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July 1994


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Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 10 Jul 1994 07:03:57 CST
text/plain (214 lines)
I picked this up off of another discussion group and am posting it on
SCREEN-L because of possible implications for LISTSERV-based groups such as
______________________________ Forward Header __________________________________
Subject: Metered Pricing for Internet
Author:  [log in to unmask] at SMTP-LINK
Date:    7/5/94 6:20 PM
Sender: Brian McCormack <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Metered Pricing for Internet
I really haven't spent a lot of time looking at this, but it appeared
that it might be important to all of us.  I apologize for the
technicality.  I think everyone should try to understand this, because it
could possibly have a major impact on our mailing list.
May 7, 1994
-    Request for signatures for a letter to NSF opposing metered
pricing of Internet usage
-    Please repost this request freely
The letter will be sent to Steve Wolff, the Director of
Networking and Communications for NSF.  The purpose of the letter
is to express a number of user concerns about the future of
Internet pricing.  NSF recently announced that is awarding five
key contracts to telephone companies to operate four Internet
"Network Access Points" (NAPs), and an NSF funded very high speed
backbone (vBNS).  There have been a number of indications that
the telephone companies operating the NAPs will seek permission
from NSF to price NAPs services according to some measure of
Internet usage.  The vBNS is expected to act as a testbed for new
Internet pricing and accounting schemes.  The letter expresses
the view that metered pricing of Internet usage should be
avoided, and that NSF should ensure that the free flow of
information through Internet listserves and file server sites is
preserved and enhanced.
Jamie Love, Taxpayer Assets Project ([log in to unmask]; but
unable to answer mail until May 15).  Until then, direct
inquires to Michael Ward.
If you are willing to sign the letter, send the following
information to Mike Ward of the Taxpayer Assets Project
([log in to unmask], fax: 202/234-5176; voice: 202/387-8030;
P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036):
Names:    ___________________________
Title:    ___________________________   (Optional)
Affiliation:   ____________________________________
(for purposes of identification only)
Address:       ______________________________________
City; St, Zip  ________________________________
Email Address: _____________________________________
Voice:         __________________________________
for verification)
The letter follows:
Steve Wolff
Division of Networking and Communications
National Science Foundation
1800 G Street
Washington, DC  20550
Dear Steve:
It is our understanding that the National Science Foundation
(NSF) and other federal agencies are developing a new
architecture for the Internet that will utilize four new Network
Access Points (NAPs), which have been described as the new
"cloverleaves" for the Internet.  You have indicated that NSF is
awarding contracts for four NAPs, which will be operated by
telephone companies (Pac Bell, S.F.; Ameritech, Chicago; Sprint,
NY; and MFS, Washington, DC).  We further understand that NSF has
selected MCI to operate its new very high speed backbone (vBNS)
There is broad public interest in the outcome of the negotiations
between NSF and the companies that will operate the NAPs and
vBNS.  We are writing to ask that NSF consider the following
objectives in its negotiations with these five firms:
We are concerned about the future pricing systems for Internet
access and usage.  Many users pay fixed rates for Internet
connections, often based upon the bandwidth of the connection,
and do not pay for network usage, such as the transfer of data
using email, ftp, Gopher or Mosaic.  It has been widely reported
on certain Internet discussion groups, such as com-priv, that the
operators of the NAPs are contemplating a system of usage based
We are very concerned about any movement toward usage based
pricing on the Internet, and we are particularly concerned about
the future of the Internet Listserves, which allow broad
democratic discourse on a wide range of issues.  We believe that
the continued existence and enhancement of the Internet
discussion groups and distribution lists is so important that any
pricing scheme for the NAPs that would endanger or restrict their
use should be rejected by the NSF.
It is important for NSF to recognize that the Internet is more
than a network for scientific researchers or commercial
transactions.  It represents the most important new effort to
expand democracy into a wide range of human endeavors.  The open
communication and the free flow of information have make
government and private organizations more accountable, and allowed
citizens to organize and debate the widest range of matters.
