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The insignificance of a 250 GB usage cap

By 14 March 2011 3 Comments

Now that AT&T is following the footsteps of Comcast by instituting a 250 GB per month usage cap on their broadband service (150 GB for slower DSL customers), much of the outcry from the blogosphere aren’t justified by the facts.  These caps are large enough that they are irrelevant to 98% of the subscribers, and the average AT&T DSL subscriber transfers a mere 18 GBs per month.  For the few subscribers affected by the usage cap, overage charges will be waved the first two months a subscriber exceeds the usage cap so they have ample warning to either trim their usage or pay for the extra usage.  Subscribers who ignore three usage notifications and exceed their usage cap a third time will be charged $10 per 50 GB over.

For most broadband subscribers, it may be difficult to correlate GBs to what they actually want to do on the Internet.  For the vast majority of people, video download or streaming are the main applications that could trigger an overage charge.  The following tables illustrate what broadband subscribers can do with a 250 GB usage, and it’s a lot.  Much of Netflix’s content isn’t available at the higher bitrates and probably average below 2 Mbps.  Even at the highest quality levels, users can use Netflix an average of 4.6 hours every day.

Despite the fact that these usage caps only apply to some extremely heavy users and have plenty of warning notifications, Karl Bode is still concerned for the future and said:

“the heavy user of today is inevitably the standard user of tomorrow”

There’s no doubt that future broadband subscribers will use a lot more GBs, but what makes Mr. Bode so sure that future usage caps will remain stagnant as usage patterns go up?  If the goal of these usage caps is to manage the heaviest 2% of users, it won’t affect the majority today or tomorrow.