Reality bytes with Comcast cap on Internet
Don't say I didn't warn you.
Weeks ago we learned about a pilot project for a metered Internet, a tiny Time Warner test program that began capping broadband use for customers in Beaumont, Texas, based on how many gigabytes they download.
Well, come Oct. 1, what amounted to little more than an eyebrow-raising tech brief on CNet.com is now the official policy of Comcast, the largest cable company and second-largest Internet service provider in the United States, serving about 13 million customers nationwide.
If you're one of those 13 million, now might be a good time to jump ship while there are still alternative ISPs to rescue you.
Asking how long before all other major ISPs follow suit is like asking how fast United and Delta would install pay toilets in their jets once American Airlines came up with the idea.
The reasons for all this could fill at least three columns (and did back in late June, early July). But for the sake of being concise, here's one that will work as a talking point: Increasingly, people are content to watch fuzzy versions of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" for free on YouTube rather than pay hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege on cable or satellite TV. Giant multimedia conglomerates are getting tired of losing subscription-based TV business to their subscription-based Internet business.
Fortunately, the news gets a little better. Unfortunately, it then gets much, much worse.
Unlike the pilot project's 40GB limit, Comcast will give all its customers 250GB per month. That sounds like a big number until you realize your current cap is 250GB plus infinity.
Still, in 2008 terms, even a freedom-loving Net citizen like myself has to admit, 250GB is a big field of ones and zeroes to play in. In July SurplusMeter (a simple application that tracks your gigabyte pace) revealed I plow through a mere 46GB per month, and I roll at 20 times the rate of a typical user.
Like Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show," it will take most people a long time to discover that their virtual lives exist in a constricted space. But also like the movie, it's only a matter of time before they do. And for more than a few, that time will be no later than Oct. 1.
Say you're a member of the 21st century version of "The Waltons." You don't say "Goodnight, John-Boy," as much as text-message it. On cold winter nights while Grandma downloads from knittingpatternscentral.com, all of you sit by the fire and watch "Transformers" in hi-def through your AppleTV. Soon your usage caps will start to feel as tight as Grandpa Walton's overalls after Thanksgiving dinner.
Also unlike the pilot program, Comcast subscribers won't be charged extra if they go over the 250GB limit. Whew! But here's where the news takes a horrific hairpin turn into the insane.
Comcast won't charge extra, because if you go past 250GB twice in six months, your Internet service will be suspended -- for a year. I'm not kidding. Comcast is tossing heavy Web users into the same tank as drunken drivers: If you don't behave, they'll take away your license.
Go to your room. You're grounded. No Internet for you.
But don't worry. I'm sure they'll still let you pay them to watch good ol' TV.