Is our Internet future in danger?

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.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Nvidia unveils 4GB Quadro FX 5800 graphics card

Next Story

KDevelop4 shaping up

13 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I'm surprised most of the comments here seemingly endorse the use of caps.

If you think of bandwidth as water (that is, a limited resource) then caps are critical. You don't want one person using too much and causing everyone else on his line to suffer a shortage, do you? Set a cap and aggressively go after anyone who uses too much in an effort to make them think twice about their consumption.

I don't think of bandwidth as water, though. A more apt comparison is to roads. I think we've all suffered through traffic, but when was the last time you heard that they'd start keeping track of how many times you used the road and there'd be a limit? That if you use the roads too much then your taxes or toll rate will increase? I've never heard of that. People suffer through traffic and eventually new lanes or new roads are built to accommodate the traffic.

That is what should be happening here. Laying new lines may not be cheap, but the companies should be trying to keep up with the demand, not cutting back on the demand. If there's a major crunch on bandwidth and it becomes unusable for everyone, by all means impose a cap and charge the people who are using more than their share. But while that cap is in place (and even when it isn't) I damn well expect the companies to be constantly building up to accommodate more traffic.

Ledgem said,
I'm surprised most of the comments here seemingly endorse the use of caps.

If you think of bandwidth as water (that is, a limited resource) then caps are critical. You don't want one person using too much and causing everyone else on his line to suffer a shortage, do you? Set a cap and aggressively go after anyone who uses too much in an effort to make them think twice about their consumption.

I don't think of bandwidth as water, though. A more apt comparison is to roads. I think we've all suffered through traffic, but when was the last time you heard that they'd start keeping track of how many times you used the road and there'd be a limit? That if you use the roads too much then your taxes or toll rate will increase? I've never heard of that. People suffer through traffic and eventually new lanes or new roads are built to accommodate the traffic.

That is what should be happening here. Laying new lines may not be cheap, but the companies should be trying to keep up with the demand, not cutting back on the demand. If there's a major crunch on bandwidth and it becomes unusable for everyone, by all means impose a cap and charge the people who are using more than their share. But while that cap is in place (and even when it isn't) I damn well expect the companies to be constantly building up to accommodate more traffic.

Agreed, I think that bandwidth is an almost unlimited resource - the ISPs get it for dirt cheap as it is. They're just a little greedy really.

Ledgem said,
I'm surprised most of the comments here seemingly endorse the use of caps.

(...)when was the last time you heard that they'd start keeping track of how many times you used the road and there'd be a limit? That if you use the roads too much then your taxes or toll rate will increase? I've never heard of that. People suffer through traffic and eventually new lanes or new roads are built to accommodate the traffic (..)

Well, I guess you should pay more attention to recent developements. Taxing based on mileage on the highway is eminent to arrive in quite a few European countries (Netherlands, Germany). Also France, Spain and Italy practically consist of pay-by-the-stretch highways (toll); only a fraction is free. So paying for the use you make is not that abnormal. And since this world is not founded on getting a free lunch (capitalists: thanks for this 'blessing') this is bound to happen.

I have a cap of 25Gb (rather have a decent connection and a known cap, than a hidden cap and a rubbish connection) and I get by fine, even with a lot of music and HD video streaming. I don't see why a 250Gb cap would be a problem unless you are a really heavy file-sharer, in which case a limit is possibly a good thing...

My ISP provides a meter as a plug-in for Firefox, which tells me my current usage - something that all ISPs would have to be required to supply IMO. Having a limit without a proper meter is as bad as all this "unlimited" rubbish.

250GB+ is not bad, the avg user uses less than 50GB a month.. on Rogers in Canada it's 95 GB to me that's not enough, I wish it was like Comcast. I use an avg of 120GB a month on my net but I've toned it down since the cap came in last year.

These caps will hurt MS idea of downloadable games and stuff for their next console if the ISPs keep this as a model. Unless MS finds a way to make games 100MB again like they did in the 90s.. lol

Well it doesn't seem like a bad idea really. Although I believe providers should be forced to stop using "unlimited" in their marketing, proceeding to point people to fine print which includes a fair usage policy entirely contradicts it as follows by quite clearly highlighting that it isn't unlimited.

Last month I used right at 245GB for the month, with no warning or over-the-limit charge from AT&T. I'm not sure if they even have a cap to be honest, still waiting to go over one month simply to see what my cap actually is.

Welcome to Australia?

This has been our models (caps and/or user-pays systems) since forever.

Our internet usage has survived with these models in place, and our broadband uptake is still rising.

Implement caps/user pays, people will get used to it, and adjust accordingly.

D.J.P said,
Welcome to Australia?

This has been our models (caps and/or user-pays systems) since forever.

Our internet usage has survived with these models in place, and our broadband uptake is still rising.

Implement caps/user pays, people will get used to it, and adjust accordingly.


Welcome to Portugal, where you get 1 GB of International traffic and Unlimited national traffic (does anyone use it?) under a 2Mbps plan.

Welcome to Australia?

This has been our models (caps and/or user-pays systems) since forever.

Our internet usage has survived with these models in place, and our broadband uptake is still rising.

Implement caps/user pays, people will get used to it, and adjust accordingly.

It's the same here in New Zealand.
I'm paying $110 (110 New Zealand dollars = 62.59 U.S. dollars) for a 10mbps Downstream/2mps Upstream connection and getting only 40GB!

Telecom tried to introduce an unlimited plan here, but the network ended up not being able to handle that amount of usage, and speeds were as bad as dialup - so they cut off the plan, and started using load balancing on those who got to keep "Go Large".

I guess no-one would ever need more than 100GB if all of their traffic was legal.