Is Tethering Stealing Bandwidth?

from the hell-no dept

Broadband Reports points us to the latest in silly arguments over non-existent “theft.” This time it’s about whether or not tethering your smartphone and using it as a hotspot or as a broadband connection for your computer/laptop is “theft of service.” Two ZDNet bloggers go at it, with James Kendrick insisting that it’s “theft of service,” and no arguments to the contrary will persuade him. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols points out that this is complete “nonsense.” In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that I do pay for the right to tether my mobile phone, even though I agree with Vaughan-Nichols and think Kendrick is wrong here.

If a bandwidth provider is selling you bandwidth at a particular rate, it’s none of that provider’s business what you then do with the bandwidth. Claiming that only certain devices can use it is silly. We had this back in the early days of WiFi when some ISPs insisted it was a terms of service violation to use WiFi or (in some cases) any router that allowed more than one computer to use the bandwidth. However, as more and more people just started doing it anyway, the ISPs all realized they were fighting a silly battle (and moved on to the next silly battle: “net neutrality.”)

But, really, the ridiculous claim is Kendrick’s insistence on calling people who do this “thieves,” even though they’re paying customers who are paying for the bandwidth they use. Vaughan-Nichols properly points out that, at worst, it’s a terms of service violation that has absolutely nothing to do with “theft.” He also points out that he’s paying for the bandwidth:

I don’t see why it matters if I use gigabytes of data on my phone or on my phone and laptop. At the end of the day, I still pay for it.

To me a data service is lot like my water line. I pay for what I use. Now I can drink that water, use it on my phone; wash clothes with it, use it on my PC; or shower with it, use it on my iPod Touch. Whatever. When all is said and done, I’ve still paid for the water or service and I’ve not stolen anything.

No, the real problem here isn’t users. It’s the carriers who charge us extra for the ‘privilege’ of deciding how we’re going to use the data/water we receive from them.

Kendrick’s response appears to be to just keep repeating that it’s “theft of service,” but can’t back that up by explaining what’s missing. That’s because nothing is missing. It’s not theft of service in any way, shape or form, and it does Kendrick a disservice to his usually excellent analysis to beat this particularly misguided drum.

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Comments on “Is Tethering Stealing Bandwidth?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: _SIGH_

The real issue here is a lack of competition thanks to a government that restricts competition for no good reason. Other countries provide more bandwidth at better prices (and it has nothing to do with population density as evidenced by the fact that some of those countries have greater and/or lessor population densities than various U.S. states and still provide more bandwidth at better prices than those states).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: _SIGH_

That’s not quite the right analogy from the telecom’s point of view. Their revision is:

It’s akin to me signing a contract saying I will only use water for washing dishes and flushing the toilet and expecting to use water in other ways without updating your contract and paying more.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: _SIGH_

Yeah, but nobody really reads the contract and they’re going to do with their water whatever they want anyways.

Ya know what else this is like?

Back when AT&T was new, you could not own a phone–it was “illegal” according to your contract. You could only lease one from AT&T. If you wanted to have 2 (*gasp!) phones attached to your landline, you had to pay AT&T extra money. Same ol’ stuff, different decade.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: _SIGH_

While I completely agree… I have a counter point to mention. In the water example, I have two water meters on my house. One internal for washing, bathing, or toilets. The other external for watering the lawn, washing the car, or filling the pool. I’m charged two different rates and pay different taxes (sewer, usage, etc). So to me, the argument of “how I use the water” does actually matter.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: _SIGH_

While I agree with you in principle, water is not analogous with bandwidth. You don’t “use up” bandwidth like you do with water, you take up space. It’s like a highway. While you occupy the road, you take up space that others could also be using. Basically, the analogy is that the ISP says you can only drive a Prius, but you drive your Semi with a wide load on it instead.

SUNWARD (profile) says:

Re: Re: bad arguement

no it is not a Prius vs tracker trailer. It is a car vs a car.

And you do “use up” water like bandwidth. Space is just a different measure of usage, just like weight of the vehicle or number of axles would be.

And I just took out a contract with Bell Mobility (Toronto). Tethering is included. Rogers wanted more money – calling it “adding a device.”

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: bad arguement

You got it completely wrong. The analogy is sound. Water is a resource that gets used up. Bandwidth is gets used and then when you’re done with it, it’s relinquished. The space on the highway is occupied while you travel on it and when you exit, the space is available for others. A big truck will occupy the road more than a Prius will. If you crowd the highway with many large vehicles, traffic will slow down because there is less space to move freely on the road.

Here’s another example: It’s like a restroom. When you’re using it, it’s not available to anyone else, but when you leave, it’s free to anyone else who wants to use it. There’s no consumption, only occupancy. You’re paying for space. Your “speed” determines how much space you get. The more space you’re given, the faster you can get your data.

Water is a consumable resource. Once it’s transported to you, it cannot be redistributed to others. You do not share your water, you pay only for what you use up. Bandwidth can be given out to others when you no longer make use of it. Bandwidth is a channel through which data can pass. You share the road just as you share the bandwidth amongst other motorists/users.

xenomancer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 bad arguement

TO round out the water analogy in a proper format: its like paying for 3 million GPM (3 Mbps…) pipe capacity and then being scorned for attempting to fill up a 3 million gallon backyard pool in a minute. The simple fact is that the service is paid for and the expectation of performance should not be contingent on the end use. The pipe cant be used up, only the capacity to deliver the water during heavy use; and that is the service providers’ problem (to fix) given they should be investing in infrastructure capable of sustaining delivery of what they f*****g sell.

