Broadband

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
broadband, broadband caps, competition, dsl, usage caps

Companies:
verizon



Verizon Begins 'Testing' DSL Usage Caps It Refuses To Call Usage Caps

from the tightening-the-noose dept

For years now broadband providers have used a lack of competition to impose all manner of obnoxious additional fees on the backs of broadband consumers. That includes arbitrary and obnoxious usage caps and overage charges, which not only raise rates on captive customers, but quite intentionally make using streaming video competitors more expensive and cumbersome. Once caps are in place, large ISPs often exempt their own content from usage caps while still penalizing streaming competitors (aka zero rating).

ISPs used to claim that such limits were necessary to manage network congestion, but as that argument was increasingly debunked (caps don't actually help manage congestion) they've shifted their justifications to more flimsy alternatives. These days, ISPs usually offer no justification at all, or issue vague declarations that they're simply trying to help users "better understand their consumption habits."

Case in point: Verizon DSL customers in Virginia recently began noticing language on Verizon's website indicating that the company's already expensive (and slow) DSL service will now face ambiguous "usage" limitations depending on the speed of your tier. While caps are now pretty common among cable ISPs, it's the first time Verizon has begun flirting with such limits:

For some context: Verizon has long been trying to get rid of DSL customers it doesn't want to upgrade so it can spend more of its time focused on slinging ads at Millennials via its new Oath (Yahoo and AOL) brand. It has been doing this by either refusing to repair and upgrade these users, or by constantly imposing rate hikes on lines that can't even get close to the FCC's 25 Mbps definition of actual "broadband." Because regulations require they keep servicing these lines (since most were taxpayer subsidized), they've had to engage in more creative methods to drive users off of them.

When I pressed Verizon as to why the company felt the need to impose any "usage" restrictions upon slow, over-priced DSL lines at all, it first informed me that these aren't caps because they aren't being enforced (yet). It then tried to claim that the company was simply trying to help consumers "see their usage":

"We're not applying data caps, overage fees or any sort of restrictions on DSL customers," Verizon claims. "There is a small trial in Virginia of displaying data usage in customer billing. It affects less than 2,000 homes over three remote terminals. But while the customers are shown data allowances of 150-250 GB, none of them are charged if they exceed those amounts."..."We've never had a way for these customers to see their usage," a company spokesman added, stating this is "just a very small trial with that." "Lots of cable companies display broadband data usage to customers even though they don't impose data caps. I'm afraid this isn't as exciting as you think," the spokesperson argued.

But there's simply no legitimate reason for Verizon to even be hinting at usage caps. The company's DSL lines are so slow, the cost of providing the service is largely negligible, and the volume of bandwidth these lines consume are largely irrelevant. And if the company really wanted users to understand their consumption, it could have simply provided an actual usage meter that mirrors the meters you often see on routers or the OS. So why is Verizon doing this?

As ISPs flirt with usage caps, usually they'll first employ "soft caps" (read; intially unenforced) and a usage meter (usually inaccurate) aimed at "educating" users on their monthly bandwidth consumption. This usually warms consumers up to later efforts at hard caps and overage fees (usually around $10 per each additional 50 GB). It's like the boiling frog anecdote: once users are ok with the idea of such restrictions, ISPs can then tighten the noose slowly to further monetize these users -- with less of a backlash if than if you'd simply imposed hard caps from the start.

But in this case Verizon didn't even bother to offer users an actual usage meter showing their usage. I pressed Verizon as to why, if it's simply concerned about consumers understanding their usage, it didn't just provide users with an actual bandwidth meter? Why even use language hinting at usage limits at all? It's at that point the company stopped responding to my inquiries.

Again, Verizon has made it abundantly, repeatedly clear that it doesn't want to keep these DSL users as the company shifts focus. For Verizon, the goal is either to drive them to Verizon Wireless, or to a cable competitor (that in many instances will upsell them to a Verizon Wireless service bundle anyway). The very worst case scenario for Verizon is these users stick around and wind up paying even more money for last-generation DSL. "Educating consumers" is traditionally the very last thing on an ISP exec's mind when a company begins flirting with this kind of language.

It's pretty clear Verizon was experimenting with the idea of caps and simply hoped the limited footprint meant nobody would notice. And with net neutrality now formally slated to expire June 11, there's going to be a lot more "experimentation" where this came from.


