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No Surprise: Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Hate Broadband Caps

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[qi:100] It should hardly come as a surprise to anyone — but nevertheless a survey conducted by International Data Corporation on behalf of Zeugma Systems, a company that makes an edge router for broadband networks, shows that consumers simply hate bandwidth caps and will likely switch to another carrier if they have the option. The survey polled 787 U.S. consumers. Here are some key findings of the survey:

  • 81 percent do not like the idea of establishing a bandwidth cap and charging for use above the cap.
  • 51 percent would try to change service providers if their BSP imposed bandwidth caps.
  • 83 percent say that do not know what a gigabyte or have no idea how many gigabytes they use.
  • Even light users are opposed to the whole idea of bandwidth capping.
  • Only 5 percent said unequivocally that “those who use more should pay more.”

This data is pretty close to the findings of a poll conducted by us earlier this year. Ninety-one percent of 1,159 voters said that they would switch to another ISP, while 6 percent said they would not switch. Comcast is the biggest proponent of metered broadband, with Time Warner being a close second.

In light of this data, AT&T and Verizon (and Best Buy) should make it a point to emphasize that it is cable companies and not they who are capping bandwidth and get people to switch. Maybe that would be the kind of spanking that would bring cable companies to their senses. That said, the larger issue is that the FCC and our government have helped create a broadband duopoly that has almost always worked against the consumers. We need to fix that issue before we can address anything else.

Back to the survey: about 95 percent of those surveyed said that they would happily pay for more premium bandwidth services if they can get it for services such as video, VoIP, gaming and telecommuter VPNs. Around 54 percent would switch service providers if a competitive service offered a premium tier, while another 26 percent said they would pay their service provider an additional fee for premium bandwidth services.

Take that last paragraph with a pinch of salt: this dovetails nicely with the kind of traffic management gear Zeugma is trying to sell to the carriers.

25 Responses to “No Surprise: Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Hate Broadband Caps”

  1. Lucas Finder

    According to the survey: more than a third of Singapore candidates (31 per cent) said they would choose “a premium salary” as the key motivator for taking on a contract role; a quarter of them (25 per cent) will [email protected]

  2. The problem with any form of bandwidth cap is the uncertainty for the subscriber, either that the cost is unpredictable or the point at which bandwidth will be heavily throttled.

    In the enterprise world, Frame Relay was such a big success not so much because it was technically the best solution, though it was not bad, but because its mechanism for limiting bandwidth was entirely predictable (a subscriber paid for a fraction of the total access bandwidth each month, say 500 kbps on a 1.544 Mbps T1), and bills for the service were identical every month. The rate for the service was enforced for every second, so at 500 kbps, a subscriber had about 1/3 of the T1s bandwidth available for every second.

    A similar model would work well in residential broadband. If the subscriber has a physical rate of say 100 Mbps, they could buy 20 Mbps, 50 Mbps, whatever, and the carrier could easily adjust the rate with a software setting change. The rate could even vary over time of day/day of week, but the key is that the performance and the billing are predictable. Subscribers want to worry about other things, not how much bandwidth they are consuming and how much their bill will be this month.

  3. Maybe if the providers had been investing more of their profits in infrastructure for the past several years and shoring up their networks to handle the supposedly unlimited Internet they’ve touted up until recently, they wouldn’t “need” to be spinning all of this BS about caps creating a “positive experience” now.

    Also, why do many of the providers keep touting increased data rates to the house when they already supposedly can’t handle what’s there without artificial limits?

    Sorry.. I’m not buying it.

  4. Richard

    @Andy Freeman: I’m basing the ‘thousands of connections’ on advice about configuring WiFi routers running DD-WRT/Tomato type firmware – most people say that unless you configure for about 4,000 connections, and tweak some related parametere, some P2P software will crash the router. It’s probably more accurate to say ‘hundreds to thousands’.

    Even if it’s just a few hundred connections per P2P client, the argument is the same – a single user trying to do IM, email, light web pages, etc, will try to get more bandwidth for their connection through TCP’s normal window-increase model, but any packet loss imposed on the competing P2P client is only ‘felt’ by one of its TCP connections, so the 50% reduction that a typical TCP-friendly app would make is more like 50% x 1/300 (for 300 connections), i.e. less than 1%. Hence the P2P app basically hogs bandwidth, relinquishing it very slowly if at all, compared to TCP-friendly applications like email, IM, browsers, etc, which open far fewer connections.

    Youtube style video downloads are not a problem in this way – while they consume a lot of bandwidth, each video uses only one or two connections at most and will react like other TCP-friendly apps. They are still an issue for bandwidth usage generally, but could be addressed with caps or pricing, whereas P2P apps with many connections must also be addressed with shaping, particularly with next-gen 10-100 Mbps broadband.

  5. Matt Davis

    I authored the survey, and some good criticisms were raised on the questions asked. For the record, we did try to get at the issue in a number of different ways. For example we did ask questions such as “Do you think it is fair that people who use most of the Internet resources pay the same as everyone else” (27% said no, 39% yes and the rest no opinion.) and “Would you want those that use more to pay more?” (only 5% said yes outright, and another 36% said yes if the usage was so excessive it slowed everyone else down.”) So there are two sides to the story, and I tried to capture both sides. The survey was designed to take a pulse of the consumer and to help ISPs make good decisions based on an objective viewpoint – if capping had been a non-issue, I would have written on that, and advised ISPs accordingly.

