Get used to it. We’re going to be talking about bandwidth caps for a long time to come. To sum up the latest happenings, Time Warner Cable sparked fresh outrage with the recent news that it would be testing consumption-based billing beyond Beaumont Texas. Then lots of other cable operator folks jumped in with their two cents on metered broadband and whether they would or would not consider it. Now NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow weighs in with his perspective that testing a new form of pricing is just that, a test. Let the experiment play out and continue to have open dialogue.
I have pretty strong opinions on cable and Internet video because I work in the business. (NOTE: My opinions do not reflect those of my employer Motorola.) However, I don’t come down squarely on either side of the issue. I don’t like bandwidth caps, and would prefer not to have them, but at the same time I don’t believe that operators are trying to protect their television turf by inhibiting online video. Among several other reasons, many of the content companies out there aren’t going to suddenly slide in line with the everything-for-free-on-the-Web approach. These companies like the revenue they get from cable licensing agreements. Unlike over-the-air broadcast networks, they depend on cable revenue in addition to the income they bring in from advertising. So everything you want to see isn’t going to end up on Hulu or TV.com. (Try to find full episodes of Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs or Trading Spaces online, not to mention ESPN content) And that takes away a lot of the threat to the cable subscription model.
I do believe, on the other hand, that cable operators want to set a precedent now with metered billing to get consumers used to the idea that bandwidth isn’t free. As I said, I don’t like caps, and as a consumer I don’t want them, but reasonable caps are, well, reasonable. For example, Comcast’s 250GB cap completely satisfies my needs today. I want to believe that the cap will go up as my demand goes up, and if the cap ceiling rises so that it’s always the equivalent of what 250GB gives me today, then I’m okay with that. There will always be arguments about what’s “reasonable”, and I’m okay with that too. Let’s continue to debate it.
I also understand the innovation argument and agree there should be room under the cap for continued innovation. Again, how much room? What’s reasonable? We should continue to ask those questions.
Bandwidth caps aren’t likely to disappear, so it’s good that they inspire such public debate. One motion I can get behind: Please give us effective bandwidth meters! If an operator’s going to cap my broadband usage, I should at least be able to measure it.