Saturday, October 22, 2011

RIP: The Golden Age of Unlimited Internet, It's Been Capped

The golden age of unlimited Internet is over, capped usage is now the norm. Alas for uncapped bandwidth, uncapped bandwidth is no more, and this has serious implications for everything from programming to data security and economics.

Soliloquies aside, the pleasure of making a prediction that comes true--I have said for some time that all bandwidth will eventually be capped and metered--is often undermined by the reality of what one predicted. (For example, about every new form of data abuse I have said "Typically, this is going to get worse before it gets better" and I am, sadly too often, correct in that assessment.)

I have written extensively about bandwidth capping in the context of both satellite Internet service and 3G Internet service. I have lived with daily bandwidth caps in the 400 megabyte range, courtesy of HughesNet's premium $80 per month satellite service. I have lived with the AT&T MiFi 3G cap of 5 gigabytes a month or 166 megabytes per day (for $60 per month). Apparently I am now going to live with the 200 gigabytes per month cap of Cox Cable Preferred Internet Service, currently $40 per month. 

Of course, it is clear that 200 gigabytes for $40 is a better deal than 5 for $60 or 12 for $80 (if you multiply the 400 megabytes per day that HughesNet 'gives' you by 30 days you get 12 gigabytes, but in reality you seldom get 12 gigabytes because you keep daily use below that, worried that you will exceed your cap, which costs $10 to reset every time you blow through it with a big download or streaming audio/video).

What is wrong about Cox Cable's cap, and I have to use wrong rather than a softer touch like "questionable" or dubious" or "unfortunate," is that Cox Cable does not disclose its cap before you contract for Cox service. I know this because I just went through the labyrinthine process of getting Cox Cable service in San Diego. While everyone from Cox with whom I have spoken has been very polite, friendly, and helpful, nobody said "That comes with a 200 gigabyte per-month cap and we reserve the right to charge you more money if you go over that."

Nobody. Not the first time I placed my order, nor the second time I placed my order because the first order went astray. In other words, Cox had ample opportunity to mention the cap and the consequences of exceeding it. They did not. Given the otherwise articulate and engaging nature of the service personnel that Cox puts on the line, I tend to assume they are trained not to say anything about the cap. 

So, the cap is here. It is not disclosed. And next I fear, it will be reduced. Once we are all hooked on whatever bandwidth consuming activity floats our boat, be it streaming video, audio, online gaming, hi-def photography, video calls, or something as yet not deployed, the bandwidth providers will start clamping down, shrinking the cap and raising the rates. So here are some potential implications:
  1. Using the Internet will cost more in the future, not less. We will pay per gig, not per month.
  2. Deployment of any security services that use bandwidth will meet resistance or get turned off if people are paying per gig.
  3. The rich will get more Internet than the poor (and of course the poor will get poor and the rich will get richer, a golden rule pretty much everywhere, from the USSR to the US of A).
  4. Programs that use bloated code or content will be penalized by bad reviews.
  5. Apps that are coded efficiently and elegantly will prevail.
I recently had the honor of speaking to a group of computer science students at the Jacobs School of engineering at UCSD. One topic we got into was the need to keep code lean. I mentioned to them a very interesting article that was mentioned to me by my good friend (and computer scientist extraordinaire) David Brussin and written by someone in Australia who also has to deal with bandwidth limitations, Troy Hunt.

The amount of 'bloat' that Troy found in iOS apps will surprise many, but it really wasn't a surprise to me. Why? Because my wife and I have used an iPad on a capped--and thus closely monitored--satellite Internet connection for over a year. We know how far the needle jumps when you add an iPad to your wireless Internet device mix. I fear the time will come when we pay dearly for that, by the megabyte.

p.s. Just noticed this report: Sprint is slowly but surely killing unlimited data

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