    I thought the most interesting finding was that light users who don’t frequently use apps like online gaming or video downloads/uploads were less accepting of caps than power users who have more to lose. The sheer volume that said they would seek another provider if a cap was instituted, was key, this plays to strategies that go beyond network planning and begin to impact the battle for broadband subscribers and ultimately the entire bundled relationship.

  6. Andy Freeman

    > If you don’t manage the traffic in some way, P2P apps which open literally thousands of connections from one PC

    Which p2p client actually opens “thousands” of connections? uTorrent, one of the more popular bittorrent clients opens a few hundred at most, and then only if you tell it that you have a fairly big pipe. For reasonably hefty (US) dsl (6M/768k), it opens even less.

    Note that the number of connections is something of a red herring. Each connection will get a certain amount of bandwidth. After “enough” connections, the bottleneck is full and additional connections don’t affect much of anything. (Well, they do slow down the local PC, but ….)

  7. i think the whole issue boils down to pricing in the end. if broadband were sold like electricity in that very few people would spend more than a small sum each month but they paid nothing when they used nothing people might see it different. why not have a solely metered model where you pay per MB and lightest users pay almost nothing. of course you may have to pay a significant onetime setup fee for your connection. these packaged bundles that offer x number of MB and than surcharges for heavy usage only put a premium to heavy users without relief to the light users.

  8. You can’t get something for nothing… Operators need to make money, and as the access links increase in speed with fiber, ADSL2+/VDSL2 and DOCSIS 3.0, giving 10 to 100 Mbps, you simply have to restrain bandwidth hogs who would fill their entire access link 24/7 – the faster the link, the more you need caps or shaping. There is no provider in the world who can sell a 1:1 contention ratio for a 10+ Mbps link without charging an enterprise-level price – it’s just economics. Imagine 10,000 users each with 10 Mbps, at 1:1 contention: you now need a 100 Gbps aggregation network and Internet link, and that’s for a tiny customer base.

    There’s a link between bandwidth caps and net neutrality, i.e. not shaping traffic from specific apps (whether good or bad). For a given amount of investment in a broadband network, you have a few options as a cable or telco operator:

    1. No caps, no per-application traffic shaping – the biggest P2P bandwidth hogs get most of the bandwidth, average user has poor experience during congested times of day. If you don’t manage the traffic in some way, P2P apps which open literally thousands of connections from one PC grab a lot of bandwidth and are not ‘congestion friendly’ in TCP sense, i.e. if another application wants bandwidth and causes packet loss in the P2P flows, only one P2P flow (TCP connection) backs off, making very little room for the app wanting bandwidth. (I have nothing against P2P apps, they just exhibit this behaviour).

    2. Caps, no shaping – average users have better experience but there’s no need for shaping. This is best outcome for those who want net neutrality.

    3. No caps, traffic shaping – average users whose applications fit within the shaping have a good experience (e.g. not huge downloads), P2P users will be shaped.

    Of course, caps and shaping often go together, so that you let people do some P2P during a given period, but over a certain amount of transfer they are shaped – ideally you only shape the offending app so they can still do web, email, IM, etc.

  9. You seem to be running a campaign against bandwidth caps, so much so that it has made at least one of your readers wonder if there is merit in the opposing argument. This post deserves 0/10, and so does the “survey” for asking an inane question. Of course we dislike bandwidth caps, but maybe we hate even more to pay for bandwidth consumed by hogs,or to have overall download speeds reduced due to them. You are not allowing this aspect to surface in your numerous posts on the issue.

  10. It’s disappointing to read your comments. Your headline is the equivalent of saying, “No Surprise: Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Hate Paying Taxes”. Of course they do! However, if you were to ask people if they liked police services, a local fire department, public schools, etc., I’m guessing they’d say yes. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the numbers would be more dramatic for taxes! And of course, everyone knows exactly how those taxes are calculated. Or not?

    So, when you put out a headline like this, I think you’re doing a disservice to your readers. Sure, nobody likes to pay more, but the fact is that the SPs are charging more so they can offer the security, reliability, throughput, and yes, advanced services that customers want. Had the survey asked questions like, “Do you want your broadband experience to be more reliable?” or “Would you prefer consistently faster downloads?”, I bet the results of your survey would be different. That said, it is definitely the responsibility of the SPs to make it clear what they’re charging for and how it’s calculated. No doubt about that and I agree with you and Stacey that they have done a very poor job of that thus far.

    You’re a journalist and you have a very savvy and educated audience. Give them the credit of being able to make decisions about broadband caps and other broadband matters without feeding them headlines and emotion-charged arguments like this. So you know, I don’t want to pay more for broadband either. I wish it was free! I just know that it takes a whole lotta money to make for a good experience and I make the choice every month when I pay my bill. Your readers should do the same.

  11. I’d pay, in a heartbeat. The irritating thing is that they make these cap decisions on applications and websites with no apparent oversight. As a result, I am always suspicious when my feed slows to a crawl. Tell me where to protest or who to write to — at least for more transparency in the decision process — and I’m there.