Who built this toll booth on my information superhighway?

For years, the cable companies and telecoms have been promoting faster and faster speeds on the information superhighway.  Each company said their service was the fastest, most reliable way to download movies, music, and play online games.  Speed is sexy.  Speed is cool.  Do you want to be seen driving a Ferrari or an AMC Gremlin?    Unfortunately, while they were promoting all of this speed, there was one big thing they were forgetting to do.  Deliver.

According to the FCC, broadband service providers on average advertised speeds of 8Mb/sec while actually delivering an average speed of 3Mb/sec.  People really get worked up over their internet speed.  There are websites and message boards devoted to checking your internet speed.  Even if a consumer wanted to complain, legally, they wouldn’t have a winning argument.  After all, the ad did say speeds “up to 8Mb/sec.”  But what’s happening in the industry now should have consumers outraged.

Content providers have embraced these fast internet speeds.  Companies like Netflix and Hulu have discovered that there is a real market for online video.  It’s no longer a 30 second video on YouTube that people watch online.  Now it’s full-length feature films in high-definition.  Netflix discovered that it’s less expensive to stream their video titles than it is to mail a DVD to a person’s home.  What does this mean for consumers?  It means it’s finally time to take the cover off of the Ferrari and take it for a spin to see what she can do.  But wait…someone just put up a toll booth.

Broadband service providers have topped out the speed they can deliver over their networks and cut prices to be competitive in the market.  They needed to find new revenue streams.  Their answer is to place a toll booth limiting how far you can “travel” on the information superhighway.  Although the concept of limiting how much you can download should be more than enough to get consumers angry and rally in protest, there has been only silence.  Here’s the big kicker.  They’re building toll booths, but they don’t have a way to measure how far you’ve gone.  AT&T sent out a notice earlier this month saying that they would start to charge a fee for customers who used more than 150GB per month.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we cut cable and only view TV online.  I’ll be honest, I have no idea how much data we use each month now that we stream all of our video content to multiple TVs and computers.  So I called AT&T.  Several times.  Each time, not one person could connect me with someone who could report my usage.  I started with their online tech support.  They said that it’s a billing issue and transferred me to their department.  Billing sent me back to online tech support.  I think you see a pattern starting to form.  The email notification we received also was of little use.  They provided a link to an online reporting tool.  Of course, the tool provided this message:  “AT&T is not able to capture usage data on all of its customers.”  Excuse me?  You’re rolling out a national policy to charge customers for the amount of data they use and you can’t measure it?  Um, surely other people see a problem here.  AT&T will tell you it’s a small percentage of customers that hit that threshold.  Maybe today that’s true.  But come on, America!  Let’s look at the big picture.  Data usage is only going to increase as more and more content is available.  What happens when they decide 150GB was too high and they need to lower the cap to 100GB?  50GB?  Who authorized them to limit how much information we download and upload?  This is the issue that should have people outraged.  Call your representatives, the Better Business Bureau, the FCC, your neighbor’s dog.  Let them know this is unacceptable.  Speed means nothing if you have to stop to pay a toll.

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2 thoughts on “Who built this toll booth on my information superhighway?

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  1. Moving to Aus I found that there is no unlimited Internet package. I picked the highest (150 gb) because I have no clue how much I use and what it correlates to. Luckily the telecomm companies here are wildly incompetent and still have no clue how much I use because three weeks later I still have no Internet … But I do have free wifi at mcds 🙂

    1. Hi Becca! Just make sure your free wifi doesn’t end up costing you in double cheeseburgers! I know Canada has a broadband cap from their providers and companies like Netflix have had to reduce their streaming bandwidth so their customers can remain under the cap but it impacts video quality. I’m mostly just shocked that content providers and consumers aren’t more concerned about the trend to place caps on data usage.

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