from the pay-more-for-less dept
Time and time again, we’ve noted how the broadband industry’s justifications for usage caps just don’t hold water. And while the industry used to falsely claim that caps were necessary due to congestion or to save us all from the bullshit “exaflood,” the industry has slowly but surely stopped using any justification at all for what’s really just glorified rate hikes on uncompetitive markets. These days, big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast looking to impose usage caps either give no justification whatsoever, or pretend they’re doing consumers a favor by providing more “choice and flexibility.”
But over the last year, we’ve seen more and more broadband industry executives making it abundantly clear that usage caps just aren’t necessary. For example, Dane Jasper, CEO of independent California ISP Sonic, this week made it clear that there’s simply no good justification for caps as the cost to provide broadband services continues to drop. Apparently, you’ll be shocked to learn, the “exaflood” was just a bogus bogeyman concocted to help ISPs scare regulators into turning a blind eye to price gouging:
“The cost of increasing [broadband] capacity has declined much faster than the increase in data traffic,” says Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, an independent ISP based in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Jasper, of course, has reason to challenge his much larger rivals. However, he also backed up his argument with real numbers. A few years ago Sonic (formerly Sonic.net) spent about 20 percent of its revenue on basic infrastructure. Since then, the cost of routers, switching equipment and other related gear declined so much that Jasper says the company’s infrastructure costs are now only a bit more than 1.5 percent of its revenue.
For this reason, Sonic has no plans to impose data caps, according to Jasper.
And though Sonic tends to have more consumer friendly policies overall, Jasper’s not alone in admitting this. Frontier Communications, growing at an astounding rate after recently acquiring Verizon’s unwanted Texas, California, and Florida broadband customers, this week stated it also has no plans to impose caps anytime soon. Why? Well one reason is they bungled the merger so badly they’re walking a PR tight rope right now. But company CEO Dan McCarthy also makes it clear the cost to deliver broadband is dropping, making caps unnecessary:
“We want to make sure our products meet the needs of customers for what they want to do and it does not inhibit them or force them to make decisions on how they want to use the product. The nice part of technology and what has happened is that transport costs continue to decline and by putting in the packet optical fabric it takes away a lot of those constraints,” McCarthy said. “There may be a time when usage-based pricing is the right solution for the market, but I really don’t see that as a path the market is taking at this point in time.”
Even companies that do plan to impose usage caps have occasionally admitted that caps are completely untethered from network or financial realities.
St. Louis-based cable operator Suddenlink has caps ranging from 250 GB to 550 GB, depending on speed. Its customers pay the increasingly-standard $10 per each additional 50 GB consumed, and have the “option” of paying an additional fee to avoid usage caps entirely. Yet outgoing Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent made it abundantly clear on a conference call last fall that the days of investing serious amounts of capital into the network are long gone (especially for cable, where DOCSIS upgrades are relatively inexpensive). These days, the name of the game is milking your captive customers for all they’re worth:
“I think one of the things people don?t realize [relates to] the question of capital intensity and having to keep spending to keep up with capacity,? Kent said. ?Those days are basically over, and you are seeing significant free cash flow generated from the cable operators as our capital expenditures continue to come down.”
These are three CEO admissions worth remembering as companies like AT&T (which just started heavily capping its customers last month) and Comcast (whose usage cap “trials” expand at a rabid clip) push whatever bullshit, half-baked excuse is in vogue this month for what’s effectively just a toll on captive broadband customers.