Zeugma's SmartMeter and the End of Unlimited Broadband

Telecommunications equipment provider Zeugma Systems today released software called SmartMeter that helps carriers manage broadband traffic. It’s not alone in offering such a product, but with SmartMeter Zeugma is trying to ride a change in the way broadband providers price their services — moving from buffet-style to a menu of tailored service packages. The switch is coming because broadband caps and metered broadband, complete with overage fees, are a fairly unsophisticated way of encouraging certain use patterns (such as limiting online video), and capturing additional revenue as broadband becomes more valuable to subscribers.

Zeugma is marketing its software as a way for carriers to manage their network without pissing off consumers the way heavy-handed schemes such as Comcast’s ( s cmcsa) P2P blocking did or Cox’s traffic prioritization plan does. Instead, providers can use SmartMeter to get more detailed traffic stats, set very granular limits on certain types of files, or slow speeds during a certain time of day, in order to offer service packages tailored to certain types of customers — from those who use the web for VoIP to those who game. (We probably won’t see a Torrent Freak package coming anytime soon, though.)

These types of plans exist in the UK, and I’ve warned that they’re a likely next step in the U.S., but it will still hurt to give up on all-you-can-eat broadband in exchange for tailored packages. Such plans offer more flexibility than a rigid cap and could cost less than paying overage fees, but will still raise the total price paid by consumers for web-based services like streaming video. Maybe I’m feeling defeated, but I have to ask myself, did I really think I could get away with paying $45 a month for broadband, voice (using VoIP) and video (using Hulu)? Although, if carriers can goose their revenue with well-planned packages perhaps they won’t need to spy on our surfing in order to sell ads.