By: Erik Hagen
You knew it had to happen eventually. You just knew AT&T was going to screw up the Internet someday. And now they have.
AT&T recently announced the implementation of data caps for all their customers nationwide. You may think to yourself, not a big deal, right? There’s been data caps for mobile networks for years now, and the world has somehow survived. Well, here’s the catch. It’s not just for the mobile network anymore. It’s for residential DSL customers as well. That’s right. AT&T is limiting how much Internet their customers can use in their homes. I’ll give you a minute to go grab your pitchfork.
Initially, AT&T’s data cap is being placed at 150GB for DSL users and 250GB for fiber-to-the-node U-Verse subscribers. Any overages will result in a $10-per-50GB charge. This is a relatively high bar to have to clear. In fact, most Internet users will never get even close to using that much data. The problem lies in the fact that this will be the high water mark. Down the road, once AT&T feels their customers have gotten used to the concept of data caps is when the real pain will set in. It will be lowered, and then when people are used to the new level, it will be lowered again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
For now, AT&T’s competitors will take advantage of the bad publicity AT&T will get from this by advertising that they, themselves, have no limit to how much Internet you can use with their services. But if AT&T proves successful in turning a profit with their new rules, other Internet providers will follow suit, until data caps become the new norm. Then the repercussions will run fairly deep.
The online economy is just now recovering from the crash following the boom phase of the turn of the century. Initially, data caps will provide a bit of a boom phase for web developers, as companies rush to remake their websites to minimize their data usage. Out goes flashy, state-of-the-art websites pushing the boundaries of today’s technology; Hello, text and ASCII art! But when websites are forcibly shoved backwards into the late 1990s, what happens then? Pretty much nothing. If you’re a business who now has to worry about making your website as data-efficient as possible, how many changes do you plan on making to your site once you’ve reached your comfort zone? Probably not a lot. And nobody can blame you.
But what about online advertising? As it stands, online ads are tolerated by web users because, as with television, they’re the price you pay to receive free content. But when ads start eating up your precious reserve of bandwidth, how long will you be willing to tolerate them? The answer is not long. The most likely result is a shift away from free content on websites paid for by online ads towards a pay-per-use system. Don’t like it? What else are you going to do? Go outside and spend time with your family? Yeah, sure.
Maybe this is all just scare-mongering. But the problem is that all of this remains a possibility, maybe even a likelihood. The best that can be hoped for is that customers will right now reject the idea of data caps and move their business away from AT&T towards their un-throttled options, forcing AT&T to walk back their new strategy and return the Internet to its former capless goodness. That could happen, but if it doesn’t, I’ll see you at www.thunderdome.com.
Erik Hagen is the social media writer and a copywriter for KK BOLD. He has an iPhone on Verizon with an unlimited data plan. For now.