In this past weekend’s Elite Tech News podcast the subject of data caps came up while we were discussing the move to more web based applications as a part of our daily lives especially with the idea of a web OS. During our back and forth on the subject I pointed out that there was talk of U.S. internet providers looking at instituting data caps on their users which had the rest of the panel members basically say that this would suck if such a thing were to happen.
While the U.S. has pretty well enjoyed a free ride as far as data caps and bandwidth speed are concerned the rest of the world hasn’t been so lucky. Regardless of the fact that ISPs regularly trot out the unlimited access advertising bullshit the fact remains that many ISP around the world do in fact have some pretty stringent data caps as well as ridiculous speed limitations. I know of friends in both New Zealand and Australia who constantly have to monitor their downloads – which by the way in all cases include things like email.
Even here in Canada this is something that we have always had if you were a Bell customer even though they tried to couch it in cutesy terms like Network Fairness. Now however Rogers Communications has jumped on the bandwagon with caps for home and office based DSL accounts.
It now appears that the rumors I heard being floated around in the past little while could very well turn out to be being instituted by the major internet providers like Time Warner and Comcast to start with. Not that this is anything new when it comes to the mobile market which JR Raphael of The Inquisitr blog (Duncan Riley’s new project) points out today where Verizon is trying out new plans that are charging by the meg.
Even though people like Dave Winer; a Comcast customer, might be happy knowing now at least what limitations they are facing as customers and acknowledging the company for its so- called new effort at transparency the fact is this move is coming at a pivotal time. In my opinion this move by Internet providers to start instituting data caps and charging outrageous overage fees is nothing more than a move to capitalize on our increasing reliance on the web as a part of our daily lives.
As we begin to use the web more and more for our acquisition of movies, old style television shows and as a part of a concerted effort to webify our business activities our bandwidth usage is climbing radically to keep up. Where once we might have only used the web to handle our email and visit our favorite web sites we are now using it for our entertainment and social interaction. This means we are active on the web for an increasing portion of our day whether it be listing to streaming radio or downloading music right through to handling out financial transactions and all this stuff is taking an increasing amount of bandwidth to do.
As Mike Masnick of Techdirt pointed out in a post on the Comcast news that while it might be nice that the company is finally acknowledging the secret fuzzy caps the fact is that at the very time when we need true web innovations these moves by ISP could literally kill off any initiatives to bring new things to market. This won’t necessarily be because companies won’t try but because the consumer can’t afford it.
The Internet has become such an integrated part of our lives that in some aspects it could be argued that it is no longer a luxury relegated to only those that can afford it but in fact it has become a necessity of life in our modern world. This move by companies like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner to name a few will do nothing more than line their pockets with billions more and further widen the technological divide. Along with that it will also validate the practice so that ISPs in other countries will continue to shackle their users with prohibitive costs.
It is my feeling that with the ever increasing weaving of the Internet in our daily lives and the push for new services; some of which are still on the horizon, the time is quickly approaching where companies that also provide internet access should not have the hammerlock on access that they do. When you have a companies whose primary business is that of television, communication or even movies should not be the ones to dictate the rules of the road. The very nature of their primary business is in direct conflict with anything web based and as such they will do whatever needs to be done to protect their primary business.
When this happens along with a concerted effort to nullify any idea of network neutrality the only losers are you and I. This will be especially prevalent among the section of society who already are finding it difficult to be a part of this new world. A technological divide already exists and moves like this by the real gatekeepers of access will only deepen that growing divide.