Can the Internet Ever Be Free of Charge?

It’s crazy, right? How much are you paying for Internet services now? Imagine paying absolutely nothing for connectivity to the world’s biggest repository of knowledge, cat videos, and misspelled press releases. There would be massive implications in this, but it seems like we’re far from achieving a type of connectivity that costs nothing to the consumer. Other communication services have undergone similar pipe dreams. What makes this any different? The idea is currently so radical, we couldn’t help but chime in and discuss a few things related to it.

As it currently stands, staying connected to the internet implies a cost to the consumer. Most of them happily pay their bills without wondering what’s behind all of those costs and why their bills are probably more expensive than in other countries.

For one example, let’s look at the U.S. On average, a consumer will pay approximately $47 per month on an Internet subscription. For that, the average stable downlink speed will be 35.2 Mbps. Most of this cost is due to the quasi-monopolies and compliance costs that make it very difficult for new ISPs to surface. The old boys fight over territory while new players will have to invest significant amounts of capital and effort to comply with the barriers to entry that have been lobbied for for decades.

In contrast, we can take countries like Romania and Singapore that don’t have such barriers and analyze the approximate cost and speed of Internet. The average stable downlink speed around in my city (Oradea, Romania) is 71.9 Mbps, which is a little bit below the national average (but not very far behind). As for cost, I pay roughly $11 per month for services. Singapore has an average speed of 119.9 Mbps at prices relatively close to the U.S. index.

This sends a message: we can make the Internet cheaper but not necessarily free.

While it’s a fantastic concept to have an Internet that can be used without any cost, I cannot emphasize enough that it costs money to run the hardware that functions as the world wide web’s backbone. To make something free, someone has to stand to gain from it.

freeinternet-internetorg

Mark Zuckerberg has long been a proponent of Internet accessibility for people who cannot afford it, which made him create an initiative for this exact purpose called Internet.Org. Its main goal is to make it possible for people to access thirty-seven different online applications (Facebook included, of course) without having to pay a single dime. To accomplish this, the initiative plans to collaborate with different Internet service providers around the world to introduce this system into their infrastructures, absorbing all the operating expenditures so that the consumer will not have to pay for access.

The initiative sparked a controversy in India that has led many firms to be against collaborating with Facebook, arguing that this goes against the philosophy and spirit of net neutrality, which requires that Internet access be treated the same across the board (no one person may be restricted from using it to its fullest extent). In response to this, Zuckerberg argued that the ability to connect to a handful of apps is still better than no connectivity at all.

freeinternet-backbone

As long as there is a cost to running hardware, the Internet will not be free of charge. On that note, Wi-Fi seems a bit promising. Hotspots crop up wherever there are commercial establishments, and they usually provide unfettered Internet service for free. If traffic increases considerably, though, they will have to block their routers with a password to limit access to only paying clients. Other initiatives for free Internet are usually state-sponsored (like the free Wi-Fi provided by Oradea’s municipal government), although technically, I wouldn’t call that “free” since it is supported by taxpayers.

At this moment in history, there is no conceivable way for free Internet to exist universally, but there are many places where that is a reality and people are going online. In the places that it matters, such as in remote villages, connectivity is still a long way away.

What do you think will solve this problem? In the discussion about Internet.Org, do you agree with the Indian firms or Zuckerberg? Tell us in the comments!

12 comments

  1. I don’t want free internet and fkcu rotten minded greedy corporate Facebook, we hate Facebook/Google/Monsanto etc. they are absolutely disgusting corporates and a cancer for the world.

    Free does not exist, you gotta pay in some way.

    • Seriously? How do you even get Monsanto in this conversation and sound like anything but an idiot? Speak for yourself unless you care to identify the people you include as we. Granted there are a good many reasons to hate but the fact is you are not being forced to use ANY of the companies that you listed. To say you don’t want free internet just because you hate some company that needs it to exist it beyond retarded!

