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France and digital pollution

The newspaper Ouest France has reported that the Senate wishes to end unlimited mobile tariffs.

There are limits, certainly, but when the limit is in the order of 80GB per month, it is effectively unlimited. And in order to "combat digital pollution", the government, in it's habit of making decisions that do not benefit the consumer, wants to jack up the price of these "unlimited" tariifs "because pollution". Or something.

The CNIL (France comms regulator) wants to bring an end to such tariffs and have people pay for what they actually use. I don't believe for one moment that - in a world of Netflix and other forms of streaming - this won't mean more expensive bills for the majority (and, oh look, more tax euros for the government).
In order to support their assertions, they point to an eight year old study that shows that 4G is estimated to consume "up to twenty three times more energy than WiFi".

If this is voted through, it will be yet another instance of the government kicking the consumer in the balls because that's so much simpler than dealing with the real problem.

So let's look at this, then, shall we...


The age of the study

The study really ought to be disregarded. Eight years is an eternity in the tech world. While it is true that a lot of older hardware still exists, and is still in use, is it really representative of the sorts of technology in use today?
Surely it's not beyond the capacity of France to perform it's own study that's more up to date.


Actual energy consumption?

Another thing to consider is that it is likely very correct that transmitting a megabyte over home WiFi and 4G is likely to show 4G badly. There's a whole unseen infrastructure, transmission towers, and so on that make the mobile system work.
However, one must remember that not only can a mobile tower share its capabilities with multiple clients, but that those clients can come and go flexibly. I have driven home from Châteaubriant with my phone playing PPN Radio. Apart from a blackspot where there's no reception, it worked most of the way, transparently switching mobile towers as necessary.

Now compare WiFi. Sure, it's a short hop of a lower power transmitter to a box that plugs into the phone line. The power brick claims 0.6A which is probably something in the order of 15 watts (230VAC). That may well be considerably less than a mobile tower requires. But it's not the full story. It is 15 watts for 8,760 hours per year. I make that to be about 130 units (kWh) in the course of a year (which at my energy consumption is about a euro a month). For that one ADSL router.
Now multiply that by the number of households. You'll soon appreciate that it can add up dramatically.

Across an average of the country (rural and inner city both), is mobile comms really so inefficient when comparing how much energy is required to maintain the equipment rather than simply the amount of electricity required to shift some data?


Broken promises

My home broadband usually runs between 3.4 - 4.2 megabit. Its been faster, it's been slower, but an average is 3.7.

This is what I can get by walking away from the house and into the open field.

4G speed test

Yes - standing in the middle of a field the slower upload rate is faster than my ADSL - period.

There are mutterings and mumbles about bringing out fibre optic to give people fast internet, but there is a huge disconnect between what is promised and the practicalities of making it happen. France is a country with huge expanses of nothing, the odd cow, sheep, or llama dotted around the endless scenery porn.
Hooking everybody up to fibre is something that is easy to say but difficult to achieve in practise. The Bretagne 2.0 project was intended to bring high speed internet to everybody in Brittany by 2012-2013. That date came and went. Now (as discussed here), I am supposed to get fibre optic in 2026. I expect that date will come and go. I also expect a very flexible interpretation of the word "everybody" to conveniently discount all of those who are "difficult". Which risks counting for very many in rural areas.


And it does bugger all to tackle the real problem

If the government was serious about tackling pollution around digital devices, then they would introduce some laws that not only do their part to reduce pollution, but also provide proper benefits to the consumer rather than simply helping their hands into the consumer's pockets.

One of the main problems is that a device is made, released, sold... and by the time it gets in the hands of the consumer it probably won't ever see any security updates or patches. This is because the company has your money, they don't care about supporting your device any longer, and it works to their benefit for your object to rapidly become "old" and need to be updated with a new one.

