If you live in Canada, bandwidth for your home connection is about to get a lot more expensive.
Recent changes from the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) means that Usage Based Billing (UBB) is coming to Canada. This means that Canadians, previously accustomed to unlimited or nearly-unlimited bandwidth caps on their Internet connections, may be facing caps as low as 25 GB per month.
In the age of online gaming, Steam, Netflix and YouTube it’s clear that Internet users are going to have to either adapt or expect to pay more. However, there are going to be changes for regular webmasters as well. Though Canada isn’t the only country in the world with tightly metered bandwidth, it is one of the first major Internet nations to go this route and others will probably follow if this approach meets its goals.
Webmasters need to start thinking about what they will need to change once visitors start thinking more about bandwidth costs. In other words, how can they improve their sites to ensure they don’t wind up costing customers money and causing them to not come back?
On that note, here are five ways that the Web is likely to change as metered billing, especially low bandwidth caps, becomes more common across the world.
1. Growing Backlash Against Advertising
Internet advertising isn’t exactly popular but currently it is seen as more of an annoyance than anything harmful. However, as UBB becomes more common, at least until bandwidth caps are made more reasonable or the pricing structure more fair, advertising is going to be seen as an expense to the visitor.
This means that ad blocking software will likely become even more commonplace in the coming years and sites that are very advertising-heavy will likely find more and more visitors either stop coming or simply block their ads.
This may lead to a growth in other business models, such as selling digital downloads (especially small ones like eBooks) and consulting models.
2. Less Digital Delivery and More Physical Delivery
If you offer large downloads, such as long media clips, there may be at least a temporary trend favoring the purchasing and shipping of physical media over digital delivery. As one user pointed out, in some cases it can actually be cheaper to put the data on a hard drive and mail it than to download it under the proposed caps.
This means that, if you offer large digital downloads, you may wish to offer a physical shipping service along side it. Even if the physical copies end up costing a bit more, there is a likelihood that some users will find it cheaper when they factor in their ISP’s bills.
3. Better Labeling of High-Bandwidth Pages/Activities
Currently, most sites don’t warn about how much bandwidth a page, video or other element will ‘cost’. That’s likely to change.
Sites with pages that might be bandwidth-intense have routinely had warnings about loading time for those on slower connections, but now those warnings may take a more cost-oriented slant as users are trying to decide if loading an element is worthwhile.
There is no real standard for this yet but it seems likely that, as time goes on, we’ll see more and more sites posting these kinds of warnings to prevent users with strict UBB accounts from feeling like they have wasted money.
4. Less Video/Audio/Flash, More Segregation of Media
This change seems obvious but with multimedia taking up the lion’s share of bandwidth, it makes sense that sites and visitors alike will be cutting back on the amount they post and, when they do, posting it to an area aimed at those who don’t have bandwidth restrictions or want to spend the money to view the content.
The idea is that viewers should have the choice as to how much bandwidth they spend when loading a site and, when loading a page that should be relatively light, such as an article on a blog, they shouldn’t have high-bandwidth content crammed down their connection, such as auto-playing videos.
Good manners for now, but essential in the future.
5. More Work, Less Fun
If people have to cut back on their Internet activities, they are going to start with the unneeded expenses. If it comes down to a contest between not watching funny clips on YouTube or not being able to file needed paperwork for the office, most are going to choose the paperwork.
A Web with tight caps becomes a much less fun place. If people can’t spend their GB frivolously, they are going to spend it on the things that are most important.
This means that entertainment sites, especially those with high bandwidth requirements, are going to suffer first in such an environment.
Last month when I talked about treating Internet access like a utility, I mentioned that unlimited accounts were going to have to die off for the Web to be taken more seriously. However, this was not what I had envisioned.
Ultra-high per GB costs don’t make sense especially, as Netflix points out, the cost of delivering a GB of data is less than a penny. A flat rate connectivity fee with a low per GB charge would actually save most customers money; the current Canadian plan is almost guaranteed to force them to spend more or get less service.
However, it seems likely that, at least in the short run, these types of low bandwidth cap plans are going to become more common. As such, it’s best for webmasters to prepare now and hope that things improve sooner rather than later.
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