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Posted at 06:24 PM ET, 05/03/2011

Take off the broadband cap, AT&T— I can’t take it!


Comcast technician Tom Rafferty installs an Internet connection at a Pennsylvania home in 2003. (George Widman)
It’s a fate worse than death. It’s almost a fate worse than dial-up.

The mere phrase fills me with a bone-chilling horror, making me shake like a leaf that has just gotten out of the shower without a towel.

Broadband caps.

Broadband, by itself, is a word that fills me with joy, conjuring visions of unlimited fields of double rainbows and unicorns and Rebecca Black parodies. Caps are nice, in their way. But combine the two, and it’s horrifying.

Yes, this is the week that AT&T joins Comcast and other providers in capping the amount of data broadband users can consume per month without paying a fee.

Are they trying to railroad us back into the 90’s? Remember the 90’s, when you had to monitor how long you were online and pay accordingly? When there was that awful hissing and clicking and discordant twanging of electronic bedsprings to indicate that you were getting online? I’m quaking again.

Sure, right now, they say, 250 GB is more data than 99 percent of users actually use. But nothing brings my heart to my throat like a sentence that starts off with the phrase, “X amount of memory/data/RAM is all that anyone will ever need.” Remember when Bill Gates allegedly said we could stop at 640 kb of RAM? Now look at us! It’s almost like they want life to violate Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing power and storage capacity tends to double about every two years. And I don’t let anyone violate Moore’s Law without taking it out to dinner first.

And if you don’t think this matters, the joke’s on you. Net neutrality has been increasingly ballyhooed in recent years, but it boils down to whether or not the Internet is to be allowed to continue its natural growth, limited only by imagination and the frustrated cries of copyright owners, or whether we are going to start placing artificial curbs on it. One piece of this question is whether providers can shape traffic and make traffic to some Web sites move slower than to others, leaving you with, say, a wildfire Hulu and a creeping YouTube at Comcast’s whim. But there are other ways of shifting our content priorities. And while it doesn’t violate the principle of transmitting all content equally, capping how much data each user can consume does change people’s behavior online.

It’s more than merely a profit motive that’s inspiring providers to throttle broadband usage. America’s broadband networks, as this piece from Ryan Singel at Wired points out, are getting to be somewhat overtaxed. The owners of these networks are faced with two options: expand capacity to meet demand, or start charging users to keep them within the limits of current capacity. They seem to be choosing the second route.

Now I have to ration my video consumption. And that’s antithetical to everything I am. I’m a Millennial! My entire life is based upon the presumption of instant gratification. Instant coffee. Instant messaging. Only download 100 hours of hi-def video content per month? It’s like I don’t have Netflix Instant at all. I might as well trek down to a video rental store, except that that space in the mall has been converted to a Site of Purely Historic Interest.

I thought we were supposed to be redefining the screen! On Tuesday, Forbes reported that for the first time in 20 years, the percentage of American households with televisions has gone down! Yes, 96.7 percent still have televisions, but that means 1.2 million American households ditched theirs! Some, Forbes reported, couldn’t afford to upgrade after the digital transition. Others are so reliant on their other devices – laptops, iPads, iPhones – that they simply opted to go without a television.

At least we aren’t Armenia and Georgia, where a 75-year-old woman accidentally knocked out the Internet by digging through a cable.

But it’s still a step back.

By  |  06:24 PM ET, 05/03/2011

Tags:  instant gratification, broadband, Internet

 
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