that it would begin a trial in one Texas
market to enforce bandwidth caps. In a
departure from the traditional “
all-you-can-eat” broadband model in most of the
U.S., their Roadrunner service will be price
tiered at several capped levels, starting at
5GB per month and going up to 40GB.
Unspecified overage fees will apply.
Broadband providers have long groused
about how a small percentage of subscribers—often cited as between 2 and 5
percent—can consume as much as 50 percent of available bandwidth. Plus, they say,
much of this activity involves copyright-infringing material. The resulting congestion slows everyone else down, and so
preventing such abuse—or charging for—
should improve the network for everyone.
All of which is true. But the math simply
doesn’t add up.
Those “excessive” users typically consume 500GB or more per month, usually
using bandwidth-saturating file sharing
applications. One can imagine any number
of formulas that isolates these cases. For
example, an 80/80 rule could levy a surcharge or access cap on users who exceed
80 percent of available bandwidth in
excess of 80 percent of the time over a
But usage caps between 5 and 40GB per
month will ensnare nearly all subscribers.
Legitimate content providers like Netflix
Watch Now, Amazon Unbox, and Apple
i Tunes can easily exceed these caps after
just a few viewings, meaning that usage-metered subscribers will wind up paying
extra to access these services more than a
trivial amount. And—cue the suspicious
music—maybe that is exactly the point.
If a Roadrunner, a Comcast, a Charter,
or an AT&T, is in both the content and
access business at the same time, they will
use one to leverage the other. A $2.99
download from i Tunes might actually cost
you $6.99 after usage surcharges. Suppose
that your ISP Brand X steps in and offers
to sell you the same flick for $4.99, with
no surcharges because, one might imagine,
downloads from “within network” might
be free of usage metering. Sure, the details
are speculative, but make no mistake that
the providers are itching to get the infrastructure and billing models in place.
The same philosophy informs ISPs’ flirtations with traffic shaping and content filters. Both receive a similar spin from
supporters, usually ISP executives: Culling
the data stream will reduce congestion and
improve network performance. Of course
it will—so would removing all the Toyotas
from a busy toll road, because the company who owns it has cut a deal with GM.
Providers also justify their plans to
block or filter data based on protocol or
content by appealing to the rule of law.
Copyright infringement is wrong, and they
won’t stand for it on their networks.
Indeed, it is an easy argument to love, like
insisting that you are pro-puppies.
They were singing a different tune in
1998. Back then, ISPs were worried about
being held liable for all the laws their subscribers could break using their network. Is
Ma Bell responsible if you use the phone
lines to plan a murder? The providers said
no, and the government agreed, so long as
the proverbial Ma Bell wasn’t listening to
the conversation to begin with. See no evil,
hear no evil.
When ISPs like AT&T express their
newfound passion for taking on copyright
enforcement, it is probably not their
lawyers talking so much as their potential
business partners, whose unauthorized content is now flowing through the network.
Of course, as has always been the case, the
real solution to minimizing mainstream
copyright abuse is to simply make legitimate content easier to access than infringing