Metcalfe's column: From the Ether

Growing numbers of us "meterists" are building what I call the Pay-As-We-Go Internet.

We think the Internet is not properly priced if it's free, or if it's even mostly flat rate.

To sustain growth and evolution, the Internet needs metering infrastructure and competitive pricing along various dimensions of access and backbone usage.

After a recent Pay-As-We-Go Internet rally, a bunch of us meterists went to a rowdy bar.

Overhearing our chatter, a drunk shouted out, "Internet metering advocates are jerks!"

Obviously offended, a huge guy at the end of the bar turned red with anger and lunged toward the drunk.

"Are you a meterist?" babbled the drunk.

"No," boomed the huge angry guy, "I'm a jerk."

Why does metering cause brawls? Not because of unreasonable charges for metered water, food, housing, heating oil (until recently), electricity, and highways. Telephone bills are what get people angry about metering.

But the problem with telephone bills is not metering. It's high telephone rates, foisted on us without freedom of choice among competing alternatives (FOCACA).

Oddly, telephone monopolists and anti-meterists both say telephone services are expensive in large part because of the high costs of metering itself.

But keep in mind that for a century telopoly profits depended on parading high costs in front of regulators.

If you're stepping in FOCACA like this, the profit motive drives costs up, metered or not.

Anil Uberoi heads marketing at XACCT, a three-year-old startup with 100 people between Israel and Santa Clara, Calif. See

For months, because of my interest in Pay-As-We-Go, Uberoi has been sending me a stream of press releases announcing new customer deals.

But I routinely ignore customer releases, and especially XACCT's, which have been between XACCT and customers I've never heard of.

This is about to change, says Uberoi. After extensive testing, important ISPs will soon announce new metered services with XACCT and allow their names to be released.

Clearly, XACCT is preparing for an IPO.

I'd bet these big ISPs are getting stock with their announcements.

In the last three years, XACCT has learned a lot about meterism. For example, under today's flat-rate regime for Internet access, CTMs (cable television modems) and DSLs (Digital Subscriber Lines) are becoming loss leaders.

This would not bode well for investments in broadband, except that ISPs are starting to meter value-added services beyond Internet access. And the current killer application is ... VOIP (voice over IP).

CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) are using CTMs, DSLs, IP, and XACCT to charge for telephone calls -- PC and POTS (plain old telephone service). Uberoi says these calls are now metered by XACCT into the billions of POTS minutes per day.

Internet services likely to be metered next include fax, videoconferencing, and, yes, basic Internet access. CTMs and DSLs will eventually be priced at a flat rate per month for speed, plus a metered traffic charge, I'm sure.

Uberoi takes words right out of my meterist mouth when he says that light users will eventually tire of subsidizing heavy users through flat rates.

At the beginning of 1999, ISPs were too busy expanding. Or they didn't believe lowering prices with metered usage would attract more users.

But, Uberoi says, attitudes are changing rapidly.

When might InfoWorld readers -- not just ISPs -- consider using XACCT?

Uberoi says charging for metered Internet use is not big among U.S. companies.

XACCT is taking hold now in governments, universities, and internationally.

XACCT is not the only company metering Internet usage.

Watch for some healthy competition at,, and

In the meantime, be careful whom you call a meterist.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe welcomes comments on the Pay-As-We-Go Internet at

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