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A Bandwidth Limit on Progress

The alleged costs of additional bandwidth to an ISP are a myth – for all intents and purposes the only difference between a £10 10GB a month plan and a £35 100GB plan is how much profit the ISP providing those services makes. Those extra bits going down your copper or fibre line don’t cost your ISP any more money. Except when they rarely have to repair or replace parts of an ailing copper network that was never designed to take as much data as we are now asking it to carry – a problem resulting form ISPs reluctance to invest in improved infrastructure, rather than the top-tier users we’re apparently supposed to blame for the issues.

Tight limitations on the amount of data that can be downloaded aren’t just an annoyance– they’re an inarguable hindrance. Putting restrictive caps on bandwidth precludes ISPs customers from using bandwidth intensive applications such as the BBC iPlayer (from which a month’s worth of Horizon episodes alone will eat up over 4GB of data), or YouTube. Even on what many ISPs would call a generous allowance of say 40GB it’s not difficult for the unwary user to with run over their limit – a dangerous habit to get into given the ludicrous overage fees charged by ISPs.

Such restrictions make it hard for the BBC to build a usage case for providing more high definition video on the iPlayer when the majority of its users view that content for fear of running over an arbitrary bandwidth cap. And you don’t even have to be using a computer to be affected; whether downloading games from Xbox Live or accessing LoveFilm via your television, the chances are that if you are on a metered Internet service plan, at some point you’re going to find yourself longing for a higher cap. It’s unsurprising that a large number of customers aren’t seen accessing bandwidth-hungry websites when their Internet providers go out of their way to charge hand over fist for the privilege.

The time-honoured argument of ISPs everywhere that the majority of their users don’t need large amounts of bandwidth, and so shouldn’t mind being limited is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. At best those delivering such messages are misinformed, at worst they’re being outright intentionally deceptive. The most heinous example of this deceptive practice of course is the much-loved Fair Use Policy – the number of ISPs touting limited tariffs as ‘unlimited’ is simply staggering.

It’s an outright disgrace that in England, the country that practically invented the World Wide Web (Tim Berners-Lee, who did, is British), we are subject to such a stifling of progress. Considering the great steps being taken to ensure the principles of net neutrality are upheld, the idea that ISPs might get their way and impose greater restrictions on the way we access the otherwise unimpeded Internet is unthinkable.

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