Shaking a bent stick at your customers and blaming them for your own failure as a business is just bad business.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 bad arguement

Also wrong. The utility is charging you for the amount of water you draw from the well, not the size of your pipe. If you draw 3 million gallons, you’ll be paying for 3 million gallons and the neighborhood will be upset with you. The ISP charges you for the size of your bandwidth, not the amount of data you bring down (but they might try to change that *sigh*). If you don’t draw any water, you don’t pay anything. If you don’t use your internet connection, you still get charged for it. That’s how they rip us all off. They don’t want you to use the connection you pay for to its maximum potential, because they oversold the capacity of the network based on the assumption that most people will use it to check email, browse, and IM (low throughout tasks).

The fact is, the ISP charges you a flat fee simply to have access (access based) whereas the water utility charges by the amount of water you actually use (usage based) and bills you accordingly. Water is not like bandwidth. You’re buying the pipe (bandwidth), not the water (data).

xenomancer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 bad arguement

While you’re right in that a utilities company does not exist in this market that would charge a flat rate for water on a flow rate basis, my example was accurate in the context of my intent to draw out the analogy to as close a representation of data transfer as possible without explicitly describing data transfer. In reality, yes, a water utility charges for the net throughput, not the rate of throughput. In my analogy, I did correctly specify a hypothetical charge for a rate (in Gallons Per Minute), not the net throughput.

However, in the end, you did still make the exact connection (succinctly!) I was going for. I may not have been fully clear as to the extent of what I was pointing out, but hopefully you can see the parallel between your last paragraph and my half-asleep-4am-nerd-rage to which you responded so kindly.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Now *that's* what I call a mixed metaphor

It was just badly written. Consider:

“To me a data service is lot like my water line. I pay for what water (bandwidth) I use. Now I can drink that water (use bandwidth on my phone); wash clothes with it (use bandwidth on my PC); or shower with it (use bandwidth on my iPod Touch).”

Still badly written, but maybe at least comprehensible that way.

grbgedik says:

This has happened in the past

High-speed internet companies used to try the same thing. Originally they didn’t want you using a router unless you told them and paid for the extra computers using the network. They all eventually got over it and now most of the time even give you a FREE router to do it. Hopefully the carriers will realize this, i’m sure they wont until “unlimited” is gone, and they’ll let us use our data how we see fit.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Selling something that doesn't exist.

I think the problem is the fact that ISPs/carriers seem to think it’s okay to sell you something they don’t actually have.

It’s like the “bandwidth-hog”-arguments; if your system can’t handle me using the 10 mbit I pay for, then don’t effing sell me 10 mbit!

It’s like if someone sold you a timeshare, but they conveniently “forgot” to mention that it’s a timeshare, and you now think you own the house. Who’s the bad guy in that scenario?

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Selling something that doesn't exist.

The ‘paper work’ says I can use X amount of BANDWIDTH, period. Now they want to claim that I can’t use that much.

Either don’t give me a contract to use that much bandwidth or build out your network to handle it.

The guilty party here is the issuer of the contract plain and simple.

sidewinder says:

Re: Re: Re: Selling something that doesn't exist.

But … But …

We sold you bandwidth based on the belief that your device could only use a small, tiny, miniscule really, fraction of what we promised, so that we could waaaaaayy overbook our actual capacity to deliver (just like the gym that you have a membership to, but rarely visit).

Then you want to use it at some larger fraction of what we promised????

That … that… that’s …. unfair!!! Stop! Thief!

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Selling something that doesn't exist.

“I’m not a thief, and BAM! Right to the jaw!”

That is what I would tell them AND DO if they tried this bullplop with me! Actually, Comcast tried that once with me about ‘using too much bandwidth’…. as soon as I threatened to cancel our TV, Internet, etc. service? They backed down.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Selling something that doesn't exist.

But they’ll tell you that 95% of users don’t hit their bandwidth cap. They’re just raising the rates to make sure all this non-usage doesn’t stress the network.

It’s like they’re trying to build some sort of stockpile of unused bandwidth and then, I don’t know, auction it to the highest bidder. I assume they’ll be stashing this extra bandwidth somewhere in Nevada.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Selling something that doesn't exist.

You seem to forget this is a mobile phone contract and no small feat. In fact most telcos only supply u with a very short version and a note stating that you are also bound to the forty page tome they keep back at HQ. And if you read every conract shoved in front of you,you’re either a liar, or you have no life.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Silly silly argument

1’s and 0’s dont really care about what device they end up on, and neither should an ISP. All that should be noted is how many you used. Sorry I refuse to join his POS blog just to comment, so Ill put it here:

1’s and 0’s dont really care about what device they end up on, and neither should an ISP. All that should be noted is how many you used. There is no theft, nothing went missing. Now, it may be a breach of contract, but calling people thieves for doing so is extreme, and just makes you look stupid. In the early days of the interwebs, how many ppl used routers although that was considered against ISP’s policies? (for more than one machine to be connected at a time.) Thats why there were MAC address clones built into them. How bout this, build your infrastructure to handle the load? How bout this, upgrade you infrastructure to handle newer technologies? Nah, they will just find more ways to wrench every penny out of you, while providing poor service.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Mike, really? This Guy's an ass. Ill prove it.

