AT&T and Time Warner Cable are desperate to get us used to metered internet, dressing up their plans in what Om Malik describes as “legal mumbo-jumbo that no human can actually understand.”
AT&T Senior VP Robert Quinn got in front of the US regulators and said that the company would offer “non-overlapping tiers of broadband service, rather than its current offerings which go “up to” varying speeds of data transmission.” He went onto add that, “When we provide broadband services based on speed, we will do so in discrete tiers that are disclosed to our end-user customers.”
Translation: We are going to segment and meter the broadband service.
They’re already using complicated, cellular-style plans to trick customers into paying for overages in test markets. By offering high speeds with extremely low caps, customers are quickly and quietly forced to start paying $1 for every gig they download. The quintessential example? One trial plan offers a monthly cap of 20GB on a 7mbps plan: you’d exhaust that allowance in only eight hours of maxed-out use at the offered speed.
Here’s what I think is the clever part. Consumer activists want bandwidth treated like a utility, so metering it aligns well with a quid-pro-quo that networks might try to present: “You get some kind of net neutrality, but you pay for every single byte of it you get.”
However, internet provision is not utility-like in one respect: it’s a potentially unlimited resource that will become cheaper and cheaper as time goes by. It is to communications now as fusion power is to energy in science fiction. There is no serious long-term shortage of bandwidth, as internet service providers and their pet analysts assert. By getting us used to metered use now, your local cable monopoly will magic money out of air when “internet” is just a value added to the other services they pipe over the same data line.