The Internet Costs More Today, Thanks to AT&T

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So long cheap Internet, we hardly knew ya: AT&T’s broadband data caps go into effect today, reigning in data gobblers and dashing the dreams of high volume file-sharing freebooters. Ahoy, thar be usage checks ahead.

Actually “data caps” isn’t accurate. They’re not caps at all. They don’t cork up your DSL or fiber line when you hit your plan’s magic number. Say you do–AT&T just dings you with an extra service fee. AT&T U-Verse customers ride free until they hit 250GB a month, while AT&T DSL customers top out at 150GB. Go over those marks, and you’ll now pay $10 a month more, plus $10 again every 50GB thereafter.

Think of it more like a data threshold, then.

Trouble is, you have to poke around AT&T’s website and unearth customer service terms and usage FAQs to find that info. The company’s tucked it discreetly away, probably hoping it won’t scare customers who might opt for uncapped alternatives (like Verizon’s FIOS).

What AT&T ought to be doing, is laying out those monthly thresholds in its U-Verse and DSL service comparison tiers. The days of “unlimited data” are bygone, and high volume data customers could well incur substantial monthly extras. They need to know what’s what before signing up, and with that information fully disclosed, not asterisked to an FAQ link in tiny eyeball-wrenching print, bottom of the page.

I’ll give AT&T this: At least they’re not data throttling. I’ve had that sorry experience with satellite providers (Wild Blue, the worst of the worst) and international broadband ISPs (while living in the UK) and it’s wretched. Once you’ve been throttled, just getting a single HTML-only web page to load can take minutes. It’s like surfing with a 14.4k modem (remember those?). No one wants that. At least AT&T’s still in essence saying “have all you can eat.” Now the heaviest users just have to pay a little extra for it.

What I’d like next, speaking as a U-verse data guzzler myself, is to see AT&T offer some reassurances about where the extra money scraped from the so-called “top 2% of customers [using] about 20% of the total capacity” is going. Paying more doesn’t make anyone’s DSL or U-Verse connections go faster or mitigate congestion, nor does it necessarily deter that 2% from using the same amount or more as media streaming and data downloading services flourish.

But it could be money that’s invested in widening the data lanes–or laying new ones. And that’s what has to happen, since services like Netflix and Hulu are just the tip of the spearpoints held by a potential consumer phalanx of billions.