It is certainly debatable if today’s children will know what a CD or DVD is, much less a videotape or cassette tape or a record (33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm: What are those?). YouTube, Spotify, streaming, the Cloud: Why on earth would anyone ever have needed to have an actual physical object to stick into a hard drive or CD/DVD player?
To watch all those videos and listen to all that music and chat on Facebook and play whatever online games you please, people need more and more amounts of broadband at home and at higher and higher speeds. Many have become accustomed to unlimited bandwidth and balk at the idea of it being pay-per-use. But as the New York Times puts it, while “the broadband era began with the expectation that Internet connections were like buffets” of the all-you-eat, whenever-you-want variety, users are now having to think about how much they are “consuming” and they’re not liking the “diet” broadband providers are putting them on.
In south Texas, Time Warner Cable customers have been provided with a “usage tracker.” The “light” plan gives you 5 gigabytes of broadband a month (just enough to download two high-definition movies) and a $5 discount a month if you stay within limits. If not, it is $1 for every additional gigabyte. Other broadband providers are also implementing usage-based billing, charging users more for higher speeds and more broadband use.
Comcast already caps Internet usage at 250 gigabytes per customer a month, though few users exceed that.
The change to metered broadband is one that users will surely not welcome. Neither do companies such as Netflix, which provide videos via online streaming. The US Justice Department’s antitrust lawyers are investigating whether internet provider companies like Comcast have engaged in anticompetitive pricing; whether there is simply not enough competition in the industry so that prices are kept high and many households are without access.
The issue of metering out broadband is not only due to home entertainment. “Along with news and entertainment, the futures of entire industries — commerce, health care and transportation — are being built atop a broadband foundation,” notes the New York Times.
The United Nations has decreed that the Internet is a “fundamental human right” though not everyone agrees. But should access to broadband and to higher speeds and greater quantities of gigabytes be equally a right or, at the very least, more readily available to all? Are there too few providers so that not only is there tiered pricing, but disparate levels of Internet access to information, knowledge and opportunities?
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