E-Bills and consumers – The paradox of saving trees, the environment – and jobs

Many utility service providers the world over send their consumer e-bills. E-bills are PDF files that are sent to your email ID. Earlier, in the good old days, they used to be printed, enveloped and posted to your mailing address. There are a few concerns here.

  1. They expect us to not print the bills. It is a fallacy to assume that a consumer will not print the bill for preservation. The liability of saving a tree has shifted from the service provider to the consumer. Agreed, there are no envelopes and only the bill pages that get printed.
  2. The fact that the envelopes get eliminated ensure that some trees do get saved, but the envelope makers lose out on revenue and therefore jobs.
  3. Since there is no more postal service involved, there is no stamp put on the envelope and the postman does not deliver the mail. Therefore, one more job reduced from the chain.
  4. Lastly, where do we store our bills if we do not print them? One place is on our hard drive. You could simply take the email containing the bill and push it to a folder and leave it there. The cost you bear now is for data retention.

How long do you need to keep a bill? As per statutes in India, the bills should be kept for 17 years. Now, you also need to ensure that you have a mechanism to remove the bill. Each bill is sized about 1 mb and you will need 12 mb a year and for 17 years, the amount of storage space means you need to have provision for about 204 mb. Some service providers are real shameless and expect you to store a 2 mb bill with all the colorful unoptimized graphics and all for that long. Storage space is your responsibility, so the service provider basically loses nothing.

Now, what is the solution?

  1. wordpressYou could move your bills to any storage service provider on the internet. There are many such free online storage services like Sky Drive, Ubuntu One, Wuala, Spider Oak, DropBox, Google Drive. However, if one of them is forced to shut down like megaupload, you are left high and dry without your data. Your data would also fall into government hands to facilitate investigations (encrypted or not). Moreover, you would need to encrypt the data before putting up there on the cloud.
  2. You could buy a USB drive and use that for storing the bills. Be sure to have a good folder and file naming convention.
  3. As media and technology changes almost every 3 years, you will need to keep upgrading your backup device or the way you back up data. Therefore, technology upgrade too moves from the big billing corporation to the small consumer.
  4. You could also print the bills and keep them  in a file.
  5. Lastly, you could ask your government to amend the regulations to force the service providers to store your bills for you on their web site. This option is the best. But, the way commercial businesses are capable of lobbying in government, it may never come about. However, you do see 3 months bills at least on some providers’ sites.

More thought is required to make e-bills a bigger success without pain to any service provider or consumer. To do this in practice, you can check out the posts at this link.