Low broadband transfer limits may lead to net neutrality worries

I can’t move for hearing about the new xbox/PC game ‘Bioshock’, and was going to download the demo just now. Unfortunately, it’s almost 2gb. That’s a serious chunk of my 12gb monthly limit, which I usually skirt anyway, so I’m thinking twice.

I’m sure this problem won’t exist for much longer. It can’t: transfer limits are increasingly out-of-sync with average need. It’s been all about speed for a few years, but transfer limits must surely be the next battleground.

Most broadband customers have 2gb monthly limits. 2gb/month is only 67mb/day, which on my connection takes about ten minutes to download. Surely there must be a lot of people already getting charged more / cut off? Even if you’re not BitTorrent-ing (and a lot of people are), chances are you’re watching movie trailers, emailing photos and downloading music. And with high-quality video streamers like the BBC iPlayer just around the corner, 67mb a day is quickly going to look pitiful.

I don’t know how cynical to be about the responses of BT etc.. Chances are there’ll be a period where they just charge everybody more, then somebody will take the ‘revolutionary’ stand of offering higher transfer limits and everybody else will quickly catch up. The worry is they’ll use the issue as a chance to demand money from websites, as they’re currently threatening in the US.

Not content with already getting paid by everybody, telecommunications companies want to instigate a tiered-system by which Google etc. will have to pay more for their data to be transferred at higher speeds. It’s not a big step from there1 to demanding money for basic accessibility, which completely breaks the democratic nature of the web. Currently, the smallest startup can compete with Google: if they’re successful enough, they’ll be able to find investors to help with bandwidth costs. But having to pay for basic accessibility would prevent them getting off the ground. There’s no reason for telecommunications companies to care, so it’s up to governments to regulate.

The counter-reaction of the “Net Neutrality” movement is vocal, but it’s not hard to make a convincing-sounding case for the other side using words like ‘government interference’, ‘freedom’ and ‘free market’2. I don’t think it’s yet clear which way governments will go on this issue.

  1. yeah, I know slippery slopes are logical fallacies, but remember that BT tried to demand money after claiming they owned copyright on the hyperlink – I don’t think this is beyond their capitalist brief []
  2. I wonder how libertarians deal with this particular issue. Democratic internet = yay, but regulation = bad. Probably the latter – hatred of government tends to trump all other considerations, in my experience []