An open letter to the Songwriters Association about its proposed internet tax

Hello;

You’ve probably been getting a lot of abusive responses from people who are pissed off about being accused of crimes they didn’t commit. I will try to keep this email civil, but I do have some rather pointed questions about issues that you’ve been avoiding both in the initial proposal on your webpage, and in Eddie Schwartz’s piece in The National Post. Please note that this email, and any responses to it, will be posted on my blog at https://walterdnes.wordpress.com/

1) How can you justify fining innocent people? You seem to be assuming about P2P that “everybody does it”, so you feel that it’s OK to penalize everybody. Nothing could be further from the truth. As noted by Comcast in The New York Times blog http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/17/time-warner-download-too-much-and-you-might-pay-30-a-movie/?ref=technology 5% of users are responsible for 50% of Comcast’s internet traffic. That’s probably the extent of of P2P usage. Furthermore, it is physically impossible for anywhere near “everybody” to run P2P at the levels you suggest. I’ll discuss this in more detail in point 3.

Unlike you, I would prefer the legal system, because that way the real music uploaders, the 5%, get fined rather than innocent 3rd parties. While I prefer to keep the contents of my harddrive private, I’m willing to allow my current and previous ISP to tell you how many gigabytes I consume each month. I almost always come in under 4 or 5 gigabytes per month. That includes a few active mailing lists, usenet news, regular reading of some tech and news websites, watching stuff on YouTube, general surfing, sourcecode downloads for security and program updates (I run Gentoo linux), and a subscription to a licenced internet radio service. Not a lot of unaccounted-for bandwidth left over for downloading the latest potty-mouthed-rapper’s and Britney-the-Bimbo’s so-called “music”.

I, and all other non-users of P2P, resent being accused of doing things we don’t do. By the way, I already pay more than $5 a month for internet radio. It uses a helluva lot less bandwidth than P2P, and I don’t have to set up a multi-terrabyte harddrive and spend half my time organizing songs. I plug in, sit back, and listen while doing other stuff on my computer. I don’t want or need P2P, and I don’t have the time to manage a whole bunch of files, let alone constant security patches for a combined client/server that accepts connections from computers anywhere on the internet.

2) Do you realize that your proposal, if accepted, would set an ugly precedent, that would drive the cost of an internet account through the roof? Let me detail this.

a) “Music rights collectives” are like construction unions; there’s a whole bunch of them. In addition to songwriters’ royalties, there are artists’ royalties, reproduction royalties, performance royalties, etc, etc. Have they all signed on as part of your $5/month proposal, or are they sitting in the bushes, waiting for your proposal to be accepted, so that they can come along later, demanding *THEIR* $5/month each?

b) What’s so special about music, versus software, and movies, and TV, etc, etc? If your proposal is accepted, it sets an ugly precedent for every man and his dog to demand their cut from internet users. Off the top of my head, I can think of movies, television, e-book publishers, software publishers, and I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of others. By the time they all get through with their pound of flesh from me, my $29.95/month ADSL account will be in the $100 to $200 per month range. Do you really want to turn the internet into the preserve of the rich?

3) Do you realize that you’re selling a bill of goods to Canadians by telling them they’ll be able to P2P music to their hearts’ delight? As I mentioned earlier, it is physically impossible for more than a small minority of a cable ISP’s customers to run P2P. The neighbourhood sharing of upload bandwidth is the bottleneck. Cable internet piggybacks on top of cable TV. The cable TV system has up to hundreds of individual subscribers hanging off neighbourhood nodes. Nothing short of a multi-billion-dollar rebuild will provide that capacity. Cable ISPs like Rogers respond by…
a) charging extra to customers who exceed their bandwidth caps
b) “traffic shaping”, a euphemism for almost shutting down P2P
c) disconnecting customers outright for excessive bandwidth use

ADSL doesn’t have the particular neighbourhood-sharing bottleneck that cable has. However, even ADSL’s business model is based on only a small portion of users doing heavy P2P. Teksavvy is considered to be “P2P-friendly”, and has a real peg-the-bandwidth-to-the-max-24×7 unlimited account. As P2P refugees swarmed in from Rogers, Teksavvy had to raise their unlimited account monthly price by 33% to pay for the extra bandwidth they used. As more P2P users flock to Teksavvy, watch the unlimited account price go even higher. Sympatico, another well-known ADSL-based ISP, throttles P2P and charges $1.50 for each gigabyte, or portion thereof, in excess of the monthly cap.

And a late-breaking story at http://www.p2pnet.net/story/15361 indicates that Bell is applying throttling *TO ALL ADSL WHOLESALERS AND RESELLERS*. So changing ISP won’t help.

I will summarize the major problems I have with your proposal. Please respond to these points…

1) Why should internet users who do not use P2P pay for those who do?

2) Your proposal, if accepted, will open the floodgates to a whole slew of additional fees.

3) Your offer of not prosecuting P2P users is a hollow promise if their ISP charges extra (*ON TOP OF YOUR LEVY AND ANY LEVIES IN QUESTION 2*), blocks P2P, and/or kicks P2P users off the ISP.

Walter Dnes
2008/03/24

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