Bandwidth Caps: Stifling Creativity and New Web Apps

Posted: March 28, 2009 in internet, technology
Tags: ,

A recent article caught my eye, and it reminded me of the bandwidth cap discussions I’ve read about. This article describes the effect that bandwidth caps on users of new services such as the OnLive gaming service. OnLive estimates that data usage will be roughly 1 gigabyte per hour of high-definition gaming. According to the article, Frontier Corp., a regional communications company, is imposing a bandwidth cap of 5 gigabytes per month. This means that potential users can play games for approximately 5 hours per month before the company slaps them with extra charges.

TechRepublic also carried an article suggesting the impact that this could have on telecommuters. Many people are probably familiar with the Comcast decision to impose a 250 gb per month bandwidth cap on residential customers. Customers who go above the 250 gb limit will receive a pleasant little call from Comcast reps warning them about their “excessive usage.”

According to Comcast’s amendment to their acceptable use policy, they feel that their limit is ample for most customers. They provide these examples of customer data usage based on a 250 gb limit:

  • Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)
  • Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)
  • Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)
  • Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)

These numbers are interesting, but this is really the only beginning to helping customers understand their usage habits. What about customers who play MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft or Warhammer? What about people who play console games such as Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii over the network? What about those who stream movies from services such as Netflix?

I’m still trying to figure out the best billing model for home Internet users. The obvious way to look at is by comparing it to existing utility rates. Some utilities are charged based on consumption. Electricity may be charged based on kilowatt hours, and water may be charged on a per gallon or per cubic foot basis. (However, people in apartments sometimes have leases that included unlimited power and water.) In contrast, cable or satellite tv service is unlimited for a single monthly fee with extra charges for for premium or pay per view services. I think perhaps a telephone/cell phone model may be more appropriate. Depending on your expected usage, you can either choose a pay-per-minute plan or an unlimited plan.

I think one of the biggest potential problems of bandwidth caps lies in its effect on user adoption of new services, or perhaps users’ willingness to even try new services. Suppose you were considering any new Internet-enabled technology. If you didn’t know how it would impact your bandwidth consumption, you might be less willing to give it a try. Remember all those silly cell phone commercials where customers had to save their calls until the middle of the night when their rates were the lowest? Imagine an equally silly situation in which you can only try a new application at the very end of the month with your last half gigabyte of bandwidth.

The model established for high-speed residential Internet service is one of unlimited use for a flat fee. High-speed Internet service has undoubtedly spurred the development of many new services and programs, but if our Internet usage is going to be capped, maybe we won’t need those services after all.


Streaming games could be bane or boon for ISPs
ISP bandwidth limits may have unclear impact on telecommuters
It’s official: Comcast starts 250GB bandwidth caps October 1
Announcement Regarding An Amendment to Our Acceptable Use Policy

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