While there are still some users out there for whom the idea of a monthly data cap is a preposterous one, and a horrifying one once it's explained to these users, the data cap is becoming an increasingly large part of the normal operating environment. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently did a study of the broadband field and discovered that more and more providers—both wireless and wired—were bringing in the limiting measure.
According to the findings from the GAO, which were still preliminary at last report, data caps are found from not only the four largest mobile carriers in the United States, but also seven out of the 13 largest wireline providers. Providers respond differently when the cap is exceeded, with six carriers overall—three mobile and three wired—simply tacking on extra charges for overages, while one mobile carrier just reduces connection speeds.
Consumers, meanwhile, seem concerned about the whole process; with confusion reigning about just how much data is used in a month, just what qualifies as use, and what options are available. That confusion is drawing attention from lawmakers as well, with California Democrat Anna Eshoo—who called for the report in the first place—expressing a note of concern about what customers are paying, and what said customers are getting in return. Eshoo was heard to say that data caps could create “huge disruption.”
Meanwhile, the process is something of a morass of conflicting points, with the tools used to track data usage unclear or sometimes invalid, and some traffic counting toward a data cap while other traffic doesn't. It was just a couple years ago that Comcast (News - Alert) rolled out a special version of the Xfinity app for Xbox 360, which led to Netflix's Reed Hastings calling foul on how Xfinity traffic didn't count against the data cap, while Netflix traffic did. Further, customers' concerns run the gamut; even online shoppers—a comparatively low-stress activity for networks—are concerned that a data cap might force said user to limit that activity. Just to top it off, the idea of limited choice in the bandwidth market often requires users to pick just one bandwidth provider, and stick with said provider or simply go without.
Perhaps not surprisingly, representatives of AT&T, Verizon (News - Alert) and Comcast had no comment on the GAO's report. But though no comment could be heard just yet, it may well be the kind of thing that said firms will have to comment on before much longer. With increasing numbers of communities looking to a municipal fiber network, and Google (News - Alert) Fiber proving so popular that communities are releasing open video entreaties to bring the service to said communities, it's an environment that's ready for a revolution. It's been seen previously; AT&T (News - Alert) recently started ramping up its own fiber services. We have video on this and many other subjects available at this link.
People don't want bandwidth caps. People want to watch video and play games and chat and shop, and are willing to pay a reasonable fee to do so. People are not willing to watch bandwidth figures like a hawk or pay extra for something that should be included in the base price. But by like token, and this is a point that's often forgotten in the indignation, networks are expensive to establish and operate, and providers must recover investment and make profit. Both sides here have a point, but will both reach a middle ground before it's too late for businesses to make that profit?
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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