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Why Data Caps Will Discourage Progress

March 29, 2011

I find it strange that as technology gets better and internet connections get faster, companies are starting to cap the amount of usage at disturbingly low levels. This is the case in Canada, where 2 big ISPs have capped monthly data at 2GB (Shaw has also capped data, but at 15GB monthly).

This turn of events has caused ramifications for end users, with many people who play games online and stream content having to cut back or stop entirely.

Now, though, companies that provide these services are cutting back in an attempt to keep users from dropping their services entirely. Ars Technica reports today that Netflix has dropped their standard streaming settings in Canada from “Best” and “Better” to “Good” in hopes that users are not deterred from watching videos. When at “Best,” Netflix consumes about 1GB per hour of standard content and 2.3GB per hour of HD content, ruling it out entirely for many Canadians.

If similar data capping expands to the US, will it even be feasible for Netflix to keep “Best” as an option? The technology will be there, but the limits on consumers will limit the growth of Netflix and similar services. What would the implications be for Silicon Valley? Instead of utilizing technology to push things forward, we’ll be stuck with low usage services that can’t utilize the latest technologies, hindering their growth in the US.

As future content providers we should recognize the damage this could do. If a user can only stream 20 videos in a month, what’s to say they would watch ours? The already competitive nature of the internet will become even more so. Creative uses of multimedia may be deemed too taxing for the average user to view in a data capped society. All of the power of the internet may be traded in for text to encourage users to read what we have to say.

It’s not a pretty picture. We need unlimited access to data to continue making progress. A data cap would be a step backwards for users and content creators.

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