Sorry we have wasted our time on him.

This is no different than the cable theft of old, using unofficial means to get cable TV service without paying the cable company.

Proof positive that this tool is some kind of shill for telcos. Any one with a iota of sense can realize that the 2 are completely different, and I cant believe he, in good conscience, uploaded that crap and hit save. Im done.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Mike, really? This Guy's an ass. Ill prove it.

Yeah that argument is complete trash.

Now he may have had a point if he said something along the lines of this:

Cable providers charge you per tv when they set up cable service. If you were to pay for a single tv and then wired your home to support a second tv without the cable provider’s authorization, you could theoretically be called a thief.

But if you are only ever watching tv on one tv at a time or had it set up so that both tvs showed the same channel and your could not have two channels on at the same time, you are functioning on the same principal of tethering.

On a note, I have met numerous people who have done what I describe above. One family did it so that their kids could watch tv in a second room when the parents had guests over. The cable box was in the main room and channels could only be changed there. It was quite convenient.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Went away with analog cable, coming back with digital

I’m not sure where you’ve been, but Cable companies haven’t been able to charge per television for ages. They _used_to_ just like Ma Bell used to charge you per telephone handset.

Combine the restriction against per television charges with ‘cable ready’ T.V. and VCR’s and it’s the same price for 1 or 100 televisions.

If you look carefully you’ll see the digital cable television _isn’t_ priced per television, but _per_set_top_box_. Of course you _need_ one set top box per television, so they are indirectly charging you per television.

Yet another reason, other than high per device rental fees, that the industry’s fighting (rather successfully) against any plan to have ‘cable ready’ digital televisions.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Went away with analog cable, coming back with digital

Actually, no, you don’t need a set top box unless you wish to get their encrypted channels…. which they are making more of today.

Hell, Comcast has CartoonNetwork encrypted for some reason, and I RAILED them for that on their website because of it.

I can understand channels that you are paying an additional fee for…. not ones that are part of basic cable.

Hulser (profile) says:

Seeing past his bluster to see his (still flawed) point

In spite of his confusion over the legal definition of theft and his highly flawed analogy between cable “thieves” and unauthorized tetherers, I think I can at least see his point. I’m not saying I agree with it or that it makes sense in the current marketplace; just that I understand his reasoning. Which is…

While it may not be “fair” that the service providers put undue restrictions on how you use the bandwidth they provide (and you pay for), you agreed to the terms ahead of time, so you’re breaking the terms of that agreement if you tether.

The problem with this of course is the implication that you can go elsewhere if you don’t like terms of service. That would be great if there was actual competition in the marketplace. But there isn’t. So, while unauthorized tethering may be a legal breach of terms of service, I personally think that, in the current environment, the unfairness of this term rises to the level of being unconstitutional. You can put anything you want in your TOS. It’s doesn’t mean that if it went to the supreme court, it would be upheld.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seeing past his bluster to see his (still flawed) point

“The problem with this of course is the implication that you can go elsewhere if you don’t like terms of service. “

Exactly, I would completely agree with the ability of ISP’s to put whatever they want in their contract provided the government allowed for competition in the marketplace, in which case I will simply switch to a competitor. Of course this will dissuade ISP’s from putting ridiculous terms in their contracts in fear of losing customers and so they likely won’t. The problem is that the government doesn’t allow competition and so ISP’s can do whatever the heck they want without as much fear of losing customers.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seeing past his bluster to see his (still flawed) point

The problem is that the government doesn’t allow competition and so ISP’s can do whatever the heck they want without as much fear of losing customers.

I don’t have links, but as I recall one of the common points that Mike makes is that if the government focused on creating a fair marketplace, then they wouldn’t have to spend so much time addressing all of the little anti-competative issues that come up. Because they simply wouldn’t happen in a truly fair marketplace. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say that it was a conscious effort on the part of politicians to keep themselves looking busy to justify their existance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

T-Mobile does charge for tethering, even on the mytouch 4g. They charge less than any of the other cell carriers at $15 but they do charge for tethering. Try using the built in tethering feature on the myTouch 4g (or Galaxy S4g or G2) and you will get a text message ofter 24 hours stating that tethering has been blocked and you need to ad the tetering feature to your account.

Bill (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

To clarify… T-Moble offers 2 different tethering type services. The Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot is built in to the phone and included with the data plan. The “Tethering” plan allows a PC to use the Inet only though a USB connection and they charge extra for that gimpy option, but not for the Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This is actually the exact reason I have T-Mobile … and why I have an Android. When I was shopping for plans, this is one of the questions I specifically looked into, and T-Mobile was the only carrier in the area that did not charge for tethering (the Android is because it’s built into the OS for Froyo and higher versions, which makes it convenient – and it works very well).

I don’t use tethering often – my home connection is far faster and (usually) more reliable – but when I’m say in an airport and want internet access it’s much easier and (at the airports I’ve unfortunately been flying out of lately) cheaper to pull out my phone than attempt to find a legitimate wifi service.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

The only justification I can see for calling people who tether “thieves” is that the ISP is charging extra for the service and they are not paying for it. Other than that, no they are not thieves.

