‘Ration internet to 3 GB per week’ in France, pleads former minister

The limit would improve health and the environment and reduce discrimination, she claims

A view of someone using a phone with no signal or internet
The current Digital Affairs Minister Marina Ferrari has condemned the idea as 'authoritarian'
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People in France should be rationed to using just 3 GB of internet data per week to ‘free people from their screens’, and improve the environment, a former minister has said.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a former National Education Minister, made the suggestion on March 18, suggesting that rationing internet access to this amount would improve the environment, and public and social health.

“I want us to think carefully about ways to ration the internet, for example offering a limited number of gigabytes (GB) to use per day,” she wrote in Le Figaro.

"Scarcity dictates a certain wisdom. If we know that we only have three GB to use in a week, we're probably not going to spend them posting hateful comments or making fakes. Perhaps we will stop considering it 'normal' to spend several hours on pornographic sites watching ultra HD videos.”

She also said that limited internet time would improve people’s cognitive development, improve health, reduce discrimination, and harassment; and cut global warming.

Figures from ecological transition agency Ademe show that digital activities account for 2.5% of France’s carbon footprint, just slightly more than the amount created by waste.

‘Authoritarian and out-of-touch’

Ms Vallaud-Belkacem’s idea was sharply criticised by the current Minister for Digital Affairs, Marina Ferrari.

Writing on X (formerly Twitter), she wrote that the idea of "authoritarian" rationing of the internet is "probably the worst way of approaching the debate on our relationship with screens".

She said: "Dealing with the risks deserves so much better than a manipulative, out-of-touch approach to the digital space, where there are as many uses as there are users.”

Rationner autoritairement lnternet ?

Probablement la pire manière d’aborder le débat sur notre rapport aux écrans.

Traiter les risques mérite tellement mieux qu’une approche manichéenne et hors-sol de l’espace numérique dont les usages sont aussi nombreux que les usagers. https://t.co/8YMCHCvxcA

— Marina Ferrari (@FerrariMarina73) March 18, 2024

What can you do with 3 GB of internet per week?

Reducing internet usage to 3 GB per week - or 12 GB per month - would require many people in France to significantly cut down their internet time. There are 1000 megabytes (MB) in one GB.

Figures from the electronic communications authority Arcep show that on average, people consume 14 GB per month on their smartphone alone. This does not account for any other usage - such as watching programmes or movies via smart TV, or working on a computer.

Users with superfast fibre connections use as much as 222 GB per month, show figures from 2022.

Overall, when including smartphone and fixed connections, and including all usage - for work, hobbies, entertainment, and everything in between - the total average is set to rise to 1100 GB per month by the year 2030, predicts a 2023 report from the Fédération française des télécoms.

However, 3 GB per week could still be manageable for some. Operators Bouygues and SFR estimate that - not including videos - someone could still use the internet for two and half to three hours per day for a month before their total ran out.

A total of 3 GB could allow you to:

  • Send 75 e-mails a day, of which 30-35 could have an attachment
  • Stream music for four hours per month
  • Watch five to six hours of video per month

This is far less than most people’s usage, however.

Figures from Netflix show that a streaming video consumes 1 GB per hour for standard definition, 3 GB per hour in high definition, and 7 GB per hour in ultra HD (4K). This means that 3 GB would allow the average Netflix user to watch TV for less than half an hour a week, without any other internet use at all.

Other streaming platforms suggest the same; Disney+ states that its videos consume 4.2 GB of data per hour in HD.

A user could watch slightly more TV on their smartphone, as streaming videos on mobiles consume less data due to the smaller screen size. For example, downloading an episode of a 40-minute TV show on a smartphone consumes 400 MB (0.4 GB) of data.

Some video gamers might fare better however; playing online games such as Fornite consumes around 100 MB per hour on an average setup. This means that you could play for 30 hours a week (if you used all of your data on the game) before reaching 3 GB of data.

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