When the Internet Runs Out

In Australia, obtaining wireless internet for your home isn’t difficult.  It’s as easy as one, two, three.

1) Buy a modem (cost: about AU$100).

2) Buy a router (cost: also about AU$100).

3) Sign up for a monthly internet service, most likely with the company that makes the modem you already purchased (cost: variable).

When I write that the cost of step three is variable, I mean that monthly service fees vary not only from person to person, but also for the same person from month to month.  The fee you pay depends on the amount of internet you intend to use.  “Amount” is measured by gigabyte (GB), and the more uploading and downloading you do, the more GBs you use up.

Forgive me, but before I arrived in Sydney, I had never heard of paying for internet by units of data transferred.  Even at internet cafes in the US and Europe, patrons pay for internet in units of time, not units of data.  Imagine:

“Hi, I’d like 30 minutes on the computer, please.”

“That’ll be $2.00.”

“Great, I need to check my email, and I haven’t seen Charlie bite a finger in forever.”

“Ooh, you want to go on YouTube?  That’ll be $10 for the 30 minutes.”

You see, activities like sending email and reading online newspapers require small amounts of data transfer, Skyping uses more, and streaming video from sites like YouTube gobbles up the most internet.  This makes sense to me.  What I found particularly surprising is that in many home internet service plans, internet allowance varies by time of day.  All monthly plans offered by Unwired, the company from which my roommates and I purchased our internet, include a certain number of GBs for use in “Peak” hours, as in between 4PM and midnight, and double that number of GBs for use in all other “Off-peak” hours.  For example, we purchased a AU$49.95 monthly plan of 3GB Peak/6GB Off-peak.  We quickly learned that 3GB would not suffice given the Peak demands of four twenty year olds.  So, what does one do when the internet runs out?  Why, purchase an additional usage block of 4GB (2GB Peak/2GB Off-peak) for AU$14.95, of course.  And if that gets used up, I suppose we will buy another block.

This pay-by-GB Peak/Off-peak business model seems to be the most popular, if not the only, one used by internet service providers in Australia.  From what I gather, providers are right to charge customers at rates depending on their usage.  Heavy users put more strain on the systems.  American cell phone companies often charge extra for text or picture messaging.  So, if I want to have money to eat out, take cabs, and travel on the weekends, I may have to learn to postpone my emailing, song-downloading, Skyping, Facebooking, and blogging until after midnight.

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