Now is it justified to even charge extra for the service? Not really considering the most generous plan I have ever seen gives your 5 Gigs of download and then starts charging you an arm and a leg for more. It doesn’t really matter how I reach that threshold. It should only matter that I pay for what I use.

bryan (profile) says:

I see two sides to this,

On the one hand I see the argument that whatever bandwidth I pay for should be mine to use however I feel like.
But , you did sign a contract stating that tethering was not included with your data package so you are knowingly violating your contract.

Wireless data is different than wired in one major way, land line bandwidth is only limited by the provider’s willingness to invest in their network infrastructure. Wireless bandwidth on the other hand is constrained by the amount of available RF spectrum. There is nothing providers can do (outside of the occasional spectrum auction) to increase the amount of bandwith available. This is why wireless networks are allowed much more freedom to manage the network than wired networks.
Restrictions; such as restricting tethering, are ways for the providers to limit strain on the network. Charging for the feature is simply a way for them to make money at the same time, they are for profit businesses after all.

The only alternative is pricing wireless data so that the cost of use is prohibitive for heavy users. Cellular networks have already started this move ($25 for 2 gb of data + $20 for tethering on ATT) is only the begining.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Artificial limits of RF spectrum

While it is true that air space is shared and licensed (in the US through the FCC), it isn’t true that the only way to increase bandwidth is to use more spectrum. There are ways to more efficiently use the available spectrum. A good example of this is the currently wireless routers in people’s homes, they use the exact same spectrum, but don’t have too much trouble with more being added because their power is so limited they don’t interfere with each other. The “cell” in cell phone is the same concept, decrease the power, increase the number of towers and you can “reuse” the same spectrum. Cell phone companies understand this, but don’t want the additional expense… the more area/customers a single tower covers, the greater the profit margin (# of customers * monthly rate – cost of towers and maintenance = monthly profit).

Plans have been proposed to significantly increase the number of “towers” (one on every home), but cell phone companies resist this because it would mean them losing their very lucrative market with a limited number of towers.

So next time someone tells you that the reason you can’t have more data via a cell phone connection is because of limited RF spectrum, realize they are being quite naive. There are many different ways (more towers was just one example) of using the spectrum more efficiently.

Hulser (profile) says:

Devil's advocate

Here’s my devil’s advocate answer to “Is Tethering Stealing Bandwidth?”

Yes, because you are depriving another party of a finite resource. If you steal someone’s bike, that person doesn’t have the ability to use that bike, so it legally qualifies as theft. But if you make an illegal digital copy of a song, it’s copyright infringement, but not theft because the owner still has access to the song. Unauthorized tethering is more akin to taking someone’s bike because while bandwidth may be near-infinite, it’s not actually infinite, so you are in fact depriving the owner the use of that bandwidth (as described in your Terms of Service agreement.)

The counterargument would of course be that bandwidth is so close to being infinite, that in effect it is infinite and should be treated as such legally. But if I were a lawyer attempting to prove “theft”, I’d definatelly focus on the hard distinction between finite and infinite.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Devil's advocate

One problem is that the broadband providers aren’t entitled to having the government restrict competition and when the government does restrict competition they are stealing everyone else’s ability to compete, they are stealing the money that others would make if they were allowed to compete, they are reducing the number of jobs in the market (since competitors hire employees, more competition means more aggregate output, more aggregate output needs more people to produce that aggregate output and hence produces more jobs. In this case, many of those jobs would go into upgrading their infrastructure and buying equipment to upgrade their infrastructure, which would cause such equipment manufacturers to hire more people to produce such equipment, so the government/monopolistic corporate complex is stealing from those manufacturers and their potential employees as well). They are also stealing the economic benefit that consumers would gain had competition been allowed to provide them with a better service at a cheaper price. That’s true theft.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Devil's advocate

Well, you are also missing the fact that…I paid for this bandwidth I am using so why can’t I use it?

its more of, you bought a bike because you like to take bike rides, but the purchase of the bike was only part of the deal. if you use the bike in Boston, it will cost you $.75/mile to ride it. If Manchester, NH, its $1.34/mile. Also, you will need to pay a destination fee because its being transported to these places. Oh, you want AIR in those tires? That is a flat fee of $3.85 a day, but in that day you can use the air in those tires all you want as long as you leave it in the tires.
As a service to you, we offer free, with no charge, the ability to store it in your house 24/7 as long as you don’t look at it or think about it.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Devil's advocate

Well, you are also missing the fact that…I paid for this bandwidth I am using so why can’t I use it?

For the simple reason that you agreed not to use it in specific ways. And if you do use it in those specific ways, you’ve breached the ToS.

if you use the bike in Boston, it will cost you $.75/mile to ride it. If Manchester, NH, its $1.34/mile.

The only reason that bike manufacturers don’t apply onerus terms of service restrictions on bikes like you suggest is that there is actual competition in the bicycle market and people wouldn’t stand for it.

As a service to you, we offer free, with no charge, the ability to store it in your house 24/7 as long as you don’t look at it or think about it.

You don’t have to convince me how silly charghing for tethering is. I know it’s silly. The point of my post is to say that there is at least a logical argument for unauthorized tethering being theft.

Bryan (profile) says:

Re: Devil's advocate

Bandwidth is only infinite (or near infinite) on wired broadband. Wireless broadband does have limited bandwidth as dictated by the amount of RF spectrum available.

