Over the past few weeks, I have been following an interesting and potentially vexing issue: the concept of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) enforcing data download / data transfer limits as part of their terms of service.
In a nutshell, this means that your provider will limit your usage to a set amount of data each month. Once you go over that limit, you will either a) have to authorize the purchase of more data transfer allotments or b) automatically be billed a set amount for data transfer allotments that go over that monthly limit.
Example: Let's say my provider is AT&T and in the new setup it allows me a total of 12GB data transfer for the month. This means that for one month, all my Internet activity, which almost always involves data transfer (checking e-mail, visiting websites, downloading images, etc), would count against that 12GB limit. Once I go over 12GB, I would be billed $1.00 for each 1GB over the limit.
While AT&T and Time-Warner Cable have stated that they will be testing such download limits in select markets, some providers are already limiting data transfer. While Starbucks now provides free Wi-Fi access via its new customer loyalty program and uses AT&T as the provider, there is this interesting paragraph in the Terms of Service:
"You agree that all connections to the Internet via ATTIS's connectivity shall be for the limited purposes of accessing electronic mail, operating a basic web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, or downloading files via the 'ftp' protocol typically implemented in web browser programs."
As one article points out, this means you are expected to check e-mail and surf the web but not download streaming video, use Skype to make a phone call, download large photos etc. And, who still uses Netscape Navigator? LOL!
Why are ISPs considering limits all of a sudden? From data gathered by providers such as AT&T and Time Warner, it appears that the top 5% of users are responsible for between 40 - 50% of the data transfers! And, in my opinion, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is also behind this push since many of these "top 5%" users are involved with illegal downloads of music, movies, etc.
So, what will this mean to me as a genea-blogger or genealogist performing on-line research?
First, it is yet to be proven that such limits will be imposed on the home user. AT&T and Time-Warner are performing tests in test markets, and usually a company selects a test market that they know ahead of time will give them positive results. And given the size of AT&T as an ISP, it has the ability to affect the entire market which will allow other ISPs to quickly follow suit.
Second, I would hope they would allow home users to check their data transfers for a month or two. Meaning, allow me to go to a website and see on the 15th of the month how much data I have downloaded. This would give me an idea as to my data transfer habits etc.
Third, if limits are imposed, I along with many others will need to reconsider downloading large databases, PDFs, books, opening e-mails with large attachments etc. And, I won't be clearing out my Internet cache as often (cached pages that haven't changed won't count against your download limit).
I'm interested to hear what other genea-bloggers think about this concept. How might it affect you? Do you think it is fair? Do you think it will work?
Links to recent news article:
AT&T Embraces BitTorrent, May Consider Usage-Based Pricing
Broadband Providers Cap Monthly Usage
Starbucks Wi-Fi Comes with AT&T Limits
Time Warner Cable Tries Metering Internet Use