Aug 11, 2014

Should carriers be allowed to throttle heavy “unlimited data” users?

Verizon and the FCC are having a bit of a spat over Verizon’s practice of throttling “unlimited data” customers when they go past a certain amount of data. As far as I know, this is also something that most, if not all, carriers do with their unlimited data. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it does seem a little like a bait and switch to tell people they will have unlimited data, then put in the small print (or perhaps not at all for grandfathered customers) that the data will be slowed down if they actually make use of some arbitrary amount. On the other hand, mobile faces bandwidth limitations that are real, as many people who have tried to use their mobile devices at a crowded sporting event with tens of thousands of devices in use. Who is right on this issue?

Sure, why not? If they are clogging up the network too much then it's only fair to the other customers to prevent that. That's not going to make the unlimited data users happy but that's just reality.

As much as it pains me to say this, I actually see Verizon’s point on this. I know a couple of people with unlimited plans that pretty much abuse it. One guy streams movies and youtube videos all day at work over his phone, and I mean literally all day. He will put on a concert video or a comedian’s concert and just let it play. When I’ve asked him about it, he says he doesn’t care because he is grandfathered in with unlimited data and he isn’t slowing down the office network. That’s a lot of bandwidth. Over the course of a month, figure that he has slightly over 20 work days, and he is probably streaming 5 hours of video minimum per day, so 100 hours at 1GB per hour (a conservative estimate), and he is using 100GB of data monthly over his cell’s data plan. That’s absurd, and if you get a sizable minority of people acting like that it could slow the wireless network for lots of people. It’s not like copper or fiber, there is a legitimate capacity concern for wireless.


More annoying are ISPs’ data caps and throttling of certain types of data, such as Netflix. There is almost zero incremental cost in additional data, and yet they impose relatively low limits and charge significant overage fees. I’d rather the FCC address this than throttling by wireless carriers.

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