The Problem: When you open your faucet, water travels through the water pipes in your house, to your sink. The amount of water that leaves your faucet, per second, can be referred to in terms of liters per second, or gallons per second. If you turn on all the faucets in your house, the pressure, or the gallons per second for each faucet will be reduced. If everyone in your neighborhood turned on their faucets at the same time, it would be reduced even further.
Similarly, when you open up a web browser and go to a website, like Yahoo or Google, the data for that web page comes from the servers at Yahoo or Google, through their communication pipe to the internet, and traverses through the communication pipes that belong to your Internet Service Provider, down to your PC. The amount of data that can traverse the communication pipe, per second, is known as bandwidth. Usually it is referred to in terms of Megabits per second (Mbps), or Gigabits per second (Gbps). Now, let’s assume, everyone in your house had a computer, sharing your one internet connection (your communication pipe). Things would be slow for everyone, if all of you were using your computers at the same time, downloading a movie or song at the same time.
Companies like Time Warner Cable market their internet services based on download speed (bandwidth). You can get download speeds of 10 Mbps, up to 15Mbps, faster than DSL or dialup they say. Woo Hoo! In my neighborhood, most of the time, I can reach download speeds of at least 10Mbps, because theoretically, not everyone is using their computer at the same time. Which means the local communication pipe is not maxed out to capacity, and bandwidth is available. However if everyone in my neighborhood, were streaming movies, at the same time, I might notice some response time issues. And if more and more people use high bandwidth applications, like constantly downloading movies and music through peer-to-peer sites, like bit torrent, my service will degrade.
Both AT&T and Comcast say the reason they’re experimenting with caps is to preserve network quality. In an e-mailed statement, AT&T said half its bandwidth is used by 5 percent of its customers, which “has an impact on all of our customers.”
Cable companies like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and Comcast are looking to place “bandwidth caps” on Internet usage, charging customers extra if they go over these monthly download caps. The problem I have with this is that bandwidth is not like water, gas, or oil. It’s not a commodity that can be bought or sold. There’s a physical limit of how much water, gas, or oil is available. Once it’s used, it’s gone. Municipalities often charge homeowners for water usage, which is understandable. We shouldn’t keep faucets running all the time, wasting water. However, data, once it’s used, is not gone. The data you download is available for download by everyone on the planet. However, the amount of bandwidth available at any given time might vary, depending on customer usage. This is due to the size of the communication pipes. As such, throttling might be more of an answer, (like in the UK), so that everyone get’s their fair share of bandwidth at any given time. How much data I download should not be a concern for the ISP. How much I download per second, with respect to the bandwidth available at that time, should be of concern.
Bandwidth caps, on the other hand, make more sense for a company like Time Warner, which would lose revenue to movie and TV streaming websites like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. Even network stations like NBC are streaming free TV content, in HD, over the internet. So why pay for cable, when I can watch movies and TV for free in HD over the internet?
I think we all know the real reason behind “bandwidth caps”.