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 5:53am

    Verizon can do what it wants

    Hey, Verizon has a natural right to do whatever it wants with the customers. It owns the service, that is a sovereign right that government can't take away.
    No matter how much public land it uses or public money it takes to build out those networks, ownership in an inviolate right.
    Grant money is like a gift - no backsies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 6:41am

      Re: Verizon can do what it wants

      The sad thing? I can't tell if you're acting or you really are that stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:03am

        Re: Re: Verizon can do what it wants

        Meh, I just felt like we should get it out of the way since someone is sure to jump in and scream about government interference.
        Because all government is bad - except when they are enforcing copyright.

        /s

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:36am

          Re: Re: Re: Verizon can do what it wants

          It's truly sad that it's needed. There are people I've encountered IRL who would argue that service providers can use grants however they wish. They're usually the same people who complain about government waste and interference. The fact that it's private corporations' natural greed and not government oversight that's the real problem escapes them.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:04am

        Re: Re: Verizon can do what it wants

        Treat them as sincere until proven otherwise.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 23 May 2018 @ 1:03am

        Re: Re: Verizon can do what it wants

        Just say that you need a bit more pocket lining before making that call. It's what any politician standing up for the rights of his bank account would do in a conundrum like this.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:08am

      Re: Verizon can do what it wants

      And the Govt has the natural power to break monopolies, sue and get them to keep their obligations when they earned tax incentives to build a network, offer incentives so the private sector will serve more remote or poorer areas etc etc etc. The people can also be angry at their abuses and support Govt efforts to do what I mentioned before.

      Sure, they are free to do as they please. But they will have to face the consequences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        TripMN (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 10:03am

        Re: Re: Verizon can do what it wants

        The problem is: what consequences?

        We've seen almost zero consequences for any of the telecom/ISP antics since the Ma Bell split 30+ years ago.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 6:38am

    >We've never had a way for these customers to see their usage

    If there are no data caps, why would a customer care about their usage?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 7:36am

      Re:

      If there are no data caps, why would a customer care about their usage?

      It could help users figure out the value of the service. My ISP (Ebox in Canada) shows the usage on each bill, broken into daytime/nighttime and download/upload. It clearly shows it's unlimited—they offer capped and uncapped plans, and some people might see they could save a few bucks a month by switching to a capped one. Or when I see a Bell ad for a service with some small cap like 250 GB, I know that's not even worth considering.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      The question is not "Why?" but "Why not?". They certainly have the data already and it is quite easy to display those numbers in a meaningful way, without great cost.
      I have unlimited data, but I am still interested so I know there is at least one who is... besides that they could put the numbers online for general use in statistics and research (without any identifiable information ofc.).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 6:40am

    "But in this case Verizon didn't even bother to offer users an actual usage meter showing their usage. I pressed Verizon as to why, if it's simply concerned about consumers understanding their usage, it didn't just provide users with an actual bandwidth meter?"

    This is the sort of thing that makes me glad I live somewhere with somewhat effective regulation. I'd expect that demanding that you stay within prescribed metered limits but refusing to give you any way to see if you've exceeded those limited would be against consumer protection laws. Even if not, DSL loop unbundling and the like mean that I have effective competition even if DSL was my only broadband option.

    Oh, and bandwidth caps or no, those prices and speeds are frigging horrendous in 2018.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:10am

    "High speed internet"

    So Verizon is trying their hands at comedy now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:36am

      Re:

      Yeah, I was going to remark on that as well. They consider UP TO 500 kbps through 1000 kbps to be HIGH SPEED... maybe in Bizarro World. That's why it's necessary for a regulator agency to set these terms - because companies twist meanings all the time to increase your costs and/or to avoid their responsibilities. 500 kbps might have been considered high speed 25 years ago, but it's not even low speed today.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Canuck, 22 May 2018 @ 6:58pm

      Re:

      Hey, 10 MHz (a relatively low radio frequency) is still called HF (high frequency) many decades after 100 to 1000+ MHz signals were in common use...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rapnel (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 7:20am

    Hardline caps, like the state of the ISP market as a whole, are complete and utter bullshit captured market fuckery.

    Their primary design and purpose is to continue to suck money out of consumers for a puffed up sense of purpose masquerading as service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 7:30am

    Why wouldn't they add caps. All the big cable ISPs have done it. I pay $100 a mo for 100 meg cable internet that has a 1 TB cap on it. Of course for only an additional $49 I can get "unlimited" data like I used to have for many years. It's total bullshit this is allowed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 9:02am

    I am interested in the details of their measurement technique(s). I have yet to find any ISP that will divulge same. They make claims about its veracity but are unwilling, or unable, to provide details.