Federal policy should be directed at expanding public access to
the Internet, and it should reject efforts to introduce pricing
schemes for Internet usage that would mimic commercial telephone
networks or expensive private network services such as MCI mail.
To put this into perspective, NSF officials must consider how any
pricing mechanisms will change the economics of hosting an
Internet electronic mail discussion groups and distribution
lists.  Many of these discussion groups and lists are very large,
such as Humanist, GIS-L, CNI-Copyright, PACS-L, CPSR-Announce or
Com-Priv.  It is not unusual for a popular Internet discussion
group to have several thousand members, and send out more than
100,000 email messages per day.  These discussion groups and
distribution lists are the backbones of democratic discourse on
the Internet, and it is doubtful that they would survive if
metered pricing of electronic mail is introduced on the Internet.
Usage based pricing would also introduce a wide range of problems
regarding the use of ftp, gopher and mosaic servers, since it
conceivable that the persons who provide "free" information on
servers would be asked to pay the costs of "sending" data to
persons who request data.  This would vastly increase the costs
of operating a server site, and would likely eliminate many
sources of data now "published" for free.
We are also concerned about the types of  accounting mechanisms
which may be developed or deployed to facilitate usage based
pricing schemes., which raise a number of concerns about personal
privacy.  Few Internet users are anxious to see a new system of
"surveillance" that will allow the government or private data
vendors to monitor and track individual usage of Information
obtained from Internet listserves or fileserves.
We are also concerned about the potential for anti-
competitive behavior by the firms that operate the NAPs.  Since
1991 there have been a number of criticisms of ANS pricing
practices, and concerns about issues such as price discrimination
or preferential treatment are likely to become more important as
the firms operating the NAPs become competitors of firms that must
connect to the NAPs.  We are particularly concerned about the
announcements by PAC-Bell and Ameritech that they will enter the
retail market for Internet services, since both firms were
selected by NSF to operate NAPs.  It is essential that the
contracts signed by NSF include the strongest possible measures to
insure that the operators of the NAPs do not unfairly discriminate
against unaffiliated companies.
As the Internet moves from the realm of the research community to
a more vital part of the nation's information infrastructure, the
NSF must ensure that its decisions reflect the needs and values
of a much larger community.
1.   The NSF contracts with the NAPs operators will include
clauses that determine how the NAP services will be priced.
It is important that NSF disclose and receive comment on all
pricing proposals before they become final.  NSF should
create an online discussion list to facilitate public dialog
on the pricing proposals, and NSF should identify its
criteria for selecting a particular pricing mechanism,
addressing the issue of how the pricing system will impact
the Internet's role in facilitating democratic debate.
2.   NSF should create a consumer advisory board which would
include a broad cross section of consumer interests,
including independent network service providers (NSPs),
publishers of Internet discussion groups and distribution
lists, academic networks, librarians, citizen groups and
individual users.  This advisory board should review a
number of policy questions related to the operation of the
Internet, including questions such as the NAP pricing, NAP
operator disclosure of financial, technical and operational
data, systems of Internet accounting which are being tested
on the vBNS and other topics.
3.   NSF should solicit public comment, though an online
discussion group, of the types of safeguards against
anticompetitive behavior by the NAPs which should be
addressed in the NSF/NAPs contracts, and on issues such as
NAPs pricing and Internet accounting systems.
TAP-INFO is an Internet Distribution List provided by the Taxpayer
Assets Project (TAP).  TAP was founded by Ralph Nader to monitor the
management of government property, including information systems and
data, government funded R&D, spectrum allocation and other government
assets.  TAP-INFO reports on TAP activities relating to federal
information policy.  tap-info is archived at; and
Subscription requests to tap-info to [log in to unmask] with
the message:  subscribe tap-info your name
Taxpayer Assets Project; P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC  20036
v. 202/387-8030; f. 202/234-5176; internet:  [log in to unmask]