Bandwidth Education: Slippery Slope or Valuable Lesson?

ISPs have been known to send out letters to subscribers whose broadband usage hits a certain threshold, in order to educate them about their usage. The letters may warn them about being infected with a virus or uploading too many P2P files. But are these messages the beginning of an attempt to turn bandwidth into a precious resource that should be metered, or is it a useful service that helps remind people their Roku is still running?

This question has arisen again thanks to Karl Bode over at BroadbandReports, who posted a note some subscribers of Suddenlink Cable received. The note lets people know their broadband usage seemed excessive for the month, and asks if perhaps they have a streaming music player running somewhere while a person is out doing other things, or suggests someone might be stealing their Wi-Fi connection. I suppose if you have a virus or someone is stealing your Wi-Fi and you’re not cool with that, then the notice might be helpful. See the notice here.

But the tone of the note also pushes the notion of excessive use in a way that could be constraining. For those of us on unlimited wireline broadband plans, to be told that 100 GB per month is excessive creates a “soft cap” and starts people down the road of counting every gigabyte. If we accept that connectivity is going to be the default in our lives delivering most of our entertainment, then that’s not a mentality we should encourage. I once had an executive at a telecommunications company argue with me that it was almost immoral to stream a movie multiple times, and said if the movie was for repeated viewings people should download it rather than continue to consume the broadband resource.

But the problem is, we have the connections (or are getting them) to be able to stream as opposed to download. It’s part of the shift that fatter pipes and storing more information in the cloud has enabled, and companies such as Netflix (s nflx) or Pandora will be built on the backs of that shift. That’s innovation at work. It seems that the notices attempt to rein that in by making a gigabyte something to count rather than to casually consume. Given Moore’s law and technologies that continually decrease the cost of sending a gigabyte of wired traffic, is this necessary?

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