  2. Servers cost money, storage costs money, fiber and copper lines cost money, low-earth-orbit blimps cost money and the installation and maintenance of all of the above costs money. The internet is only “free” where it is either subsidized (schools, libraries, government ISPs) or sponsored (by a business or a friend in the neighborhood). That said, even big, bad Comcast is trying to roll out free wifi by piggybacking off of people’s wireless cable routers (a move I personally don’t trust since they refuse to say whether other people’s usage will count against my own data caps).

  3. I agree it can never be free, but there is a way to make the cost more realistic and fair. There is no way the greedy ISP’s can justify the bloated cost they are charging for this and in many cases the penalty charges for things such as bandwidth are completely out of control, at least here in the US. Factor in what many countries that are financially challenged pay for very high speed internet vs what we pay here in the US shows clearly that it does not cost anywhere near what these monopolies are charging.

    I am seeing a large number of metro areas implementing city wide networking where the citizens will be charged a nominal tax. That to me is realistic as long as these government entities are not in control of, or operating the hardware. We all know where that will lead!

    Personally I can hardly wait until Google Fiber comes to my city. Fair prices on hardware and services with the highest speeds you can get. To me this blows the ignorant comment Joji made about Google out of the water. Clearly an misinformed individual that does not posses even a stitch of justification for such a closed minded reply!

    • Sounds like you live in the USA where the internet is amongst the shittiest of the world. Google absolutely loves naïve people but in Europe more and more internet users abandon this evil company as well as other American companies with their megalomane obsessions including the corrupt Facebook spy program funded by InQtel/FBI. USA has only shitty internet companies with hidden agendas but quality and internet freedom and privacy comes from Europe and we are not poor don’t sell our soul to Google FU Google!

  4. “I am seeing a large number of metro areas implementing city wide networking where the citizens will be charged a nominal tax.”
    The problem with taxes is that they are used as income stream for governments. “Nominal” has a tendency to quickly become “onerous” and be siphoned off from their intended purpose into personal pork projects. How many states have set up dedicated Highway Funds into which gas taxes and road use taxes go but which, in effect, have become Slush Funds and personal piggy banks of the politicians while the infrastructure is falling apart?

  5. In Manitoba, Canada (geographical center of the country) consumers pay about $55 – $60 CAD (plus 12% tax) per month for 7 – 10Mbps service, so I would say we are lagging other parts of the developed world significantly in terms of service and price from the consumers point of view, and I believe prices are similar across the country with some exceptions. With the ever decreasing cost of bandwidth, Internet access for consumers should be free via advertiser and taxpayer support, at least in urban areas and at low or no cost in rural areas also.
    Yes, it’s possible for consumers to have free Internet access as described in the following articles:
    “NYC to blanket the city in free public Wi-Fi with 10,000 stations”
    http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/11/nyc-to-install-10000-free-public-wi-fi-hotspots-in-its-streets/

    “Gigabit WiFi hubs to replace New York pay phones”
    http://www.gizmag.com/gigabit-wifi-hubs-new-york-pay-phones-linknyc/34822/

  6. Someone’s gotta pay for it. If it isn’t the person using it, it will be someone else.

    In other words, it would be Faux Free, like free bandwidth from municipalities is now. (Taxes, anyone?)

    Someone’s also gotta pay for all the ‘content’ we gobble up. No one but amateurs makes the stuff for free, and who wants to only deal with amateur junk?

  7. If Internet is provided free then this will make the ISP’s go against Net Neutrality as they will start to discriminate or favoring some sites traffic over the other. So no for free Internet. Unless ISP’s and TSP’s support net neutrality absolutely.

    • ISPs are already against Net Neutrality because it does not allow them to set up a tiered system of delivery and resulting tiered pricing structure.

  8. Free also means no money for technical innovations and improvements of the Internet…
    like even more MPS and perhaps methods to improve security against hackers and rogue nation-states…

  9. Of course the internet CAN be free. It’s all about getting the GREEDY people running things out of positions of power, which only God can do! There are many things in this life that SHOULD be free that people are being FORCED to pay for. It’s not like the mint will ever run out of money so there’s really ZERO reason people should be paying for SO much and paying SO much for so much! It will end one day.

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