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AT&T, the country’s largest Internet provider, has announced that it is testing the idea of limiting the amount of data subscribers can use each month. The proposed limitation would initially apply in Reno, Nevada–but could likely extend across the country. Starting in November, they will limit downloads to 20 gigabytes per month for users of their slowest DSL service, at 768 kilobits per second. The limit increases with the speed of the plan, up to 150 gigabytes per month at the 10 megabits-per-second level. Customers will be able to track usage through the AT&T website. AT&T has yet to decide whether customers will be charged for going over the prescribed restrictions. Comcast Corp., the country’s second-largest Internet provider, has already introduced restrictions on the amount of data users can upload and download each month. However, rather than charging customers for exceeding the limitation, Comcast simply cancels their service.
These data limitations are the industry’s solution to curbing a small number of “bandwidth hogs” who use a lot of the network capacity. According to an AT&T spokesperson, 5 percent of subscribers use approximately 50 percent of the total capacity. However, it does not seem fair that everyone should have to pay for the wrongs of a few. Rather than completely canceling a customer’s service, it would be more beneficial for Internet providers to simply charge a fee for excessive data use or follow Verizon Communications Inc.’s lead in refusing to place data limitations on customers.
Recently, Democrats have renewed the call for net neutrality legislation to ensure that all Internet users have access to necessary information and data in an increasingly high tech world. Senator Byron Dorgan intends to unveil a new proposal in January to that effect. It will be interesting to see how this proposal affects the sanctions the FCC imposed against Comcast this past summer.
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