Editorial: Don’t take control of prices away from Internet providers

If you use more of a service or product, you generally expect to pay more. But U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden thinks that shouldn’t apply to Internet service.

The Oregon Democrat’s Data Cap Integrity Act includes some useful reforms, but it goes too far when it seeks to bar Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging customers extra if they move more data over the web.

Some ISPs, such as BendBroadband, used tiered pricing and charge customers more for different packages. Others set a limit without the option to buy more.

Such data caps are acceptable, according to a news release from the senator’s office, only if they “are designed to manage network congestion rather than monetize data ...”

As BendBroadband’s Amy Tykeson told The Bulletin’s Rachael Rees, usage-based pricing keeps Internet service affordable and doesn’t require light users to pay for the investment needed to service heavy users.

A different problem exists for customers whose ISP limits use with no option to buy more.

Those indeed fit Wyden’s description of a cap that “risks undermining online competition and innovation.”

Other provisions of Wyden’s proposed legislation would provide important consumer protections.

He would require ISPs to develop tools that allow customers to monitor and control their consumption, a valuable service already provided by BendBroadband.

Wyden would also require the Federal Communications Commission to set standards on how data use is measured to make it consistent across the industry.

Accurate measurements would make comparison shopping possible and enhance understanding of this critical industry.

The senator’s proposal would also ban discrimination against any one type of content versus another. This is particularly important in cases where an ISP has a product of its own that competes with one the customer wants to download from another source.

No one would argue with Wyden’s assertion that the Internet is transforming our communication and our economy, but taking control of pricing away from private companies isn’t the way to preserve and encourage the resulting innovation and jobs.