Will Bandwidth Caps Affect You? Probably Not.

Tiered PricingYour days of all-you-can-eat Web browsing are numbered. While data caps are already standard for cell phones (most carriers impose a monthly limit of about 5GB), computer users have, up until now, been able to download and stream as much content as they want—all for a flat fee. The jig is up, it seems. Comcast is rumored to be considering a 250GB monthly limit, and Time Warner will test a tiered pricing plan in Beaumont, Texas, later this year, with limits ranging from 5GB to 40GB. (Users will pay a dollar for every additional gigabyte.) To be sure, these are different business models. Time Warner wants to keep the limit lower so that it can charge power users more for taking up more bandwidth. Comcast, like the cell phone carriers, would ask anyone exceeding the 250GB limit to reduce their consumption or forgo service. Whether or not this will affect you depends on your Web habits—and how stingy ISPs choose to be. One gigabyte represents 200 songs, 1,000 videos, or an hour and 20 minutes of video (not HD, though). In short, it’s easy for most users to abide by these monthly limits. For instance, over a two-week period of Web surfing, Skype chatting, e-mailing, and occasional YouTube watching, we received 0.8GB and sent 0.2GB of data. Most likely, you fall into this category, too: According to Comcast, its average user consumers 2GB per month. 95 percent of Time Warner’s customers use fewer than 40GB. According to Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google, tiered-pricing schemes are unlikely to hinder the growth of Web-based computing, as most cloud applications aren’t bandwidth-intensive. The exceptions are sites that incorporate a lot of video or audio, such as YouTube and BitTorrent. As some commenters have suggested, reducing the trading of pirated movies would allow companies like Time Warner to protect their core business: good old-fashioned cable programming. “It could cause people to cut back on multimedia sites and services—certainly peer-to-peer file trading,” Carr said. He added that many cloud services have been designed to minimize data transfer, and that this could also mitigate the effects of tiered-pricing plans. Besides, says Roger Kay, President of the analyst firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, conglomerates like Time Warner and Comcast will face competition from up-and-coming technologies: 4G, WiMAX, and growing cellular service. This dovetails, of course, with the rise of mobile Internet devices. For iPhone users who can connect to AT&T’s EDGE network anywhere, Time Warner’s data caps mean nothing. Of course, that doesn’t give BitTorrenters a loophole, either. But if Time Warner and Comcast’s statistics are to be believed, you’re probably not using that anyway.

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  1. Sparks Says:

    My god!
    250 GB? This feels heavenly to me!
    Here in India we have to do with 1GB monthly limite (believe your eyes please)
    And every extra GB will cost an Astounding 2000Rs (47.5 Dollars)

    And no, I am not kidding.

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