Legislation like this:

  1. All connected devices that are not white goods must be supported with firmware updates and patches for a period not less than three years from the date of purchase.
  2. Connected devices that are white goods (smart TVs, smart fridges, etc) should be supported for a minimum of five years from the date of purchase.
  3. The company responsible for assuring this support is the one who brands the device. If your phone says "Orange" or "SFR" on it when you turn it on, it is Orange/SFRs responsibility. This is to assign a chain of command so that companies don't "do nothing while pointing fingers at each other".
  4. Security patches should be applied to consumer's devices within one calendar month. Failure to do so should incur financial penalties per device sold.
  5. On the legally required label giving energy ratings and such, it must now contain the date upon which support for the device will end. Must be at least 3 or 5 years (as above) from the date of purchase; can be longer if a company wants to make a point.
  6. If a device relies upon some sort of back end service, that service must remain fully active for the above quoted lifespan of the device (3 or 5 years). If the back end service is terminated, the customer will have the automatic right to return the device for a full refund (in money, not store credit).
  7. If a device is sold having specific functionality (such as "can play YouTube/Netflix"), then that functionality must remain active for the 3-5 years of the aforementioned device lifespan. If not, the customer has the automatic right to return the device for a full refund (in money, not store credit).
  8. All collection of data must be explicity given permission by the consumer. They must tick a box or the like. Having boxes auto-ticked, or having the "we will take your data" buried in pages of terms and conditions should be counted as illegal. The customer has the right to refuse sharing their data. If the device is unable to operate without this data being shared, or if the lack of agreement leads to degraded service (such as a phone refusing to permit the use of GPS until you have agreed to "anonymous" tracking), then the customer has the automatic right to return the device for a full refund (in money, not store credit).
  9. At no point can any update or patch require customers to agree to terms and conditions more onerous than those that you agreed to upon original purchase. Customers can refuse any new terms, upon which they will remain bound by any original terms. This refusal must not affect the customer's right to timely updates.
  10. Customers have the right to request copies of source code as provided by the GPL software licence (as is applied to everything running Linux internally). Penalties to be applied for all failure to honour the licence.
  11. For companies that habitually flout the laws, the company director (and their direct relations) shall be banned from running or directorship posts in any companies for a period not less than 10 years. This is to help stop unscrupulous people making fake companies in order to flog law breaking imported tat.
  12. Returns for missing/degraded functionality (as covered above) must be honoured within the 3 or 5 year period of the date of purchase, by returning the device in its original packaging, with all of the pieces, to the shop where it was purchased. This issue is different and distinct from the EU 2 year guarantee period.
    Shops must offer refunds in money and not store credit. Failure to do this is a €10,000 infraction per case.
    Shops can then return the goods to the supplier/manufacturer for their refund.
    If the shop has gone out of business or changed, then the Mayor of the town will be the one who deals with the problem, though the consumer must accept that repayment will not be immediate in this case.
  13. A company that is taken over/merged/bought out by another must honour all existing support requirements with no changes in terms.
  14. For old stock sold after the validity of the 3/5 year period, the device must be sold at a reasonably discounted price, with the expected support end date clearly printed on the receipt, that is then signed by the customer to prove that they were made aware of the reduction of support. In this case, the end date of their rights will be the signed date printed on the ticket, not an automatic 3/5 years.

Laws such as that, which try to make people's devices safer, reduce churn, reduce landfill, and attempt to give a reasonable service life to goods purchased ... ought to do more for actual digital pollution than potshkeying around with mobile tariffs.



Your comments:

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David Pilling, 12th August 2020, 03:05
Yes! They will have to learn skills like scaling down bitmap images and sending plain text emails. 
Rick, 12th August 2020, 08:39
I wonder how many emails (with all the modern markup and encoding) can be sent for the equivalent of an hour of Netflix?
Sparky, 12th August 2020, 23:39
I agree with 5 years support. Not 3! For security patches, it should be 7 years minimum. So many phones on Amazon are sold with older droid versions, I'd like to see a label saying support ends whenever or already has ended.
Rob, 19th August 2020, 14:21
It's video that eats bandwidth ... due to being out of the house 12-18 hours a day at the moment, I've been going through my mobile data rather rapidly. Got to about 110MB left with three days to go, so was sticking to news (and ssh home to work on things) and still had 67MB on the last day. Then I inadvertently clicked on YouTube.... ping, all data used up within moments, let's charge you 5p/MB going forwards. It cost me a pound before the warning text came in and I realised and hit stop! 

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