Google Stadia Is About To Show Everyone Why Broadband Usage Caps Are Bullshit
from the running-straight-at-a-wall dept
We’ve noted for years how broadband providers have increasingly imposed arbitrary, confusing, and punitive usage caps and overage fees to cash in on the lack of competition in US broadband. Not only have industry executives admitted these limits aren’t technically necessary, they’ve increasingly been abused to hamstring competitors. AT&T, for example, doesn’t impose the limits on its broadband customers who use its streaming video service (DirecTV Now), but will impose the added charges if you use a competitor like Netflix.
For more than a decade ISPs have slowly but surely imposed such limits hoping that consumers wouldn’t notice (think of the frog in the pot of boiling water metaphor with you as the frog). But as video streaming services have increasingly embraced high-bandwidth 4K streaming, consumer usage has started to collide with this arbitrary restrictions.
On the other hand, the rise of game streaming services like Google Stadia is going to blow right past these caps, finally highlighting the problem in stark detail. Services like Stadia eliminate the need for local gaming hardware, with all of the processing occurring in the cloud. The bandwidth consumption of these services will be fairly incredible:
“Google says that users who stream games at 720p, 1080p, or full 4K will eat through bandwidth at a rate of 4.5 GB, 9 GB, or 15.75 GB per hour, respectively.
Were you to stream Stadia games at full 4K, you?ll easily burn through a terabyte of data in less than three days. In the usage cap era, that?s a fairly obvious problem. Presumably, users would be looking at similar data usage for other upcoming streaming services.
Comcast, for example, imposes a 1 terabyte monthly cap on its users, who have the option of either buying buckets of additional data at $10 per 50 GB, or paying a flat fee of $50 (on top of their already high broadband bill) to remove the cap entirely. Using Google Stadia at full 4K resolution will blow through that cap in less than three days. And Comcast’s 1 terabyte cap is among the more generous. Many DSL providers (like AT&T) impose usage caps as low as 150 GB a month. Many other rural ISPs have caps as low as 10 to 50 GB per month.
In the wake of the launch of Google Stadia (and other similar products from the likes of Microsoft) there’s going to be a lot of surprised consumers with sore wallets. And that anger is only going to rejuvenate questions as to why these arbitrary and unnecessary limits exist (to make the telecom industry more money, duh) and why regulators have done absolutely nothing about what’s a fairly obvious cash grab (regulatory capture and corruption, duh).
The other problem that we’re going to face is on the net neutrality front. Many ISPs are developing their own cloud gaming platforms. Given the abuse of zero rating and usage caps in streaming video, it’s very likely that ISPs will apply usage caps to customers who use competing gaming services but not their own, distorting the playing field, and harming innovation and competition. All told, it’s going to be a crash course in why net neutrality is important, and why the recent tech policy fixation on “big tech” exclusively views the problems in tech through too narrow of a peephole.