The sad paradox
Previously we talked about data caps in terms of size and cost, and touched on why it might be a bad idea to let ISPs use them to regulate their traffic in an otherwise unregulated market. To clarify what’s been going on here, we turn to the much-ignored subject of data cap burn rates.
The size of the cap and the cost of overage get lots of attention, as does the measurement of customer value in terms of file types and sizes. Rogers, for example, suggests you can conceive of a gigabyte “as approximately 26,000 web pages or about 1,000 digital photos or approximately 200 songs.” People are fond of quibbling over estimates like these, since it’s easy for an ISP to use a very slimmed down kind of Web page in place of what others would use as a standard. But that’s not how end-users measure perceived value or enjoyment. “Wow, I’ve had great value from Rogers Internet this week… I downloaded 26,000 Web pages!”
End-users don’t usually count their minutes any more than they count pages downloaded. Nevertheless, as survey after survey indicates, most people have a good sense of recall when it comes to the amount of time they’ve spent online – both in total and in pursuit of particular activities. It also turns out there are important differences between the behaviors of those who spend little time online and those who spend a lot.
How much time did you spend enjoying a gigabyte’s worth of data on your particular connection? The answer to that question is a function of your line speed as well as your data allowance, which together determine the burn rate of your cap. And therein lies the sad paradox of the data cap. Caps kill the unambiguous benefits enjoyed by end-users from increased speed. Once caps are institutionalized on 100% of broadband services, more speed doesn’t mean more good clean fun, only faster. It means you get to your cap faster and pay more money sooner. Consider the table below, which presents figures on the first four of Rogers’ six hi-speed tiers.