Chances are it is. Our friends at Netflix have written to the FCC to suggest that, for those that charge for data above a cap, overage fees are too high.
But there is another way to look at this. What, as consumers, have we bought? What did we think we were sold?
How long do you think you should be able to use your broadband connection during any month? And for those with a cap, exceeding which is treated as an abuse of service, this is important to know.
So here are some examples.
Superfast broadband is now arriving in the US. Some may say a little late but at least it’s now here. A service provider selling a 105Mbps broadband connection with a 250GB cap is also saying (although clearly not explicitly) that you can only use it for 5 hours a month. 5 hours. A month. Yes, at full throughput (i.e. the speed you are being sold) you will consume 250GB of data in 5 hours; 0.7% of the month.
Let’s assume this service is so new that the size of the cap was overlooked. That it was a temporary mistake and will be raised soon. What about a fast broadband connection that has been available for some time? A 12Mbps speed is typical here – also with a 250GB cap.
That uses up the cap in 46 hours; 6% of the month.
I’m not suggesting that any of this is wrong. I’m highlighting that we need a debate about what broadband is, or should be. What is it we think we are being sold? I would suggest that right now there is at best confusion.
The shared nature of the service is poorly understood. As we all finally get the services and content to make use of the broadband speeds we are being sold, we now need to know how we are expected to be able to use the service. Because at the same time that the superfast services are being sold with this cap the advertising uses phrases like “will allow users to download a 4GB high-definition movie in five minutes”. Without also saying “and after that download you can’t use it for the rest of the month.”