That is the technical difference with regard to multiple devices connected to a single line of service. It has little or no effect on a wired connection (assuming the ISP’s network is adequate and if it is not it is their fault for not investing in it to support the service). On a wireless connection, even if the ISP (cellular carrier) is using the most cutting edge technology there is a real limit to available bandwidth and it is low enough that real world conditions are impacted by the limit.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Devil's advocate

Finite vs. infinite resource isn’t the question.

Regardless of the state of the resource you are already paying for it. The point of contention is the ISP wanting to charge you _again_ if you choose to use what you’ve _already_ paid for in another way.

To use your bike analogy;
If you ride your bike around your block that’s O.K., but it you use it to go to and from school/work/the library that’s theft because you’re depriving the owner (yourself) of access to your bike. Since you’re bike’s a finite resource that’s stealing.

Ummm… no that doesn’t make any sense. Especially when in the bike analogy, if you paid the bike manufacturer an additional “riding outside my neighborhood” fee, then it wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ anymore.

Yep, that whole finite vs. infinite dimension really clears things up.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Devil's advocate

if you paid the bike manufacturer an additional “riding outside my neighborhood” fee, then it wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ anymore.

What you’re either ignoring or simply failing to take into account is that the agreement was known before hand. It’s not like the phone company is coming along after the fact and making up rules as they go. If you sign a contract that says you are not allowed to tether without paying extra and you tether without paying extra, then you’ve breached the ToS. If you rent a bike and agree not to leave the neighborhood and then proceed to leave the neighborhood, then you’ve breached the ToS.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Devil's advocate

If you sign a contract that says you are not allowed to tether without paying extra and you tether without paying extra, then you’ve breached the ToS.

But I think that is exactly what some people are saying here. When I signed my contract years ago with AT&T, my contract made no mention of tethering, since that wasn’t an option at the time. I have not signed another contract, and yet I am told now that I have to spend an additional $50 to tether a computer to my phone, even though the option within the phone is already available.

The contract changed after I signed it. Now of course, AT&T said on the contract that they could change the terms and conditions at any time, which they have, but is the change onerous or not? I’d say yes, because they are taking away capabilities for no logical/technical reasons, but to just support their monopoly and squeeze a few more bucks out of me because they are greedy.

Fickelbra (profile) says:

So Silly

I had an answer as soon as I read the article subject. This issue with carriers charging over tethering makes me overall sad. This is like purchasing gas from a gas station, and then the attendant calling you up and going “By the way, you are not allowed to leave the state, or drive with a passenger in your car. If you would like to do those things, we will need more money.” Notice how the attendant isn’t offering you anything more, just requesting more money.

I could see a dimmer individual countering that argument with “yeah, you bought unleaded and really needed super”, but once again, that makes no sense because when you pay for tethering you are not getting faster service, or more data limits. Just simply the ability to utilize code already in the phone.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: So Silly

This is like purchasing gas from a gas station, and then the attendant calling you up and going “By the way, you are not allowed to leave the state, or drive with a passenger in your car. If you would like to do those things, we will need more money.”

I’m not sure if you’re being intentionally deceptive or really don’t understand the difference between an agreement made before receiving service and an ex post facto restriction. Your analogy if flawed. It is not like a gas station calling you up after you purchased gas and telling you about their restrictions. To fix your analogy, it would be like a gas station that made you sign a contract before you bought gas that you were not allowed to leave the state, etc. If this were to actually happen, you’d just go across the street and buy your gas there. But the obvious problem is that there isn’t the kind of competition with data carriers as there are with gas stations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Its about licensing

They believe they have the right to restrict and license what devices get on their network because different devices consume different quantities at different “sustained” rates. And here lies the problem. They want to oversell their capacity and these so-called thieves are screwing up their forecasts.

If it is “american” to earn a profit, isn’t even more so to earn it twice for the same product?

We let the airlines do it, why not the telcos too?

Anonymous Coward says:

A better question is, why, if I have an iPhone and an iPad, both from AT&T, am I charged for two data plans? What you are witnessing is the building of a per device billing infrastructure that will become the norm as land-line internet services are inevitably replaced ala land-line phones were replaced by cell phones. Enjoy your 20 devices behind a cable/dsl router now because its all going away eventually. Thats why service providers are fighting for seperate net neutrality laws for wireless. Lay the groundwork for the future as they realize they already lost in the present.

MrWilson says:

This is similar to the argument that how much a company invests in a product or service deems how important it is for the government to enforce its business model.

In this case, the fact that the telcos want to charge you extra for tethering means, as far as they and their apologists are concerned, that not paying for tethering is theft.

If they offered a service of allowing you to look at your device for an extra charge, looking at your device without paying the charge would suddenly become theft too. Doing anything that doesn’t make them extra money is theft. Making your own ringtones is probably theft in their eyes also.

Mike D says:

Shortcuts in terminology

The real problem is that sellers take short cuts in how they describe their service. It is tough to blame them because a proper description would likely confuse consumers.

When a provider enters into a contract with a consumer, they are offering more than the “sale of X amount of data”, they are really offering the “sale of X amount of data, with a delivery profile that looks like Y”. Someone made the analogy of the water utility offering water for sale, and charging differently depending on whether the customer is showering or flushing the toilet. It is actually a good analogy. The water utilities typically do charge differently based on various factors other than the aggregate amount of water delivered. If a customer is using a few gallons here and there, and occasionally surges to a hundred gallons per minute now and then, they put different demand on the system than if they consumed a thousand gallons per minute for a burst of several minutes. Even if both consumers used the same total in a month, the utility needs to plan for them differently, and so will charge for them differently.

