The digital Disneyland of the future -- where we freely work and play online -- may be at risk. Why? Because, some argue, broadband carriers can't support it. The Internet's "free ride" culture has led to more people downloading gigabytes of data at practically no cost. Even if broadband infrastructure's capacity doubled or tripled, there's no avoiding the equivalent of an abrupt work stoppage.
There are signs of the free ride being nearly over. In the U.K., a million users are about to bump into "soft caps" for usage that their carriers imposed, according to consumer research group uSwitch. In the U.S., some carriers have also started imposing caps that customers have found out about only when they exceeded them in their inaccurately labeled "unlimited" plans. (These limits were hidden in the "unlimited" contracts' fine print.) Comcast, for example, now has a national cap of 256GB per month. And a few are experimenting with tiered pricing, where the more you use, the more you pay -- just like you do for electrical, gas, and water.