Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications
The Issues

  • Why Metering is Wrong
  • Metering People's Lives
  • Two Countries, Two Approaches
  • Metering Democracy
  • Battling a Switched-Off Westminster
  • Telecoms Industry Stance
  • Government Stance
  • OFTEL Stance
  • ISP Stance
  • Archive
  • Metering People's Lives

    Our current metered telecommunications with their antiquated and outmoded tariffs are hampering the growth of healthy businesses and healthy relationships/friendships. They are also stunting our sense of community and are stifling the potential of the Internet in this country for both business and pleasure. In short, the telecoms providers are metering peoples' lives.

    The telephone has become an integral part of daily life and a telephone is arguably indispensable for most people because so much of what we do now revolves around the telephone. It is almost impossible to live without a telephone nowadays. The notion of 'over-the-counter' service is becoming a thing of the past, whether we like it or not, as more and more services and businesses move to the telephone (and steadily the Internet) as their main point of contact with their customers. In short, our lives are increasingly entangled with the telephone in one form or another, be it in our professional, personal or daily lives.

    Yet, while our telecommunications infrastructure largely keeps step with progress via technological improvements it is clear that our tariffing system is falling further and further out of touch with the needs of the consumer. Telephone usage is constantly on the increase yet the telecoms companies make little genuine attempt to offer significant price cuts (nibbling a little off their prices from time to time) or value for money and sit back to reap the huge profits that metered telecommunications brings them. Of course, no-one wants to deny the telecoms industry well-earned profits and indeed the telecoms companies have a right to recoup their considerable investments in infrastructure upgrades. But it is my belief that the current situation is way out of control and unsustainable - people find themselves required or wanting to use the phone more and more, for a variety of reasons, yet are scared of the spectre of huge phone bills that quite simply cannot be justified in terms of the cost of provision by the telecoms companies.

    Even when we compare telecommunications with other metered utilities such as electricity, gas and (for some people) water we still do not find any parallels that justify the billing arrangements favoured by the telecoms industry. It is clear that when we switch on an electrical appliance, or fire up a gas boiler, or turn on a tap we are consuming a finite resource that has to be generated or captured and delivered to us. This incurs obvious costs to the provider and there is also wear and tear on the infrastructure. But with telecommunications this just isn't the case. We are consuming only time and the wear and tear on the network from each call is so negligible as to be insignificant.

    To put this in perspective, consider two calls, one for 1 minute and one for 100 minutes. Is the cost to the telecoms company of provision of the second call actually 100 times as much as for the first call? I think not. Pretty much exactly the same I would think. Sadly, this is not something anyone at BT or CWC customer services has been able to confirm to me - the logic seems to baffle them: 'but you've been on the phone for 100 times as long, so why shouldn't you pay 100 times more?' The point seems to have been missed. Quite simply, metering is a false method of tariffing for telecommunications services. If it wasn't for historical factors, metering most likely wouldn't exist. Long gone are the days when calling between one end of the country and another involved a whole string of operators and significant wear and tear on the infrastructure. Modern digital exchanges are way beyond this situation, so why are we being billed as if it were still 1930? Quite simply, because it suits the telecoms companies to keep it this way. Of course I recognise that telecoms companies needed to invest in infrastructure to get things the way they are and they also need to make profits. However, this could still be easily achieved with unmetered tariffs via the use of higher standing charges and fixed-rate call plans for those customers who want the choice of unmetered calls.

    It is clear to me that the telecommunications industry in this country is not run with the motives of improving communications between people in mind because if it were then surely we wouldn't have the metered tariffs which are so detrimental to improved communications and which hamper the potential for the telephone (and by extension the Internet) to bring people together. How can it possibly be 'good to talk' when you have a stopwatch ticking the whole time you are on the phone? And what if you are listening, perhaps to a customer services person, or worse still are held in a queue or lost in a voice mail system? Is it still good to hear the stopwatch ticking as you wait?

    It seems so often the case that rather than enjoy the conversation or benefit from the information being conveyed, the caller is preoccupied with the cost of the call, and often decides to terminate the call earlier than (s)he would like because of the mounting cost. This flies in the face of advertising where companies run overtly sentimental adverts to try to send us all on guilt trips about how we don't call our mothers/fathers/siblings/partners/friends nearly enough. Well, BT et al - is it hardly surprising given the cost of calling? Speaking personally as someone who lives a considerable distance from my 'significant other', I would love to spend much longer on the telephone enjoying a fuller conversation, but the cost is just too much to bear. It is not a nice feeling to feel torn between the emotional well-being of your partner and your mounting phone bill and I personally resent the guilt-inducing tone of the advertising. And of course, as the telecoms companies know only too well, our emotions and/or guilt always gets the better of us, usually to the advantage of the telephone company.

    So, to conclude, I put it to you that not only are metered tariffs an erroneous, outmoded and no longer justifiable billing model for telecommunications, they also lead to an undesirable metering of peoples' lives that is actually damaging in a number of important ways:

    • Metering damages businesses - telephone costs make up a large part of most companies' budgets. Businesses need telephones to thrive, not least because customers often don't call because of the costs (and freephone provision is often prohibitively expensive).

    • Metering damages relationships. People cannot talk (in both a professional and personal sense) for as long as they need or would like because of the cost of calling. Metering conversations is no way to build bonds between people.

    • Metering damages peoples' access to useful information. Increasingly there is a wealth of information available on the Internet, yet metering makes it prohibitively expensive for many people to access.

    • Metering damages peoples' sense of community. Telephones (and by extension the Internet) have a huge potential to bring people together that is going largely unfulfilled because of prohibitively high costs.
    So, please support our campaign and help stop the telecoms industry from metering our lives. No matter what it is that we do we're all affected in some way or other and can benefit from the introduction of unmetered tariffs.

    Text by Martin Eager

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