Someone using a smart phone is likely going to use very small amounts of data almost constantly, and then have some moderate bursts of higher utilization. People using a PC are more likely to have sustained utilization of higher bandwidth. Even simple things like the OS downloading updates in the background are going to soak up bandwidth for 20 minutes to several hours at a time. The smart phone users is far less likely to soak up the same amount of bandwidth for more than a minute or two.

Basically, there is a fundamental difference between smart phone and tethering data, but one that is not easy to describe to a customer.

If I were in a position that I could suggest solutions, I would not recommend charging for tethering, but instead invest in the ability to govern data traffic in reasonable ways, and then sell tiers. At the basic tier, a user can have their traffic throttled if they have transfers that use more than X bandwidth for Y period of time. If a customer is using 2Mb/s of data for more than 3 minutes, they get throttled down to 512kb/s. If the user pays for the middle tier, they can get that 2MB/s for 20 minutes before they are throttled, and if they pay for the premium tier, they get no throttling at all. This type of plan would allow the providers to be agnostic to your data, and focus simply on how it is being provided.

David Muir (profile) says:

Re: Shortcuts in terminology

Thank you for this comment. You outlined both the problem and suggestions for solving it.

“Burst” or peak capacity planning is a science and I have seen some service companies fail miserably at it. I think the problem the telcos face in public perception is that (here in Canada at least) they essentially charge almost a thousand times the cost per Gigabyte (transferred over and above their caps). So any argument related to data consumption profiles can be countered with: “But don’t your data plans have the cost recovery for this kind of burst capacity built into them across the board?”

The suggestion for tiered pricing that takes into account sustained usage is interesting — and it may or may not be a tougher sell than caps and overage charges.

Anonymous Coward says:

So for all of you who claim that you paid for the bandwidth, please show us the contract you signed that does not restrict how you use it.

If you don’t like the contract, don’t sign it. If there isn’t an alternative that is acceptable to you, start one. Government regulation making your life hard? Sucks to be you. Get on with some lobbying or innovate your way out of the problem. Or just convince an existing telco to change their policy. Maybe join up and become part of the solution.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a dedicated wireless router from Clear that uses the cell phone network to provide 4G speeds and can connect up to 8 devices. At $40 a month and no bandwidth limit it is a very portable solution for my “home” internet connection. The question many are starting to ask is why do I also need a cell phone plan? (Currently paying $150 a month to TMobile to connect 2 Android cell phones)

The idea of charging extra for “services” was a good marketing idea in the past (charge what people are willing to pay), but I think as more and more people get a standard connection you will see a shift from viewing each service separately (voice, TV, internet) to instead viewing it only as a connection.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The idea of charging extra for “services” was a good marketing idea in the past (charge what people are willing to pay), but I think as more and more people get a standard connection you will see a shift from viewing each service separately (voice, TV, internet) to instead viewing it only as a connection.

but… but… then cable and TV companies will have to compete!

and mobile carriers will be able to provide services in markets where they are not the incumbent local carrier!

competition leads to price wars, price wars lead to consumer savings, consumer savings leads to… THE DARK SIDE!

no thank you, i’ll stick with the current monopoly system where we get nothing and pay dearly for the privilege.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Just simply the ability to utilize code already in the phone.”

Selling software unlocks to built-in hardware is a tried and tested revenue stream for a lot of companies. Intel wants to sell you a crippled processor and charge you $50 to unlock hyperthreading and extra cache. Avaya will sell you a PBX and charge you extra licensing fees to connect a SIP-based phone system like OCS to it. In this case, a tethering fee is nothing more than a software unlock for already-present hardware functionality.

Now what’s the difference between the three examples I mention? The difference is that tethering is the first example I can think of off the top of my head where the software unlock for already-present hardware functionality is a re-occuring monthly fee. That is the scam in and of itself. That is what you people really need to be upset about. Would there really be this much of an uproar over tethering if it was a $50 one-time unlock and you could tether for the life of the phone?

And for the record, I absolutely hate this software unlock scheme that hardware manufacturers use to milk extra money from the consumer. Do not provide me a piece of hardware that is capable of doing something and then charge me extra to “unlock” that functionality. If you do not want people cracking your software unlock, then do not provide the underlying software-crippled hardware functionality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bandwidth isn’t be “stolen” by tethering. The bandwidth used If I pay for 5 GB of data and use 1 GB for my phone and 2 GB for a tethered device, my usage is still within the limits that I paid for. If I were to go over my limit due to tethering, I would be charged the overage fees based on my plan. No bandwidth is being used that isnt already being paid for. Whats being stolen?

They is simply a cash grab to try to double the amount of money they can charge for mobile data usage. As much as the data caps suck anyways, average joe consumer probably doesnt go anywhere near the cap. But if AT&T can make average joe user pay for 2 5GB data plans, tada twice the profit. I’m sure AT&T would be pleased as pudding if every user started going over their bandwidth limit and paying the extra bandwidth fees. Their profit margins would skyrocket.

I’m sure the wifi apps will find a way to conceal that the data is from a tethered device. If it isn’t out already, I’m sure it’s right around the corner.

