from the monopolies-are-like-pepperoni dept
For a long time now, we’ve explained how broadband usage caps are bullshit. They serve no technical purpose on the network, and aren’t genuinely helpful in managing congestion. Their real role is several fold: one, they let ISPs charge US consumers (who already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world) even higher rates; two, they let ISPs falsely advertise a lower price than they actually charge; and three, they can be abused anticompetitively (exempting an ISP’s own streaming content from caps while still penalizing a competitor like Netflix).
Despite this, regulators historically haven’t much cared, even during a pandemic showcasing how affordable broadband is essential for survival. And ISPs keep slowly expanding the adoption of such caps across the states in the hopes nobody will notice (think of the boiling frog metaphor with you as the frog).
That includes Colorado-based Wide Open West (WOW), which recently announced it would be implementing new usage caps and overage fees for its subscribers starting June 1, 2021. Utterly tone deaf to the fact there’s a pandemic and economic crisis going on, the ISP attempts to soften the blow by pretending that costly, confusing broadband caps and overage fees are akin to delicious pizza:
“What’s a monthly data usage plan? Let us illustrate ?
Imagine that the WOW! network is a pizza. Piping hot. Toppings galore. Every WOW! customer gets their own slice of pizza, but the size of their slice is dependent on their Internet service plan. While customers who subscribe to 1 Gig get the largest slices, those with Internet 500 get a slightly smaller piece, and so on. But, it’s all the same delicious, high-speed pizza that you know and love.”
To be clear, broadband is not remotely comparable to pizza. On a properly constructed and funded network you don’t just suddenly run out of “pizza” because there’s a few gluttons about. Smart network optimization technology is routinely used to ensure that doesn’t happen. Also note that while WOW is busy talking about pizza, at no point can they be bothered to clearly state what their new, arbitrary usage limit is (1 to 3 terabytes depending on your plan):
“Now, say you’re not full after your slice and you grab another. That extra slice is like a data overage. Don’t worry?we got extra pizza… umm, data… just in case. If you exceed your data allowance, we’ll automatically apply increments of 50GB for $10 to your account for the remainder of the current calendar month. Total overage charges will not exceed $50 per billing statement no matter how much data you use. Even better?the first time you experience a data overage, we’ll proactively waive fees.”
How nice of you to “proactively waive fees” from arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions (WOW used to use a lack of a cap as marketing bragging rights). Again, there’s no reason for these restrictions to exist outside of boosting revenues. And it’s a tactic that only works thanks to limited competition, as many of these customers will have no alternative ISP to switch to. ISPs also know people get bogged down in conversations about whether “one terabyte is generous,” which distracts from the reality that these limits shouldn’t exist at all on a properly built network.
ISPs spent many years trying to pretend that usage caps were necessary due to congestion. But after data scientists, network engineers, and even the industry’s own leaked memos repeatedly proved that wasn’t true, the industry finally stopped. These days, ISPs will usually just implement the restrictions without bothering to justify them, knowing there’s no regulatory or competitive penalty. But if you’re “lucky,” you’ll get an ISP which feels inclined to get creative as they try to pretend that screwing you over is something you should actively enjoy.