Thursday, March 17, 2011

AT&T Limited internet

The Story:
AT&T recently announced that they would be limiting DSL service to 150 GB and Uverse to 250 GB of usage per month with fees of $10 per 50 GB of overage after exceeding the limit 3 times. The company also says that 98 percent of customers do not exceed this usage.

This is my opinion:
Personally I am upset to hear this for many reasons.

First, it seems like they are recycling the argument/press release they made when they made a similar move against their mobile users. For those who are unaware AT&T removed the unlimited data plans in June of 2010 – the official press release framed it as a new lower price for data. In addition to the press release many AT&T representatives made mention that removing the unlimited data would only affect 2% of the users. It is an odd coincidence that this is the same percentage that uses more than 250GB on their U-Verse and 150GB on DSL. Can this be true, or is this just a way to pacify the general masses?

Second, it seems like a move that is more about protecting traditional paid TV than it does about a fixing legitimate problem. The statement seemed kind of crazy then (considering every other major cell phone provider were still offering unlimited data). AT&T’s argument seems even crazier today considering those companies still have unlimited data (even though Verizon’s CTO keeps teasing the tiered data plans are coming) and even some prepaid phones offer unlimited data (Virgin, Boost, and Cricket). I understand that some customers do use more data, but these limits make it much more difficult for an average family to replace traditional TV with streaming media and the other uses for broadband (gaming, Skype, browsing, etc).

Let’s take a closer look at the way this data breaks up. If we assume that a person has the fastest speed AT&T offers and could maintain that speed around the clock – how long would it take to hit the cap?
24mbps = 180MB per minute
250GB = 250,000MB
250,000MB/180MB = 1388.88(repeating) Minutes
1388.88 minutes/60 minutes in an hour = 23.148(repeating) Hours

You could do it in 1 day if you were able to hit their maximum speed all day!

This doesn’t seem reasonable at all, but to break that down another way –
Netflix movies use about 1GB per hour of streaming, which means that you could spend 250 hours watching Netflix in a month. The average American watches 150+ hours a month in TV – so for an individual user who replaces their TV with streaming media this seems like a reasonable number, 250-150=100GB left to do what you want with. The problem comes in if you have a family of 4 with each able to use a computer of some sort (laptop/desktop/tablet), game counsel, cell phone (to not exceed AT&T’s data cap), or other device (MP3 player/internet station/etc). Hopefully everyone wants to watch the same thing most of the time.

This doesn’t even account for people who are purchasing games from the web (steam/Xbox Live/PSN/etc). New PC games are measured in several GB each, though it is unlikely for someone to exceed the cap with only game purchases – it is still a possibility, and it can take a large portion out of your monthly budget of bandwidth.
I also haven’t talked about those who use services like Carbonite to backup their files. If you have a few hundred GB of pictures/videos (memories) backed up, or coming back down, you are likely going to exceed the cap, what a terrible way to hit the cap.

Third, it seems unfair to those contracted customers. Imagine an all you can eat buffet doing something similar, penalizing a section of customers who are eating 20% more food than anyone else. Skinny people are able to eat more because their stomach can distend, those people should pay more. Or a rule where you can get two plates, but if you go back for a third you will have to pay more. Is the rule fair, especially for those under contract? I don’t think so. If every region could have any broadband carrier, or if these companies weren’t government regulated monopolies, then maybe it would be fair, but this just seems like bad business to me.
Before we accept this argument from AT&T, let’s ask the question does it make since? I have heard arguments that support this side claiming that we all pay for the amount of electricity, water, and gas by total amount of usage and it makes sense when we compare it to these things. I guess my problem with their argument is that I understand that there are huge amounts of resources that go into generating energy, pump water, and acquire gas, but I have a hard time understanding how bandwidth is becoming more expensive. With more fiber optics, cheaper storage, free Wifi “everywhere” and a larger infrastructure one would think that the price of bandwidth would be at an all time low.

What can be done?

Well honestly depending on where you live, not much. You can complain to AT&T, send emails and calls. You can switch from their service to another (provided that there is another provider in your area that isn’t capped.) I guess in the end we can mourn the loss of another great piece of internet freedom, crushed beneath the boot of paid TV (a floundering business that is the thing that should not be).


  1. While limiting the internet is indeed very lame. 150 gigs is a lot compared to what some other internet providers are limiting to (and only 10 dollars for 50 gig overage? That ain't nuthin!).

    I live in the boonies, so only VERY recently ATT brought out their DSL. I'm ecstatic because until now my options were dial-up or a certain wireless company (rhymes with horizon).

    To provide a comparison, the wireless was 60 buckaroos a month (about 800ms latency in games on average... middle of nowhere inhabiting to blame) and 5 gig/month limit (with 25c per MB as a fine over the 5 gb limit. That's $12,800 for a 50 gig overage).

    So as a person who would bite her nails watching the data used "estimate" like a hawk and sometimes going without internet for a week (family of 5 sharing it), I personally am completely bubbly to have ATT even if they incorporate limitations. However I have been internet deprived and I know other providers are like true heaven. (Bright House, I hear, is awesome).

    All-in-all internet limiting is a load of bullocks, but companies want more money so it's inevitable. Darn 1st-world-country problems! I know you're bummed because had I lived elsewhere I would be a major internet hog and majorly upset myself. (I go to free-wifi places to download updates for games and games off steam etc... lol). But from my perspective, ATT is fantastic... that is, until something better comes along.

  2. Julie,

    I understand the terrible lack of service options for those in the country is worse than for city dwellers. I also understand that 150GB can be a huge amount of data for some, but I believe that they (not just AT&T, but Comcast as well) are doing this for reasons other than the amount of bandwidth their customers are using. I would assert that this is a way for them to keep a tight grip on their paid television subscribers.

    I personally have not paid for television for over two years, I stream all of my media. With these caps I feel as if the companies are telling me not to stream through legal sources like Netflix and Hulu, but to instead pirate the content so that I can store it on my hard drive, thus not encroaching on the limit for the 10th time I want to watch the same movie.

  3. i am one of the 2% in bay area of california, upset and disappointed, but what else we can do?

  4. Dear Anonymous,
    I don't know that there is much we can do other than find an alternate ISP if possible. I personally switched to Comcast business because it offers "unlimited" bandwidth. I have heard there is a limit, but that no one has ever hit it.

  5. Limiting is bad enough, just think if you lived in rural North Carolina where they have limited DSL hubs and will not increase the number or provide U-Verse service expansion.