The latest round of news and announcements from Comcast make me glad once more that I left their service last spring. With the announcement of a bandwidth cap of 250Gig per month to kick in on Oct 1, they clinched the deal for me for the foreseeable future. I had to stand up and cheer out loud as I was reading Om Malik's series of rants on the topic. I agree with Om that one of the biggest philosophical problems is that there is no good way for end users to easily see and track their usage. It is ethically wrong to tell people they will be penalized for over usage of something they can not measure. Comcast, ( and TimeWarner and anyone else considering Metered Internet) if you are going to start billng this way, you need to have an application that I can either log into on the internet ( but don't charge that against my bandwidth...)or else an application that shows up on a channel on my DVR box so I can sit there and watch the bits and bytes stream by in real time.
I think that Om has the right ideas in this blog entry, but he is dancing around the issue. Let's just come right out and say it. The only reason cable companies are metering or limiting bandwidth is to limit their competition.
In a household that includes two teenagers and two almost adolescent boys, a household where I work from home and VPN to work, a household where my fiance is often logged into multiple servers at work over night it does not take long for the bandwidth to start piling up. In addition to computers, we have a Roku box, a wii, and a home media server. We have DSs and PSPs that connect to the internet and my next cell phone will almost certainly be chosen to include the ability to broadcast over wifi. Even my HP printer occasionally talks over the internet. I hit a handful of devices that are on OM's list of devices that can spell trouble for bandwidth, and a few that he forgot to mention. ( I warned you that he went on a bit of a rant, didn't I- and "Go OM" is all I have to say about that)
The effect of metering bandwidth will be the same as long distance dial-up numbers were back in the days of dial-up networking only. Companies quickly learned that end users were not going to pay long distance charges for the convenience of the internet. It was not until they worked to expand 800 and local numbers that people started jumping on the wire in larger numbers. Once more people were online, the technology began to be seen as a real market, innovation flourished and we got animation, flash, audio, video and real time interactivity. As soon as people start being more careful about where they go and what they download, new projects on the internet will be more carefully considered and maybe even abandoned before they are started. If you had told me back in 1995 that I would be sitting here blogging with TitanAE streaming to my browser in a pop-out window, I would have laughed at you. It is significant that Hulu required a critical mass of people with high speed bandwidth to be able to float the business model. What new and currently unimaginable technologies will never see the light of day because of the competition for bandwidth?
Although the war for your money and attention may be in the entertainment market, it will have impact in other places. What will these bandwidth caps mean for the new MS Online service offering ( how many excel files do I have to read and stream over the internet to pop my cap?), for Google's push into the enterprise market space, for the newly proposed and marketed "cloud computing" models ( then again, maybe that is a benefit...). Just as businesses and schools start to explore the use of High Performance Computing and "over the wire" CAD and animation tools, Comcast and others are looking to limit the amount of data they can push.
Thinking of online storage services as a business model ( either as a provider or a consumer)? Once your bandwidth gets capped, this will be one of the first services to come crashing down. I have 5 computers I back up regularly. Their weekly backups range from 30-80 gig each. If I were doing this into the cloud, I would be over my cap before two weeks finished.
The list of potential side deaths and inhibitions gets longer every time I think about it, what other businesses or technologies do you see heading for the dead pool when cable broadband users are all capped?