On Sunday we broke the story that AT&T would be imposing 150-250GB usage caps
with $10/50GB overages on all DSL and U-Verse customers. Our forums have since been filled with a number of users who say they'll be leaving AT&T because of the move
-- assuming they have the option of more than one carrier in their markets and can vote with their wallets.
Not too surprisingly consumer advocates don't like AT&T's vision of the future
, and worry that AT&T has set the cap high initially simply to gain customer approval for the concept, with lower caps and higher overages to come. Politicians however had been quiet on AT&T's decision until today, when Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) chimed in on the story. According to Markey comments to The Hill
, the new caps could do damage to broadband adoption levels and hurt U.S. competitiveness, both things our new national broadband plan was supposed to help:
"I am concerned that charging more for increased usage would raise prices for some consumers and potentially lead to lower broadband adoption levels," he said. "This would undermine our broadband goals as outlined in the National Broadband Plan while undercutting our global competitiveness, and I will be closely monitoring this decision."
Except as we've noted an annoying number of times, our national broadband plan doesn't address competition
, and a significant majority of the plan is little more than a series of nice-sounding and politically-safe but ultimately empty
policies. The FCC avoided addressing competitive issues in order to avoid upsetting AT&T, and it's not some wild coincidence that AT&T is now implementing incredibly unpopular pricing policies that couldn't be implemented in a truly competitive market. Our global ego and broadband adoption isn't really the core issue. Regulatory capture and competition is.
Markey could be asking more pointed questions, such as: can AT&T show any
raw, real data proving that congestion on the AT&T network makes these new overage fees necessary? Given we've shown repeated instances of carriers who implement metered billing being unable to offer accurate usage meters
, a politician actually concerned about consumers might also like to ask: who is going to bother to make sure AT&T's meters are accurate?
Folks who've been around here for a while know the answer to both of these questions ("no" and "nobody," respectively). Still, it might be a good idea if the press, content companies, napping startups in Silicon Valley and politicians started asking harder questions on this subject if they're truly concerned about how punitive per byte pricing impacts consumer prices and U.S. innovation.