At one time in the no-so-distant past, it was exciting to watch images download with a 56K modem. If you had grown up using a 28.8 or (God forbid) a 14.4, you felt like you had just stepped out of the dark ages. The Internet suddenly came alive. When broadband finally arrived, it was revolutionary. Many innovators began to see the potential of the Internet to be a new medium for all forms of communication and expression. Websites like YouTube pushed broadband to its limits, delivering streaming content on-demand.

As high-speed Internet has matured, so has the need for more speed — bigger pipes, so to speak — to download all of the HD movies, music, online gaming, and other goodies you can now find online. The possibilities seemed limitless, that is until Internet Service Providers (ISPs) decided to start imposing limits. Bandwidth caps may ruin the Internet, one gigabyte at a time, and at the moment, it seems like there is little anyone can do to stop it.

What is a bandwidth cap? According to networking specialists at server host, bandwidth refers to the amount of data that is transferred over a network connection. For websites, bandwidth is very important because the more traffic your site gets, the more bandwidth you will use. Small sites might not even use 1GB in a month, whereas large, content-rich sites may use several hundred or more.

Since we graduated from the days of limit hours on AOL, the Internet has always been provided on an unlimited basis. Few would have imagined that limitations would again be imposed, but that is exactly what a bandwidth cap is. It means that you can only transfer a certain amount of data within the span of a month.

When the story broke in 2009 that Time Warner Cable intended to roll out crippling bandwidth caps, there was a public outcry causing them to back down, but since then, Comcast has quietly implemented a 250GB monthly limit. And now AT&T has followed with 150GB limits for DSL users and 250GB for U-verse users. Comcast sees it as reasonable. After all, by their math, it would take 50 million emails, 62,500 songs, 125 standard-definition movies (at 2GB/movie), or 25,000 hi-resolution photos to reach 250GB in one month.

AT&T says only 2 percent of users will have a problem with it, but seeing as how they have around 17 million high-speed Internet subscribers, 2 percent is 340,000 people. While Comcast will simply kick you to the curb if you repeatedly go over 250GB, AT&T will charge $10 per 50GB over the limit. If 340,000 people go only 50GB over, that is $3,400,000 extra green ones for the telecom giant.

If that is even an accurate count, are those 340,000 people downloading pirated movies, streaming illegal content on their websites, or downloading more porn than they can ever watch? Maybe some are, but many are just trying to cut the cable TV cord and watch their TV and movie content online. After all, it would not take much to kill your bandwidth with HD movies. One 720p movie might be 3.5GB. You would have to watch 71 of them to reach 250GB (42 for 150GB), but we are not just talking about movies or just about a single person.

Imagine a family of four, two of them teenagers. Everyone may have watch 5 hours worth of content per week. That adds up to 20 hours. Each person may use 28GB per week, which makes 112 for the month. If you add more people or more hours, 150 is easy to hit. Add 1080p video and maybe some online gaming, and you will not make it through the month.

AT&T, Comcast, and the other ISPs are not targeting pirates at all. These new restrictions are designed to limit Netflix, Hulu, Amazon OnDemand, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube, and other online TV and movie streaming. With cable TV, you may pay $40 per month for a boat load of channels, but you may end up watching only 5 of them. Nevertheless, you still pay for all 80. Netflix costs $7.95 per month, allows you to choose what you want to watch, and the cable company gets none of it.

Up until this point, we have only discussed downloads, but what about uploads? What if you own a website that has a lot of digital content? What if you run your web business from home? Do you have a YouTube account where you upload HD videos? Forget about it.

Bandwidth caps will stifle innovation and force the web to crawl back into the 20th century. It must be stopped, either through public protest, intervention from lawmakers, or both.


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