From no big deal to end of the world...
Yesterday we were the very first to report
that Comcast will be implementing a 250GB monthly cap starting October 1. Online discussion of the caps has since absolutely exploded
, with opinions ranging from the belief the caps are perfectly reasonable, to the belief that the move signifies the "end of the Internet as we know it
." As we noted yesterday, this is really just a move to clear up an already existing cap, previously invisible, that our users have been complaining about for more than half a decade
. In that sense, it's good.
Still, along with the rise of far less generous 5-40GB caps by Time Warner Cable
, it does signify a significant shift in the U.S. broadband market that won't be reversible, and could end with metered overage billing. In phone conversations with Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, I was told that metered billing wasn't part of the announcement, but Douglas did not specifically rule out that it could arrive sometime down the line. Technology journalist Om Malik, for one, wants Comcast to actually show him the meter
Metered billing needs a meter we can see, use and monitor any time we desire to do so. Water and electric utilities provide that meter (regardless of whether we use it or not), so why not Comcast?
While we're at it, it wouldn't hurt if somebody bothered to ask Comcast to actually prove (with hard data, not talking points) that congestion makes the move necessary. Consumer Group Free Press, meanwhile, argues that ISPs couldn't get away with caps if they faced real competition
"If the United States had genuine broadband competition, Internet providers would not be able to profit from artificial scarcity -- they would invest in their networks to keep pace with consumer demand," said Free Press' research director S. Derek Turner. "Unfortunately, Americans will continue to face the consequences of this lack of competition until policymakers get serious about policies that deliver the world-class networks consumers deserve."
There's a few interesting things to watch moving forward. Will Verizon use the caps to market their currently truly unlimited FiOS service, or will they hold their punches in case they plan on someday imposing their own caps? Will Comcast be forced to release a public meter? Is this simply a baby step toward overage fees and metered billing?