AT&T begins broadband data cap policy today

As AT&T begins capping Internet usage today, customers of the second largest US broadband provider will finally get a taste of the Net Neutrality wars. The limits are 150GB for DSL users and 250GB for UVerse users, and while that may seem like a lot, downloading a few HD movies from Netflix is going put a considerable dent in those numbers. Heavy media consumers that exceed the cap will be charged an extra $10 on their monthly bill for each 50GB of data that they use.

The reason for this doesn’t have to be nefarious corporate money-hoarding, though. It’s not that the ISPs are losing money by providing unlimited bandwidth; the relatively few users that do exceed the cap aren’t costing the providers all that much, as bandwidth costs continue to plummet. The issue is, according to Ars Technica, that local infrastructures are local loop in nature, meaning that everyone in one area shares bandwidth. One user hogging bandwidth with Usenet and BitTorrent downloads can affect the throughput of the whole neighborhood. Until a better solution to the local loop problem is found, the blunt yet effective data cap is how ISPs are going about fixing it.

Comcast, another major US ISP, started capping data when it was discovered that they were throttling the bandwidth of BitTorrent users. Instead of just letting them download to their hearts’ content, they enacted caps for all customers, so nobody could be affected by the download habits of a few.

As the FCC grapples with service providers and content distributors over jurisdiction matters in bandwidth management, data caps will continue to be a hot topic. Google entering the fray with their still experimental low-cost fiber network will only heat things up even more, and in the end, we hope the consumer will win.

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I don't see what the big deal is. Let's assume a typical Netflix HD streaming video is 90 minutes long. Using Netflix's own tech blog, the very best bitrate possible for their HD streams is 4800 kilobits per second (600 kilobytes per second). Doing basic math, that means a person could watch approximately 75 of the very best bitrate HD streams from Netflix before hitting the 150 GB data cap. That's 112 hours of video content. Also according to Netflix's tech blog, nobody achieves a 4800 Kbps bitrate for an entire HD video, so those numbers are exaggerated. In truth, a person would be able to watch a lot more under their 150 GB cap.

Personally, even with heavy Netflix use, tons of surfing, purchasing and downloading games on Steam, etc., I doubt that I ever use 150 GB in a single month. I'm guessing I use more bandwidth than most people, so I'm going to assume that the vast majority of users will not be impacted by a 150 GB limit.

So that leaves us with the vast majority that don't use the bandwidth, and the small percentage that does. For argument's sake, I'm not even going to care what they use their bandwidth for. It could be legal or illegal, it doesn't matter, they're still a small percentage of users.

Should the ISPs increase their infrastructure to provide more bandwidth for all users -- and make all users pay for those upgrades through increased fees -- or does it make more sense to make the small percentage of heavy users pay an extra $10-$20 per month?

Personally, I'd rather save the money and let the heavy users be the ones that pay more.

"One user hogging bandwidth with Usenet and BitTorrent downloads can affect the throughput of the whole neighborhood"

WRONG,

On DSL and UVERSE networks each user has his or her own line back to AT&T's facilities (AKA: your own personal phone line) Unlike cable internet where you all share a line in the neighborhood, on AT&T you have your own personal line that cant possibly cause anyone else a slow down. That is unless the issue is at AT&T's head end, or at the VRAD, in this case the BACKHAUL needs to be improved.

AT&T does not suffer "LAST MILE" issues that cable does.

doublea2 said,
"One user hogging bandwidth with Usenet and BitTorrent downloads can affect the throughput of the whole neighborhood"

WRONG,

On DSL and UVERSE networks each user has his or her own line back to AT&T's facilities (AKA: your own personal phone line) Unlike cable internet where you all share a line in the neighborhood, on AT&T you have your own personal line that cant possibly cause anyone else a slow down. That is unless the issue is at AT&T's head end, or at the VRAD, in this case the BACKHAUL needs to be improved.

AT&T does not suffer "LAST MILE" issues that cable does.