    For example, do they simply count packets. Do they only count packets that the user initiates? Do they include the packets used for ads from the source? Do they include packets from third party sites? Do they include packets they inject?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 9:30am

      Re:

      My guess is that they don't want to provide real data. Presumably because it will either expose all the zero rating and other tricks they use to give internal services an unfair advantage, or prove that they're overcharging/incorrectly measuring the external bandwidth than they are using.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 9:43am

      Re:

      Dont you love it..
      The best trick you can do, is send a Specific sized File back and forth with another person..

      But, Iv had to express the problems with LAG and interlinks with EACH SYSTEM, not to forget the Last mile..

      Lag can be anything from your system, your GPU, Your router, modem, the Link to the hub, the MAIN internet, The HUB in the area you want to contact, Then the Server you need to talk to.. ALL that and saying that NO POINT is being over used, to many PEOPLE on it..

      If you play games you know the problem of to many people..

      Ever goto ANY of the Speed tests, its Hilarious..
      I prefer a good Ping route, and watching all the lag.
      A few games I played, went OVER THE BORDER...and you could see the Jump point over the borders, on both sides the Ping went up from 40-50, to over 100ms..
      Keep doing Ping around the country and you will see the MAIN intersect of server locations..Where you jump from 1 service to anther, and Also the LAST MILE interconnect..

      ALL of this is part and parcel of the OLD system Merging with the NEW..The MAIN stuff out in the Fields, is Fiber(mostly).. And there are Allot of reasons to KEEP THE HARD WIRE SYSTEM..Wireless has Many problems, and restrictions, Limitations..

      All those speed tests SHOULD be a great avg. of our service in this country, but you are at the Mercy of the END POINT.. Its like having the fastest computer, and connecting to DIALUP at the end. You cant go any faster then the END POINT..and any bottle necks in the middle, DO NOT HELP..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 11:44am

        Re: Re:

        So much this! Wireless is great when you are on the move, but at my job or at home at my desk, I want my dang old school cable connection. We are a long way from wireless without significant packet-loss or jitter.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 9:05am

    "We've never had a way for these customers to see their usage,"

    Back when I had Verizon DSL in VT, it was on my monthly statement, how much I used. Still have it when I look at my FIOS bill as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 2:52am

      Re:

      Do you get a way to view it while the month is in progress, or only on your bill at the end of the month? I think the point is that in order to stay within limits, customers need a way of knowing before they get the bill how much they are using.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 9:21am

    The word for today is ....

    "Flirt" or "Flirting"

    Regardless sounds like someone needs to get laid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 9:27am

    SLOW internet..

    There are a few NICE reasons to have it around..
    IF they would price it LOWER..
    Older persons and those that JUST WANT BASIC EMAIL and to wonder the net..
    A KIDS ACCOUNT
    Security connection. Wireless might be better, but ISNT CHEAP EITHER..
    Mobile cameras for local police. Wireless still requires power, and isnt long term.

    NOW..
    If they would QUIT locking up Tethering on our phones(no real reason, except to CHARGE YOU MORE) we could hook up Many things to the Net thru our phones.. It might even force them to get 4g, 5g, and BETTER SOONER...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 10:51am

    What does one do when ISP usage numbers do not agree with those one might measure themselves? I'm certain the people answering the "service" line will not have any answers and I doubt they will connect you to someone who can or will. So, my conclusion is they want to charge the customer for numbers that can not be verified, everyone is just supposed to take their word for it - as if they are trustworthy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 11:46am

    Just curious

    What are the prices on those packages? It is really sad to see the caps and speeds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Johann Wilkerson, 22 May 2018 @ 1:02pm

    Why? 'Cause money.

    Verizon can't keep making it rain dollars on congress and the FCC without collecting extra bucks from somewhere. And who's gonna cough up those bucks? You? Oh, wait... yeah... all us us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard Bennett (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 1:15pm

    Today's Big Lie

    "But there's simply no legitimate reason for Verizon to even be hinting at usage caps."

    Actually, there is a legitimate reason and I think it doesn't take much thought to figure it out. Verizon believes, rightly in my view, that consumers should have an idea of how much data they're sending and receiving.

    This will help cord cutters figure out whether it's reasonable for them to drop DSL service and go all-in for a wireless alternative.

