Wednesday, December 01, 2010


"The days of all-you-can-eat Internet access are growing scarce."

I remember logging onto the Internet for the first time with Prodigy back in the late 80's. It wasn't very fast and you were charged by the minute so you didn't want to stay on long but it was pretty impressive. Then we got a Salem area ISP and they charged quite a bit for dial up, but we figured 20 hours was more than enough time online for the house. With 4 guys living in the house we ponied up even more for the unlimited connect plan after a week.

Now days, unlimited is pretty much the standard. I have screaming fast cable internet (something we eagerly anticipated just 10 years ago) and can stay online all day long downloading and browsing if somehow I could stay up 24 hours and find that much to do online. Cable customers love the way it works now; cable companies not so much.

They don't have a problem with the regular user who gets on a couple times a day, checks email, does some browsing, maybe shopping this time of year. The people they have problems with are the folks who download gargantuan torrents all day long or watch streaming video. With companies like Netflix making entire HD movies available on demand for streaming to your television and console games hooking you on to the internet to play across the world with others, the burden on the net is getting pretty great. And internet providers have to pay for all that access and bandwidth.

The more people use the internet, the slower it gets unless you buy powerful servers and extra lines to handle the load, which costs more money. So internet companies like Comcast have taken to "throttling" customers who put too much of a load on their internet service, reducing speed for that person to prevent others from being negatively affected.

Comcast has already set a theoretical limit on how much you can download per month, the limit is just so vast almost nobody runs into it: 250 gigabytes a month, which is equivalent to downloading almost four full length movies a day for an entire month. The average user runs about 3 gig a month, but that's climbing as streaming video becomes more popular. Cox Communication has caps as low as 5 gig, and Time Warner Cable Inc. is testing caps between 5 gigabytes and 40 gigabytes in one market.

Another approach is to start charging some companies more for their service. Comcast now is charging Level 3 Telecommunications more, the company which runs Netflix. Dan Fromer reports at Business Insider:
As web video -- which uses a lot of bandwidth -- grows in popularity, Comcast will want to get paid more. Especially because web video is eventually going to replace a lot of the video you're currently watching on cable TV, and that you're paying Comcast a fat monthly bill for.

As more people replace part or all of their cable subscription with Internet video, Comcast is going to need to get its money somewhere, whether it's directly from consumers, or via a middle man, like Level 3.
That means Netflix probably will cost you a bit more, and likely that Comcast will as well. In fact, they're likely to come up with a "premium" type of internet which allows more fast access for users who want to use a lot of streaming video, for a premium bill.

I suspect that in the future, people are going to look back at the first few decades of the 21st century as the golden age of the internet, when it was so free and wild and open it was amazing. The government wants to tax it, the leftist prudes want to censor it, the politicians want to control it, and businesses want more money from it. Sooner or later, they'll all have their way, I fear.

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