Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Don't cap me, bro.

A recent move by internet providers, lead by Time Warner, is to change how they charge for service. Time Warner is switching from a speed-based cost tier system to a bandwidth cap cost tier, starting at ~$30 a month for a 5 gigabyte limit with expensive overage costs. ~$55 dollars will get you a 40 gigabyte limit. Compare that to broadband service from Comcast which has a 250 gigabyte cap, but is a speed-tiered system (i.e. they expect you to pay for the speed but don't expect you to reach the cap.) Just how limiting is this? Of course, it depends on your internet use, but the article provides an excellent example:
"Analysts estimate that a family who opts for the 40 GB plan and streams 7.25 hours of online video a week could end up spending $200 per month on broadband usage fees. For the sake of comparison, the average American household spends 60 hours per week watching TV."

This is a huge price increase made only more odious by the fact that such a cap would not reduce Time Warner's already low operating costs. The following is from this article:

In essence, this new cap comes down to a big money grab by Time Warner. And you better believe that other companies will quickly follow suit.

The company claims that testing of this service in small areas found that only ~10% of customers had overage costs. This may be true, but it is not a legitimate excuse for a few reasons. First, I tend to agree with this opinion piece about the real reasons driving this cap. Second, the internet is continuing to grow, and grow quickly. These caps will create an information ceiling in this country that will retard our progress.

Let me expand on that last point. We must all realize that the internet is THE medium for information in our lifetime. The torch has been passed from print news to radio to TV and now to the internet. Nearly every communication service we are familiar with is being replaced and greatly improved upon by internet-based services. Phones? VoIP and video conferencing. Print media? News sites, blogs, and twitter. TV and radio? Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, NetFlix streaming, Podcasts, Flash animation, internet radio... where does this list end? Throw in shopping, banking, remote computing, email, and vast pools of knowledge such as wikipedia. The internet is irreplaceable, growing to become the spine of our society.

Now consider that when compared to other developed countries (those of you who are familiar with the pattern here know that such comparisons rarely favor the US), the internet access available to US citizens is rather slow. Now toss in some download caps and what happens? When you retard the amount and rate of information available to the public, you retard that population's development and competitiveness against other populations who have unobstructed pipelines to these same resources.

While I will be writing to my legislators over this matter, and urge you to do the same, one congressman is already on the ball.

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