Internet Download Cap: More Fees for Us, More Cash for Comcast

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When people find videos on their iPhones or Androids, they don’t watch them because they may be near the end of their billing cycle and fear they might exceed their data limit – so they save the link and wait to watch the videos at home. But soon, Internet users will need to worry about data usage both outside and at home. Yes, users will soon be stripped of their ability to stream as many TV shows and movies they want (yes, this means no binge watching on Netflix), download as many games as they want (yes, this includes PS4 and Xbox beta game downloads), transfer large files in and out of their cloud platforms as frequently as they want (yes, this means you should choose which files you want to store), and backup their computers, cellphones, and tablets as much as they’d like (yes, this means you should consider turning off that automatic backup feature).

Last year, the nation’s largest cable provider Comcast launched its data cap services in Georgia and Tennessee. Today, Comcast has expanded its data cap services to cities in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina and requires its customers to subscribe to a tiered Internet service that provides data amounts between 250 GB to 300 GB. Additionally, customer may purchase additional 50 GB blocks for an extra $10 per month. Surely 300 GB sounds like a lot of data, but this change in service is all too familiar. Since 2011, we have seen tiered cellphone data subscription prices rising. And like cellphone data, if you go over you pay an additional overage fee. Will this be the likely result for Wi-Fi at home? Moreover, there are final talks about the merger of Comcast and another cable provider giant – Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable services much of the western U.S., including Hawaii. As a result, Comcast will be the largest cable provider in our nation expanding from Hawaii to New York. Comcast will have the ability to provision the Internet access to many Internet users. David L. Cohen says that he “would predict that in five years Comcast at least would have a usage-based billing model rolled out across its footprint” alluding that maybe not now but soon Comcast will have a “pay-as-you-go” model in place for Internet usage.If you aren’t wealthy enough, you may not be able to continue using the Internet as much as he u are using it now.

What is different between using data on the go and using data at home is how we use the data and what we use the data for. At home, besides movies and TV, we get the news, we video chat with loved ones, we take online courses, we download application software, and we play games. Without the technology that the Internet has provided, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these technological revolutions. We should be able to continue to do these activities freely without worrying about exceeding our monthly data allowance. By imposing limits on our Internet data usage, Comcast threatens our ability to continually evolve our technologies and inhibit our growths in our hobbies and professions.

But why are cable providers shifting to this pay-as-you-go business model? Many pundits suggest Comcast’s shift is to thwart customers from using video streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and the rising Amazon Prime. It’s evident that cable TV program subscriptions are reducing while streaming services like Netflix continually see enormous gain in its user base. Comcast, too, provides cable TV program services and is certainly unhappy with the increasing intrusion from streaming services into its TV program industry. In response, Comcast and other Internet Service Providers began charging streaming content providers so that the likes of Netflix and Hulu can “guarantee a good experience” for its customers.

The certain shift is certainly the result of the many emerging streaming content services. Comcast and other streaming content providers are not happy that its customers are ditching its cable TV program services for the better play-what-you-want services. This shift in this pay-as-you-go business model suggests that Comcast wants to secure its profits by finding other ways to charge its customers. This kind of mentality definitely prevents the evolution of content distribution. Cable TV is old! Content on-demand is the new, and Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are continuously finding ways to better our experience.

Besides capping customers’ ability to binge-watch Netflix movies and shows, the biggest problem for data caps on Internet usage is that they discourage the use of the Internet and innovative applications it spawns. “An open Internet has been one of our greatest drivers in our economy” says a software engineer and alluded that Internet use should remain free from usage limits so that we can continue to find ways to expand Internet use for software applications on the web. Internet limits will inherently fray users’ use on the web, but many commonly used applications have gone web-based, including Microsoft Office, Google Drive, Apple iWork, and Adobe Creative Suite. Additionally, many users will not be able to freely access these applications and, as a result, there will be no demand. Wow will these web-based applications and software continue to develop and improve if users are worried about exceeding their data caps?  Soon, applications will find its way back to connectionless methods.

Another inevitable consequence from Internet limitations is the limited access for developing artists and hobbyists, including designers, photographers, videographers, and other professionals and hobbyists who work with high-volume media. Software designers run complex inquiries and process thousands of lines of codes. Because software applications are heading toward web-based environments, rigorous testing is often required online, and thereby lots of data is used in this testing process. Photographers similarly work with raw picture files that exceed 100 MB sizes. Because Adobe Creative Suite has shifted to a web-based environment, the downloading and uploading of images can accumulate quickly to that 300 GB limit. Many of these photographers have voiced their opinions against Internet data caps often saying that they “don’t want to be forced to purchase an expensive tier just to be able to do work that normally doesn’t pay enough,” says an avid and amateur photographer. Videographers are at the worst end of this issue; they transfer files to sites like YouTube and Vimeo that often require rendering, a sizeable transferring process that adds 75% to the video file size. Should software designers, photographers, and videographers consider the cost of Internet in their work?

Surely, many people see 300 GB as a generous offering and many will say average users don’t even use anywhere near that amount. However, cellphones were similarly provided to customers in packaged unlimited data plans. Is this a likely pathway for data at home? In 2013, Time Warner and AT&T also began to restrict its customers on data usage. They began capping user data usage at 300 GB. After a couple months, they started lowering that amount to 250 GB, but customers became concerned and strongly voiced their opinions to Time Warner Cable & AT&T. Time Warner and AT&T reversed their decision to cap plans on its customers. Earlier this year, Time Warner again made an attempt to introduce capped plans. This time Time Warner opted to start at 30 GB at $15.99 per month charge on that allotment. This shows that the 300 GB generous offering is definitely not fixed – it can change whenever Comcast wants. Just like Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint saw best to impose data limits and increase prices for access to those dinky data limits. The future of data at home will have a similar fate.

One must also consider families or homes that include four to five users of a single home Internet service. Benjamin Lennett, a policy director at the New American Foundation agrees that the 300 GB limit is generous but Comcast and other cable providers should consider that “If you have five or six connected devices and multiple people using the Internet at the same time, people are going to start hitting these caps more and more.” This would include small groups of artists who work with sizeable media and using the Internet to transfer these files between the web and their computers. Interestingly, many California cities and communities are exploring the possibility of providing Wi-Fi Internet access citywide. This would include the cities and communities of San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Monica. Would the impending threat of Comcast’s limit on Internet access get in the way of this proposal?

What’s the difference between cable service and Internet service? The amount of TV content being transferred is just the same amount of content that is being transferred to computers. This suggests that Comcast’s proposal to expand Internet limitations and data caps is a plan in place to generate income that it would otherwise generate through its cable TV services. A big part of it is that Comcast would rather you watch on their platform rather than through Netflix or Hulu. The Internet should be a public utility not something corporations can make money off of. One can even see that Comcast, being the biggest Internet service provider in our nation also threatens our access to information on the web. Nevertheless, there is no difference between a customer who watches TV from the cable box all day versus a customer who surfs the Internet all day.

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