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The Rising cost of being online

Summer 2013

For some time I have had a nagging sense that what it costs me to be online is rising, but I ignored it.  How can this be, when the monthly cost for access to the internet is dropping?  I’m paying half what it cost five years ago.

So why have I been getting this uneasy feeling?  It all became unpleasantly clear when I did my annual accounts.  My cost of being online is rising fast, and it’s all the fault of The Cloud.

I am a fan of online services that live in “the cloud”, not on our computers.  Some are free to use (like BBC iPlayer or Twitter) but most will charge for more than their most very basic service. 

They do all sorts of things for me and come from all over the world.  I use one from Toronto to record my time and expenses, an Australian one for sending email newsletters.  I use a Californian one to share files across my three computers.  My website lives in New York, and I have a service in Ontario for managing minutes and agendas for two committees that I run.

Another one (from Lowestoft) transmits files too big for email, and I pay for an online family tree system in Barcelona, an STMP Relay service (please don’t ask me to explain what that is) in Bath and an online music service in San Francisco.  I also pay my very first email host to keep forwarding me emails from my very first email address.  Then there’s my mobile phone, which seems to be more internet than phone these days, and there are probably a couple more I’ve forgotten about.

And what do all these have in common?  They all charge me something at least once a year, and in most cases every month.  Not much, any of them, but it all mounts up.  Work out the total cost and it makes the £13 I fork out to BT each month seem paltry, which explains why I was beginning to get an ache in my wallet.

Of course I also use some free services – email, Skype and some online storage – but they all offer better paid-for versions, and who can promise me that the free accounts won’t one day be closed?  By then I will be too hooked into them to them to switch to anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; all the services I buy work very well, and I wouldn’t be without them.  I use them all for good and often professional reasons, and in most cases they make my life easier and allow me to earn more, so they are worth every penny. 

However, you can see the way it’s all going; if we live or work online, we are all gradually becoming lessees of services, rather than buyers of objects.  It is happening in the world of software, too.  If you want the latest Microsoft package (Word, Excel and all that) they will encourage you to rent it for £80 a year; for this you can install it on five computers and receive any new versions.  To buy it outright is £389, but it can only be installed on one computer and won’t update.

It’s a life sentence, too; in most cases, once you stop paying for an online service, you will lose access to what you have stored there, and the Microsoft software will simply stop working.

Benjamin Franklin said that nothing is certain, except death and taxes.  I think we will soon be able to add third certainty: online subscriptions.