Prorated bandwidth on demand

I’m sitting here at the office thinking about bandwidth. That’s because we’re in the process of getting our office DSL switched over from a crappy ISP to a good ISP and, at the moment, we’re stuck using a shared dialup connection.

As is my habit, I’ve been rapidly middle-clicking on links in Mozilla Firebird and loading them in tabs in the background. I was actually surprised that, even on a 28.8Kbps connection, surfing the web was almost bearable in spite of my habitual background loading. I could stand to surf the web at a low speed—maybe 128Kbps—most of the time, I think. But when I download big files, I want it to go fast. At home, my speedy 1.5Mb downstream speed is plenty. But I’m not always using all that excess bandwidth, and it’s way overkill for simple surfing.

I think an interesting business model for an ISP would be to sell bandwidth based on usage rather than on a loose guarantee. I don’t mean that they should bill you based on the amount of data you transfer; I mean that they should bill you based on the connection speed you use.

So, hypothetically, here’s how it would work. WonkoISP sells you DSL for a base price of $19.95 a month at a base bandwidth of 128/64Kbps. That’s a nice cheap price for a nice low-end DSL connection suitable for moderate web surfing. However, let’s say you wake up one morning and decide you want to download the latest FreeBSD CD images. At 128Kbps, that’s going to be a mighty long wait. So you browse to WonkoISP’s online account settings page and bump your connection speed up to 1.5Mbps/128Kbps. Then you get your daemon on nice and speedy-like, and when you’re done downloading files, you drop the speed back down to 128/64. When WonkoISP calculates your bill at the end of the month, they include the base price for 128/64 DSL plus a prorated amount for 1.5/128 for the amount of time that you used it. Your resulting bill ends up being maybe $25, as opposed to the $60+ you might expect to pay monthly for a 1.5/128 account.

I’m sure there are technical limitations that would have to be overcome. Obviously you wouldn’t be able to bump your bandwidth up to a speed that your line can’t handle. And the ISP would probably have to have a direct way of automatically adjusting the telco’s rate limiter for your line (I assume this would have to be the case, based on the tidbits of information I’ve gathered dealing with various DSL tech support people over the years). I really don’t know enough about this side of things to know whether this would work or not.

It sure would be convenient, though.