The word unlimited is uttered and various images come to mind. Some people think of the sky, the stars, or the vast oceans that line the Earth. However, rarely do they think of a river being choked by a dam, allowing only a trickle of water through. AT&T and Verizon, the two largest wireless carriers in the world, seemed to have adopted that definition. The two companies have made it a habit of lowering the available bandwidth to the top five percent users on unlimited plans. This is even after both companies stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers since 2011. One user has even sued and won, claiming he was defrauded since AT&T cut off his bandwidth when he was paying 85 dollars a month for unlimited data. The whole situation seems rather unsettling for both consumers and America at large.
AT&T made the claim that the top five percent of unlimited plan users were hogging too much of the available bandwidth. According to a new study however, this isn’t true. The study showed that the top five percent of tiered users consume about as much bandwidth as their unlimited plan cousins. The main difference is that tiered users pay for that bandwidth. It’s unsavory to think that AT&T and Verizon are engaging profiteering at the expense of what appears to be a clear cut ethical issue. Regardless of what your politics are about the regulation of business, all sides of the spectrum agree that you should get what you pay for. Though not all the blame should be placed on the current administrations these telecommunication companies. Some, should be placed on their predecessors.
When Al Gore said that he invented the internet, he was referring to a group of legislative bills that he authored that helped spur the creation of infrastructure that would allow the web to exist. This broadband throttling speaks to a deeper issue. America, as a nation, is falling behind in broadband penetration. Currently, we rank 19th in the world, behind Canada, France and Bermuda. It’s true that bridges and roads are falling apart too, but internet infrastructure needs to be addressed. The United States is entering a post-industrial economic phase where technological services create more jobs such as in IT support and computer engineering. In my view, restoring the glory of the past is nice, but creating a future is realistic.
Throttling is an issue that should concern individual consumers and nation-states alike. It’s wrong for businesses to claim a product is one thing, but then to deliver something else. It’s equally wrong for the United States to put improving our data infrastructure on the back burner. However, as the wise man said, the first step of avoiding a trap is knowing there’s one there.