Earlier this month, Comcast, the United States' largest cable provider, announced that it will begin a new round of metered download cap testing in selected markets. The company believes that metered internet access will alleviate the excessive bandwidth use of its most active consumers while providing affordable access to average customers. According to the company, only a small percentage of users on the high-end of bandwidth consumption account for a majority of total usage.
Here's the problem with that stance: the majority of Comcast's users are grandmothers and parents who use the internet only to check email or, maybe, browse a few pages. The people who use Comcast's internet service as it is meant to be used consume much more bandwidth without trying. If you are reading this blog, that probably means you as well.
The issues at the heart of metered bandwidth come in three flavors.
First, Comcast, for example, is a content provider that also provides access to the internet, where Comcast's direct competitors reside. When you watch a show on Netflix, instead of on a normal cable channel, you are using the resources of the cable provider to limit the cable provider's revenue or when you chose to turn off cable TV in order to watch net-based programming over cable internet, the same thing occurs.
Second, the metered bandwidth issue highlights the poor service and speeds provided to American consumers when compared to other countries. Internet service providers continue to point out that European countries already use metered bandwidth services and that the programs are well received. However, these same reports neglect to mention that the same European metered bandwidth packages are also significantly lower in cost. Then add to that the fact that the average access speeds in America are also significantly slower than most of the industrialized world and we have the problem. American consumers are being asked to pay a higher premium for a slower, limited, and lesser service than the examples used to sell the product.
The last issue in the metered bandwidth argument is beyond the control of the service providers. This issue stems from the types of content that users are offered and chose to use. When we buy software, we download the data online. When a security patch or essential update is disseminated, we get the info online. We stream music and video online. We have been promised a digital life for our future and slowly these services have been provided, but these same services are at odds with the companies that provide access to them.
An Example Of The Issue At Hand
Consider HD streaming video. According to Netflix published bandwidth estimates, streaming HD consumes 2.8GB per hour. Now factor into that the American average of 50 hours of TV viewing per month. That gives us a figure of nearly 150GB of bandwidth used in one month's time watching just the average amount of TV.
Comcast claims that the average user on its system consumes only 16GB each month. That is a tenth of the 150GB of HD streaming for the average TV consumer. How do these numbers agree with each other when the average internet user sits at 16GB and the average streaming HD TV viewer consumes 150GB? Let's not even discuss that the suggest caps on bandwidth for our slow and overpriced internet access services are between 150GB and 300GB. Do you see the problem?
The End Is Coming
Metered bandwidth is coming. There is no stopping the roll out. The delays in implementation are only due to public perception and the fear that Google, with its low-cost, high-bandwidth service may roll out nationwide. That's our only hope against metering. As long as there are options that allow consumers to vote with their wallet, the internet service providers will have to consider appeasement. But do not kid yourself, content providers who make tons of money from providing that content will not stand by and allow other companies to make money from there service access. The content providers want their slice of the bandwidth pie and as revenue from cable diminishes, they will continue to salivate over the profits available by implementing low bandwidth caps.