That evil cable TV is even more evil now. The ISPs see cable TV as a total disaster so they need bandwidth caps on the Internet so you cannot view streaming video. That means I am stuck with buying $20-$40 Blurays and DVDs that I only watch twice.
If you’re a gamer, internet service provider data caps are an important topic of conversation. Actually, if you’re a fan of broadband-reliant entertainment at all, you need to think about limits on bandwidth. But as the games industry marches forward into digital distribution with no sign of stopping, heightened regulations on internet usage are an increasing problem. The providers have long-stated data caps are a plan to make internet access fair for everyone, but the limits are in direct opposition to the interests of gamers.
Who is Capping and Why?
^ The only way to get whats on cable 24/7/365 at low price anymore
The practice of limiting – or charging more – for larger bandwidth usage has turned into a hot topic in the tech community over the last few years. According to Gigaom, over 64-percent of Americans’ internet service providers apply some form of cap to broadband usage. Until recently, many of those ISPs would actually terminate your internet access if you exceeded the set limit under your service plan. Comcast, for example, employed such a “hard cap” until last year, when the company moved to a “soft cap” 300GB in certain markets – from 250GB – and started charging $10 for additional 50GB blocks of data.
Comcast, of course, is hardly the only ISP enacting such policies. The majority of major broadband services, like AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Cox, are employing similar policies. If you’re using a massive, nationwide ISP, chances are data caps are part of your future, if not your present.
The Myth of Congestion
Internet Service Providers have spent a lot of time insisting data caps are all about keeping internet usage fair, stopping “bandwidth hogs” from congesting the local network at peak times. Critics have argued the congestion argument was nothing more than a myth, used by companies to increase revenue by charging higher prices for increased data usage. And just recently, former FCC chair – and current president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association – Michael Powell finally admitted data caps are more about “costs” forced on ISPs to maintain infrastructure.
“Our principal purpose is how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost,” said Powell, according to Broadcasting & Cable. “It is a completely rational and acceptable process to figure out how to fairly allocate those costs among your consumers who are choosing the service and will pay you to recover those costs.”
Unfortunately, ISPs are actually doing very little to distribute those costs fairly. While it’s completely reasonable to charge more to users with higher bandwidth usage, such “tiered” plans rarely offer lower-cost plans for those using less data. Instead, ISPs yank up the baseline price for heavier users, increasing their total revenue. And little of the money brought in by ISPs is reinvested into infrastructure to curb bandwidth problems. According to Wired, Time Warner Cable made $1.13 billion in revenue from broadband in the first quarter of 2011, but only reinvested 3-percent on improving its networks.
Gaming Data on the Rise
Downloadable game distribution is more prevalent year-over-year, driving down sales at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. While bigger triple-A titles still make a significant dent on the market in the form of physical copies, we’re also on the cusp of the next generation of home consoles. Will Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo continue to push for digital via their own marketplaces? Absolutely.
Take a look at this chart, showing my own recent internet usage from Time Warner Cable. You’ve probably noticed a steady increase from October through January, and there’s a very simple explanation: I downloaded a bunch of games and watched a lot of streaming movies in those months. The holidays are a time of increased media releases, and so my bandwidth increased. Now imagine how that same chart will look, year-over-year, as videogame downloads bulge. Games, for the most part, are not getting any smaller.
The Call of Duty series is undoubtedly one of the most popular game franchises in the world, and we can learn a lot by looking at the history of each iteration’s size. On Xbox Live, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a 6.5GB download. Modern Warfare 2 is an almost 7GB download. Modern Warfare 3 is a 7.5GB download. Are you sensing a pattern? Half-a-gigabyte may not seem like a huge step, but a 15-percent increase in size is substantial when you’re facing big charges from your ISP.
The issue is even greater on the PC side of the games market, where file sizes tend to be larger and physical distribution is already all but dead, thanks to Steam. In short, most gamers will see an increased need for bandwidth as we download more – and larger – titles. And that’s not even mentioning the bandwidth required from playing online games.
The games industry, for its part, has taken some contention with data caps, but the message has primarily focused on cable companies prohibitively limiting data to compete with console-based streaming video services. While those arguments are important, developers and publishers also need to recognize the very real consequences of a digital-only future for games. After all, if we can’t afford those giant downloads, the industry hurts, as well.
Unless we see more internet service providers separated from the television-side of the business, or the government taking a harder stance on data caps, or the games industry acting more vocally, the problem will persist. But as gamers and consumers, you can also make your voices heard. Late last year, U.S. Senator from Oregon Ron Wyden introduced the Data Cap Integrity Act, largely aimed at keeping the FCC focused on monitoring how caps are being applied. You can write or call your Senator to show support for the bill (it currently has zero cosponsors), and get involved in groups like Video Game Voters Network, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Entertainment Consumers Association.
How we use the internet to access our games, and if we can actually continue to afford it, is sure to remain a hot point of contention. Don’t get stuck in the middle.