Miff (profile) says:


The way I really see it is that the phone companies want to be all of the image:

“You’re not buying bandwidth, you’re buying a phone that comes with two years of access to our network. You can’t use anything else on our network because the access is only for the phone you bought.”

Sadly, this is primarily the result of a lack of competition. In a true free market, a new competitor would be able to make their own nondiscriminatory network and start driving the phone sellers out of business. *sigh*

And I should point out that this is a much more fair plan if you’re paying for unlimited service. If you’re paying by the decimal gigibit (GB is GB, right?), then it shouldn’t matter at all, but if a company gives you unlimited data on a feature phone that can only browse a few specified sites, then you only paid for those sites and not the entire Internet.

rangda (profile) says:

This reminds me of an episode of Babylon 5, “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”. It shows Earth 500 years after B5 where the govt. propaganda machine was hard at work. Over time the meaning of words had changed, “truth” no long meant what we think of as the trust (that was realtruth), it means the facts as the propaganda machine wanted to present them. And felt perfectly justified in warping and twisting them, for after all, to not tell the “truth” would be to lie and to lie was bad.

This is the same thing; the word “steal” no longer means “to take something which doesn’t belong to you”. It means “to not let a corporate overload milk as much money as humanly possible from you”. You’re “stealing” from a company by refusing to pay what they want you to pay or to consume what they want you to consume. Because it’s their DIVINE RIGHT for you to hand them all your money.

HarryMonmouth says:

This is war

Companies in Britain are obligated by law to squeeze as much money as they conceivably can out of the consumer. If they do not do so then their shareholders will have a right to sue the directors. The only thing that will stop them from taking the coins off your eyelids after you have died is the worry that this might damage their customer base.
When this is the way things work then the consumer is essentially at war with the provider. Those who do tether without permission are fighting for a better future, a future where we may be able to spend our money on ourselves and not on big fat bonuses for fat executives.

David says:

My thoughts...

Okay, I think we can probably agree on a few things:

1. You should be able to use your bandwidth however you want. The endpoint is still the phone, who cares what happens after that? Same analogy as above with the water company, etc. But these are metered services…
2. The cell phone companies need to stop overselling and start upgrading their service instead of complaining when people want to use what they paid for. Imagine what would happen if they just spent this money on tracking people who tether, attorney fees, etc and upgraded the network?
3. You are in breach of contract if you tether in most cases. The ToS forbid it, and that’s that. Just because it isn’t fair doesn’t mean you aren’t violating a contract. Don’t agree to the contact if you don’t like it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of options usually. But this is really a separate issue.
4. Competition would help. Some companies charge less for tethering, or allow it in unofficial ways, but there are other issues that are larger than tethering (coverage) that will prevent people from switching just because of this in most cases.
5. If you tether in most unofficial ways and don’t abuse the system, the companies usually won’t care. Unlimited should mean unlimited, but it never will. Let’s move on.
6. When “unlimited” means 1GB or 5GB, that’s bit excessive. Fair use should apply, but its easy to use it legitimately and go over that limit.
7. Tethering and using the tethered connection as something that is basically a home internet connection are two different things. Just tethering to check you email occasionally is basically the same as checking your email on the phone itself.
8. Many other countries (not USA) sell a finite bandwidth and don’t care how you use it. But the cell companies complicated things when they ever offered “unlimited” services.

In regard to the cable analogy above: First off, they don’t charge per outlet anymore (as far as I know). They DO charge per cable box, and we are getting closer and closer to requiring that, but in more cases, you CAN hook up another TV and use analog cable. The set top box fee should just reflect the cost of the box, but I think we all know that isn’t exactly true anymore.

emdc (profile) says:

They want to squeeze out every penny possible

Years ago when I signed with AT&T after Telocity went bust, they wanted me to pay extra for a home network. This made me feel as though I was committing a crime every time I got online with my existing NetGear wireless router from another room. I justified it by knowing that there was only one computer at a time sucking that precious bandwidth.

Russ says:

Metered or All You Can Eat?

I think there are two elements that are meaningful:
– the license, and
– the pricing plan

Others have already made the point that, if the license says you can’t tether, then it’s wrong to tether. I wouldn’t call it “stealing”, but you’re still violating a contract you agreed to (whether you chose to read it or not). In a sense, it’s like buying software, agreeing to a license that says you can only use the software on one computer, and then installing it on multiple computers (and even using it concurrently on multiple). Is that stealing? I don’t know…

The stronger argument goes to the pricing plan. If you are paying for an “all you can eat” plan (I know… Techdirt has done a great job of calling out the lies within most carrier’s “all you can eat” – but at least one carrier (Sprint) truly does have unlimited on their handset plans…), the price on that plan is based on how much the carrier reasonable expects you to eat.

It’s like an all you can eat buffet. If you go to an all you can eat buffet, they typically will have at least four prices: children under 2, children under 10, adults, and seniors. Why do they have different prices? Because they know adults eat the most, children under 10 and seniors eat less, and children under 2 eat almost nothing.

If you walk in, as an 18 year old young man (that’s probably the age where I had the greatest capacity to eat) and claim to be 9 years old, demanding the children’s price, but then eat like a 21 year old, are you stealing? I think it’s a fair argument to say you are…

The old feature phones of old on 2G networks ate about like a 3 year old. Newer feature phones on 3G networks eat like a 9 year old. Smartphones eat like a 40 year old. Laptops eat like a horde of teenagers. If you sign up for a feature phone, or even a smartphone (and get the unlimited price that goes with it), and then connect a laptop, you are driving real costs onto the carrier that greatly exceed what you’re paying. Why are you surprised when they don’t want you to keep doing that?

