Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
Two stories of interest this week.
The first story is about the FCC’s decision to open the so called “white space” spectrum, to allow for new wireless services. This is good news for those hoping for more competition in the broadband market, and has been long anticipated by companies such as Google, Dell, and other companies. The decision wasn’t without caveats. For instance, since wireless mics use the same spectrum, in larger cities, white space broadcast services cannot be located near stadiums or theaters.
This is about the only positive glimmer of news to those of us who also heard this week that AT&T is now testing broadband caps in the Reno, Nevada market. Broadband caps which will, most likely, be rolled out to the rest of the country early next year.
The caps are aggressive, too. For instance, Comcast set its cap at 250GB, but AT&T is looking at only 20GB for its lowest subscriber plan, and 80GB for its highest vanilla DSL account. You only get the 150GB cap the company mentions most frequently in the press releases, bundled in with the company’s Uverse services.
How will this impact on services such as Netflix’s WatchNow, which has also been so much in the news, recently? Especially with the new Netflix WatchNow HD offerings on XBox 360 and Tivo?
Netflix has stated that the broadband requirement for HD when using XBox is high—too high with these caps. Roku earlier stated that it wasn’t worried about caps but that was back when we were discussing Comcast’s 250GB limit, not the much smaller AT&T limits. Even with Roku’s efficient techniques, we’re looking at 1GB per hour for standard definition, probably 2-3GB for HD. This works out to about 1-2 hours of programming a night before hitting the broadband cap with AT&T, and that’s not including other internet usage.
The caps AT&T are setting are so aggressive, that the lower end accounts will have to be wary of even accessing sites that automatically run a lot of video. They’ll certainly want to pause before uploading a lot of photos, because uploads also figure into the broadband cap.
AT&T’s move is the first on the part of a DSL provider, but probably won’t be the last. It is a move that now ensures that entire markets have little or no choice when it comes to capped broadband access. Most people using AT&T are probably now wishing they lived in a Comcast region, because Comcast’s caps at least give one a fighting chance at video over the internet.
A few major players haven’t put caps on yet, including Verizon. However, it is only a matter of time before it, too, begins to cap. All of the major broadband providers provide entertainment services that directly compete with video over the internet—they’re not going to allow this competition to occur without fighting it tooth, nail, and byte.
The news of AT&T’s new caps is highly suspicious, coming on the tail of many new announcements about Hulu, Joost, and especially Netflix’s WatchNow. AT&T’s move can only be seen as saber rattling, in an attempt to foster uncertainty about broadband availability before the Christmas rush to buy Roku devices, or that new XBox 360. I don’t know why AT&T doesn’t just come out and say, don’t waste your time on these boxes—the only option you have is UVerse. Why not give into the force?
About the only thing that can save video over the internet now, is if the companies who are dependent on the concept fight back at the broadband suppliers, or if new broadband options open up in the white space spectrum. Even then, I’m not sure that the newer players to the broadband market wouldn’t begin already capped.
What do I plan on doing when I get hit with broadband caps? I plan on reading more. Access to books is the one thing the telecoms and entertainment companies can’t restrict.