From what I've seen around DSLreports, and assuming I'm remembering correctly, it is possible for some slowdowns to occur at overcrowded VRADs. Note that I said overcrowded, not highly used. So in the end it's still wrong

Sigh... caps just don't make sense. Companies want to push to digital distribution, files get larger and larger, yet the ability to reach these same sizes and ideals just becomes less and less. AT&T is really messing up with this. First they outright refuse to start upgrading their networks from existing copper (and for those with FTTH the maximum rates are actually LOWER than the already low copper rates) and now they add caps. Really smart.

What really gets me is that the usage meter still does not work for U-Verse users. You'd think they'd get their crap together before starting something.

when i lived in alabama i had 2 choices att/bellsouth 6mb/512k or ctvea 6mb/768k
ctvea has a cap... but if you are in the army you do not have a cap which is b.s

A cap hurts innovation and growth of the internet... these ISP's need to increase network status and speeds to compensate for the usage rather than push a cap. There is more done via bandwidth now than anything else and without unlimited use we will be spinning tires on new inventions and ways to do business and enjoy life.

sava700 said,
A cap hurts innovation and growth of the internet... these ISP's need to increase network status and speeds to compensate for the usage rather than push a cap. There is more done via bandwidth now than anything else and without unlimited use we will be spinning tires on new inventions and ways to do business and enjoy life.

I couldn't agree more with this statement.

Just count your lucky stars that it isn't a rolling 200 MB - 500 MB (depending on the plan, which can range from $59.99 to $100+ per month) a day limit like subscribers of Hughesnet have to deal with.

Exceed that and be capped at sub 56k speeds with barely usable (even for browsing) internet for 24 hours. Continue using the internet while capped and it will get even slower and more unbearable. That's not to mention the prime time throttling for some subscribers which gives a measly 100k - 300k. With another satellite provider such as Wildblue it can be worse, such as being capped at sub 56k speeds for a month after exceeding the threshold for allotted data usage.

Btw, don't AT&T users have any other choice in their area for unlimited internet?

Xtreme2damax said,
Btw, don't AT&T users have any other choice in their area for unlimited internet?

Where I live, if you want broadband you have two choices: AT&T DSL or Comcast Cable (well, there's satellite too, but trees in my neighbor's yard block line-of-sight with the satellite from my house).

roadwarrior said,

Where I live, if you want broadband you have two choices: AT&T DSL or Comcast Cable (well, there's satellite too, but trees in my neighbor's yard block line-of-sight with the satellite from my house).

That sucks, I feel for you guys though. I just moved out of my parents house, they lived in a rural area and their only choice was dial up or satellite. I know with downloading games with Steam, Netflic, Hulu, Rhapsody etc.. a 250 GB cap can be used in no time. With the internet evolving, streaming services, flash based websites, digital distribution implementing caps is really ass backwards of these companies.

roadwarrior said,

Where I live, if you want broadband you have two choices: AT&T DSL or Comcast Cable (well, there's satellite too, but trees in my neighbor's yard block line-of-sight with the satellite from my house).

Same boat as you. It's capped or capped... that's it.

Funny thing about the local loop argument is that they have for years marketed that as a reason to use DSL over cable because it doesn't have that limitation...

In Canada DSL, was, down to 25GB (and still is through Bell; however third-party ISP Teksavvy offers, for the same price, 300GB [also offers unlimited]). While Rogers varies from 2GB to 175GB and Teksavvy offers 300GB and unlimited.

Agreed. I'm a pretty heavy downloader and a Netflix subscriber and I might go through 2 or 3 GB on some days, that still a long way from 150 GB per month.

Salty Wagyu said,
150GB/250GB is generous, count yourselves lucky. It's far less in UK/Canada/Aus.

so we should be happy because we got the less sh*ttier side of the sh*t stick.

Jenson said,

Yup, the UK pay more and get less, deal with it.

American's don't "deal with it." That's why our country is better than the rest. It won't be long before a company starts up with "unlimited" plans for a comparable price. That's capitalism.

Salty Wagyu said,
150GB/250GB is generous, count yourselves lucky. It's far less in UK/Canada/Aus.

Comcast Cable Internet has a 250GB cap.

