. Instead, it's effectively uploaded multiple times -- on each occasion another torrent user requests to download that particular piece of content.

Shara Evans, CEO of telecoms research company Market Clarity, believes that rather than making headlines for its introduction of upload caps, the Fusion plans have a more important part to play in the evolution of Australia's broadband market.

"It's a very large paradigm shift in way services are priced in Australia. What we are looking at now is a different way of pricing services: rather than having increments in speed, it's based on the data used," she told ZDNet Australia.

Evans added that the shift in counting uploads may not be the sea change many have feared. "It shouldn't matter how [broadband] is priced [to users]. It's just a question of having to take into account something they haven't had to take into account before."

Should a drive towards offering entry level packages with higher speeds become more mainstream, the impact on small businesses particularly could be tangible. With better broadband, SMBs and SOHOs could embrace collaborative working technology, such as video conferencing, and software as a service -- potentially a genuine revolution in broadband.


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