Why Cable ISP Capping is the New DRM, and Suck

I, like many people, have been subscribing to Internet connection services since the days of 3600 baud modems. Then I upgraded to 14.4k, 36.6k, 56k, DSL, and now cable. Unfortunately, due to where I am living today, I'm stuck on 3 Mbit Verizon DSL service, which is often running at less than 1 Mbit. Thankfully, my service doesn't have a download cap on it--at least not yet anyway.

Much like everyone reading this article, I'm a genuine supporter of advancement in hardware and technology services. Suffice to say, I was happy with the progression of Internet connection services over the years. Recently, however, I would have to say that Internet connection advancement in the U.S. and Canada has been purely an interest of the corporation that provides them and not about serving the consumer--you--and the advancement of technology in America in general.

In late March, I wrote an article on Tom's Hardware explaining why HDCP (high definition content protection) is the bane of movie watchers everywhere. Not only is HDCP an invasive technology that kills the enjoyment of movies for enthusiasts, it does nothing to stop pirates. We all know this to be true.

Don't think for a moment though, that big media doesn't know this--they absolutely do. Now, they have a new plan. Since big media can't directly go after pirates, they've decided to go after to after the group of people who they think can't do a thing about it: anyone using an Internet connection.


Several years ago while at DailyTech, I wrote a series on net neutrality. If you haven't heard, the big issue on net neutrality is about ISPs creating tiers of net connections for both businesses and consumers. Tiers allow companies to effectively charge you more for your downloading habits rather than the speed you're after. Net connection services have always been mainly about speed for the consumer. Want to subscribe to a faster service? Pay more. It was simple and effective. Without net neutrality, ISPs not only charges for speed packages but also for how much you download.

At the time, Verizon and others were very vocal about net neutrality, especially when the U.S. government and FCC were looking into the matter. Verizon and others made it clear that net neutrality was much ado about nothing. They lied.

Time Warner Cable, which provides Internet connectivity for millions is a big opposition to net neutrality. Alright, let's cut the bull: Time Warner Cable, which provides Internet connectivity for millions, wants to screw you.

But TWC isn't the only company out there with an interest in charging customers more for less. Most major ISPs are on the same bandwagon. The big reason for this? Online video and music.

Cable companies have a vested interest in protecting their business, which is providing TV and movie services to their millions of subscribers. The more online movie and music services that pop online, the more threat there is to their bread and butter. The only way cable providers can slow this process down or stop it, is to limit how much you're able to download.

This week, TWC released a new set of tiered connection plans ranging from a ridiculous 1 GB per month plan to something TWC calls the 100 GB "super tier" plan. Super?

"We need a viable model to be able to support the infrastructure of the broadband business," said Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt. Despite what Britt claimed, 2008 was actually a great year for TWC: 10-percent more subscribers, but operating costs didn't go up. So what kind of math did Mr. Britt learn in school? Not the kind of math I learned; but that doesn't matter since Britt has an annual salary of $16.2 million.

Here's some more logical math for your consumption: consider TWC's 40 GB tier. It costs a whopping $54.90 per month. If you only watch 7.25 hours a video per week, via Netflix, your Xbox 360, or any other service, you will be slapped with a bill of $200 at the end of the month. Worried? "Don't worry," says TWC's COO Landel Hobbs.

"Overage charges will be capped at $75 per month. That means that for $150 per month customers could have virtually unlimited usage at Turbo speeds," says Hobbs.

That's an incredible deal if I ever saw one. Right? (sarcasm).

YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and many other online video services are becoming more and more popular. Arguably, Netflix is putting Blockbuster out of business. Hulu, iTunes, and others like it are a major threat as well. Tiered plans however, ensure that you only get to watch a limited number of videos per month as well keep your downloading of videos to a minimum. Why have a really fast net connection to enjoy online media services and downloading when in reality, you can't?

The answer is: so you, your friends, your family, and anyone else you know that has an Internet connection can keep dumping money into traditional cable programming. TWC, AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and others are not for the consumer in any way, shape, or form. Because of their traditional business practice, which is quickly becoming obsolete, cable providers want to make sure you, the consumer, will pay more to keep them afloat.

Download capping is the new DRM.

It ensures several things:

- You will be more hesitant to download movies and music legitimately--even though you've paid to watch/listen.
- You will watch more cable TV (so you can see all those great ads).
- You will accidentally pay more for less.
- Pirates get a whacking.

Big media and ISPs can't effectively eliminate piracy by going after pirates directly or stop online video and music streaming services. So they have a better plan now: go after everyone.

You can do something about TWC and others. A for-consumer organization called FreePress has an online petition, which is 500,000 strong at the moment, aiming to get Congress to put a stop to capping. Sign up here and make a stand.

Glenn Britt, Landel Hobbs, or anyone at TWC who still cares about the consumer, I invite you to e-mail me at tuannguyen at bestofmedia.com. I'll be delighted to talk about how to bring your business into the 21st century.

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  • waawaamp
    i have signed the petition, even though i'm in the uk, i want to stop this heading towards me. any other uk persons writing in should either know a valid US zip code or use this combination:

    State: CA

    zip: 902101011 (yes i only know beverly hills, the other 4 digits is a zip+4)

    god help us all.
  • Belinda
    If they do heavily cap, people who use pireted content will move to paying someone local for it on DVD etc. This will in effect lead to more money going to organised crime.
  • rako77
    I hope you win the fight against caped broadband. And then australia might have a chance at getting unmetered broadband(fight as hard as you can because our plans suck). I only found out today that Telstra who controls all copper cabling in australia, own 50% of the foxtel(dominates Australia's pay tv market) so one company with so much power has put australia behind the rest of the world in our broadband. I hope the US introduces legislation that will stop this from happening and then australia will hopefully follow.