AT&T to Start Capping Broadband Data Usage

In the past year, AT&T has become a pioneer in the arena of the internet. What’s important to know is that the word “pioneer” isn’t always a good thing. Some months ago, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans on its smartphones. This move, while apparently only affecting 2% of their customer base, was not warmly received by both customers and the media alike. And they are at it again.

Yesterday, AT&T announced its plan to start limiting the amount of usage that its home internet subscribers will be alloted. Starting May 2nd, DSL customers will be given a 150GB cap and high speed U-Verse customers will be given 250GB. AT&T again insists that it will only affect 2% of their subscribers, who account for 20% of their network traffic at times. Overages will run $10 per 50GB.

250GB sounds like a lot though, right? Netflix says their services use 1GB per hour, meaning you’ll be able to watch around 100 movies, assuming you do nothing else. This applies to other HD (or near HD) services like Hulu as well. Each minute of Skype you use runs just under a megabyte per minute, which isn’t a ton but can add up quickly. Streaming music will run around 72 megabytes an hour. World of Warcraft will use around 120 mb/h. All of this, in addition to your Facebook and email usage can add up quickly.

The main issue that most people have is that caps like this stifle innovation. It will be difficult to implement new technologies that will no doubt use significant amounts of data. People will worry about going over their limits (even if it’s not much of an issue for them) for fear of overages, regardless of how enticing of an application it might be. It’s not a good precedent to set, but unfortunately it seems to be a trend that we’ll most likely be seeing with many other operators.

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