Now, if you’re on a metered plan, like the water analogy that’s been so popular in this discussion, then it’s a different story…

jenningsthecat (profile) says:

Vaughan-Nichols is using a dangerous argument.

Service providers love the comparison to utilities – in fact they use it themselves to justify Usage Based Billing. The following is from a letter which I wrote to the CRTC when they came out in favour of UBB – both of these points apply in Canada, and at least one of them applies in the US as well:

“In his comments at the Industry Committee hearing, Chairman von Finckenstein likens Internet access to utilities such as gas and electricity. This argument fails on at least two counts. Firstly, gas and electricity are consumables – once they’re used, they no longer exist. Internet capacity, on the other hand, is not consumed; the same capacity is used over and over and over again. Secondly, gas and electricity prices are heavily regulated, in order to ensure that operators don’t gouge consumers; there is no such regulation for Internet service providers, whose above-the-cap per-gigabyte pricing works out to about a hundred times the actual cost.”

Although water isn’t ‘consumed’ in the same sense as gas and electricity, the chemicals and energy used to treat and obtain it ARE consumed. But the energy consumption of the Internet doesn’t change much between idle and full-capacity use, so metered billing doesn’t make any sense beyond its tenuous justification as a massive cash grab.

DannyB (profile) says:

Quick Quiz

Which of the following puts more stress on the carrier’s network?
1. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted from my phone to the nearby cell tower.
2. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted from my phone to the nearby cell tower.

(Please note that in the case of (1) the packet is from my mobile phone’s built in browser and in the case of (2) the packet is from my laptop’s browser connected through the phone.)

DannyB (profile) says:

Other analogies

I’ve argued this subject extensively in the past. I noted the water analogy earlier in the discussion.

Other analogies I’ve used in the past:

Your electricity company has a special “TV viewing” plan for only $20 / month if you use electricity for watching TV, even though the electricity is delivered over the same wires and infrastructure as electricity used for cooking.

Your water company has a special rate for water used for cooking and drinking vs water (delivered by the same pipes!) used for washing dishes.

Your natural gas company . . .

The fuel pump charges a different rate per gallon of 87 octane gasoline pumped into four door cars vs two door cars. (Even though it comes from the same holding tank and delivered by the same pump and hose.) After all, you’re getting more use out of each gallon for a four door car!

DannyB (profile) says:

Rebuttal to argument about bandwidth used for tethering

If a carrier offers unlimited data, I could possibly be persuaded to agree with a charge for tethering devices that could consume more bandwidth.

However, once you no longer offer unlimited data, you’ve lost ground to argue about bandwidth consumed. I’m paying for 2 GB per month, and using 2 GB per month. It shouldn’t matter how I enjoy using it.

If there is an argument about being able to use bandwidth faster, then I would point out that the network can, does and should control the maximum download / upload rates in order to keep their network operational for all users. Therefore, my use of a laptop should not impact their network at all.

Griff (profile) says:

May be missing the point

I think that a lot of people are (intentionally) missing the point here.

If (which may not be the case here) you have a flat rate plan, then your supplier of internet bandwidth may have created a business plan that is based on a reasonable amount of data being used, based on average user consumption.

If (for example) I bought unlimited cable net access, they would have every right to be peeved if I was allowing the whole neighbourhood access to my wireless network and hence using a vast amount more then a single reasonable user would.

Now, if I do the same with my iPhone, say, and create a wireless access point so that a load of other people can share my connection, that is a similar thing. It could be seen as an abuse of a flat rate plan that was based on a business model taking into account average use of a single user.

Like offering an all you can eat buffet in a restaurant and then having a large family come and share a plate.

But hey, if the user is on a “pay per gigabyte” plan, why the hell should they care ?
Answer – because they’d rather have two customers paying for a gig than 1 paying for 2 gig because there are fixed charges too, and other upselling opportunities.

I suspect the “tethering” that is objected to is not “using my phone as a modem for me” but “using my phone as open access for the whole coffee shop”.

Often this seems to be enabled on people’s devices by default. For a while I found on UK trains I could find a net connection simply by hunting with my bluetooth. Not that I ever use it – that might be illegal…

The truth says:

The true thiefs are the cable companys trying to squeeze every last cent out of the internet that was supposed to be free anyways. They put up lines and chage for you to use a free service because it goes through thier lines. In reality the ones that CREATED the internet always intended it to be free. The internet lines should be a free public service much like the high ways. They are liars cheats and thieves selling a free service.

The truth says:

The true thiefs are the cable companys trying to squeeze every last cent out of the internet that was supposed to be free anyways. They put up lines and chage for you to use a free service because it goes through thier lines. In reality the ones that CREATED the internet always intended it to be free. The internet lines should be a free public service much like the high ways. They are liars cheats and thieves selling a free service.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, really? This Guy's an ass. Ill prove it.

this logic is poor. cable is like a breaker. the more u plug in and turn on, you wreck and trip the circuit. but remember, old phones? u can have as many pots phone on a single line. but as u all pick up, the voice volume dropped? THATS CABLE. internet however is only giving u a set amount. like money in a wallet.

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