Net Neutrality isn't about capping data but rather throttling various services. If Net Neutrality is fully implemented data caps will be much more common place. If people want to chew up bandwidth with bit-torrent and the like then let them pay more.

mikefarinha said,
Net Neutrality isn't about capping data but rather throttling various services. If Net Neutrality is fully implemented data caps will be much more common place. If people want to chew up bandwidth with bit-torrent and the like then let them pay more.

Problem is, caps don't make sense. Think about it, what are caps meant to prevent? Data congestion at busy times. They won't really help this, if you think about it.

A data cap is like a mileage cap on cars, where you can only drive so far in a given month. The goal, carrying the analogy further, would be to reduce rush hour congestion. Problem is, people still need to get to work, or get home, and more often than not, they need to do these things close to the same time as many other people. The roads will still become congested, but now people cannot go drive out to the country to go camping, or out to the mountain to go skiing

Sraf said,

Problem is, caps don't make sense. Think about it, what are caps meant to prevent? Data congestion at busy times. They won't really help this, if you think about it.

I don't believe that caps are meant to control congestion at busytimes. ISPs are charged by the Mb by the backend providers like Level3 and Quest. ISPs have to control their costs to these providers. As it is right now all of our traffic is treated the same, so when a few users consume an extraordinary amout of bandwidth the extra costs the ISPs have to pay to backend providers get spread arround to everyone.

One way that ISPs can help control costs and deliver targeted plans is to limit things like Bit-Torrent that raise the cost for everyone but only benefit a few. Net Neutrality advocates say this is a bad-evil thing.

So instead of being able to offer targeted services that people are willing to pay for and reduce use that people aren't willing to pay for (bit-torrent), ISPs will be forced to cap everyone equally to keep costs competitive.

mikefarinha said,
So instead of being able to offer targeted services that people are willing to pay for and reduce use that people aren't willing to pay for (bit-torrent), ISPs will be forced to cap everyone equally to keep costs competitive.
This is completely bogus. I agree that this is exactly what they are claiming is happening, but the fact is that the internet is changing and that the ISPs simply do not want to maintain and upgrade their infrastructure.

The technology already exists to enable the ISPs and the backbones to keep moving forward and allowing users to download larger things more often. That is the nature of technology. In some cases, this will require providers to invest in new data centers, which certainly is not free. In others, it will simply mean rolling out new equipment in their existing data centers and sometimes downstream.

The constant upgrades will be paid for by users that don't resent their provider (e.g., Cox, Comcast and practically every other cable provider) and thus continue with them. Tiered speeds can be sold (e.g., Verizon FiOS) to allow people that really need the faster connectivity to continue. With FiOS at home, I will not be jumping ship any time soon. The service is by far the best I have ever seen (their customer service is, unfortunately, quite the opposite).

People doing illegal things should be throttled and stopped. People running BitTorrent in the background to automatically feed their entire movie/application/music library while simultaneously downloading other people's needs to stop. It won't anytime soon. But I can honestly feel for the networks in that scenario. But to punish me for downloading multiple ISOs and other such things, possibly even on BitTorrent (I don't actually do anything on BT, but there are a few legitimate purposes for it, such as that) is flat out immoral and dishonest by these corporations that are otherwise raking in money from a commodity akin to gasoline, in the sense that it is something I might not necessarily want to pay for, I can use anyone's pipe, I don't buy premium, and it's not all made equal (considering both tiers of octanes compared to tiered speeds and quality of gas [and its effect on your engine] compared quality of service).

ISPs are trying to act like they're not just dumb pipes. They are. They always have been. We use them to access the rest of the internet. Get over it. Accept it, and take 5-8% in profits with a grin like the gas companies. As long as you provide us with quality service, then we will stay with you. You don't have to be the top tier (compared to speed of top FiOS), but you shouldn't be near the bottom with terrible reliability (e.g., every monopolistic cable provider).

Rudy said,
Caps are a threat to the internet and unfortunately no one seems to want to do anything about it

If my isp starts a data cap they shouldn't expect me to stay with them.

De.Bug said,

If my isp starts a data cap they shouldn't expect me to stay with them.

There are lots of areas where there are no real alternatives. I only have one Cable ISP, and nothing faster. My only alternative is DSL which is a fraction of the speed to begin with.