    Bodey McBodeface is a big fan of DSL (he was founding editor of DSL Reports, a pirate's guide to ISPs), but to most of America it's an anachronism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 2:20pm

      Re: Today's Big Lie

      Opinions are like assholes .. everyone has one.

      What is a pirates guide to ISPs? This sounds like good reading material.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 22 May 2018 @ 4:47pm

      Re: Today's Big Lie

      Actually, there is a legitimate reason and I think it doesn't take much thought to figure it out. Verizon believes, rightly in my view, that consumers should have an idea of how much data they're sending and receiving.

      This will help cord cutters figure out whether it's reasonable for them to drop DSL service and go all-in for a wireless alternative.

      The average consumer wouldn't know the difference between a kilobyte and a terabyte if their life depended on it. Nobody has any idea what the size of anythings is and they don't want to know. It's just meaningless techno-babble to them. You could make up a nonsense measurement and nobody would know the difference.

      Seriously, stop ten people on the street and ask them to tell you what size order kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes go in. I'd be surprised if you can find even one person who knows.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 9:18pm

      Re: Today's Big Lie

      So customers should know the difference between bytes but shouldn't be expected to know about net neutrality.

      Right, Richard.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 9:30pm

      Re: Today's Big Lie

      Ok, let's break this down shall we?

      Verizon believes, rightly in my view, that consumers should have an idea of how much data they're sending and receiving.

      No disagreement with this statement in and of itself. Every person should be able to see how much data they use if they want to. They do NOT need data caps to do it.

      What is a data cap? A data cap is a limit on how much data you are allowed to download per month over your internet connection (hence the term "cap"). If you go over this, either your download speed will be throttled, you will be charged extra, or both. Charging you for the additional data you use is most common.

      You don't need a data cap to tell you how much data you use in a month. Most ISPs will provide that info to you if you ask for it. Plus there are dozens, if not hundreds of free and paid for tools that you can install on your PC, router, firewall, etc... that will monitor all your network traffic for you and report not only how much you use but what you use.

      Additionally, there is NO reason to implement a data cap on wired internet service, so the data caps are purely arbitrary in the first place. (mobile is a separate discussion but carriers did and some still do offer unlimited data plans so even that is sketchy)

      This will help cord cutters figure out whether it's reasonable for them to drop DSL service and go all-in for a wireless alternative.

      How? By artificially creating a downside to wireline internet and PUNISHING them for going over an arbitrary and capricious limit? And if they're going over their WIRELINE data caps, which are typically much higher than data caps on wireless, why the hell would someone even consider switching to wireless where they are going to pay MORE because the amount they go over that lower cap is going to be greater than what they would go over a higher cap on wired? Plus, as I mentioned above, there are other tools that can more accurately tell you how much data you use that DON'T punish you for using "too much" data.

      Actually, there is a legitimate reason and I think it doesn't take much thought to figure it out.

      Only if you've been paid to say so by big ISPs. Seriously dude. Stop. This is embarrassing. This makes absolutely no sense otherwise.

      is a big fan of DSL

      [Citation needed]

      DSL Reports, a pirate's guide to ISPs

      What does this even mean? How to pirate an internet connection for free? Because that's pretty hard to near impossible unless you have someone on the inside. Or do you mean pirate content? Hmm, quick look at the site, yeah not much in the way of how to pirate ANYTHING.

      Try again Richard.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2018 @ 1:07am

        Re: Re: Today's Big Lie

        Isn't it funny how Richard Bennett swore up and down that repealing net neutrality wasn't intended as a magic bullet for antipiracy enforcement, yet the topic of piracy keeps coming up in his defenses of Pai, even when Karl's original article has fuck all to do with piracy to begin with?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2018 @ 9:00am

          Re: Re: Re: Today's Big Lie

          He is most likely an industry hack - I wonder if our comments are used in his performance appraisal.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Last chance! Campaign ends at midnight! Get your copy of the CIA's declassified training game by backing CIA: Collect It All on Kickstarter.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mmasnick/cia-collect-it-all

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 3:05pm

    Classic slight of hand being done here. Verizon has folks all worried about data caps on a service they advertise as 'High Speed' that promises UP TO .5~1.0 mbps.

    Perhaps the discussion should be on the fact that Verizon still has areas where up to .5mbps is considered High Speed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 22 May 2018 @ 4:49pm

    If there are no caps, it doesn't matter how much data people use. They don't care just as long as stuff works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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