As is inevitably the case for all things, it turns out that Prince was right: The internet is over. AT&T recently announced the rollout of bandwidth caps, not just for their mobile network, but for residential DSL customers as well. The announcement is here, with more details here. They've not only already implemented this system in several test markets, but were apparently pleased enough about the results to go ahead with the program nationwide. Human beings were willing to take all this fuckery lying down, and so now it's official.
Those "human being" bastards are always screwing the rest of us over.
I know what you're doing right now. You're trying to comfort yourself. "Sure, that sucks" you're thinking, "but that 150GB cap is pretty high; I'll probably never run into it myself." And you're right, for now at least. Of course their introductory cap is going to start out on the high side. They need to give you time to get used to the concept without really suffering the consequences. But soon it will be lowered, and lowered again. Anybody familiar with college romance recognizes this as the "just the tip" strategy: Wherein the fucker promises the fuckee that, should they find the end of the penis unsatisfactory in some way, the process can always be stopped and the whole thing pulled out. But, much like their frat-bro counterparts, I guarantee you that AT&T has no intention of pulling out. They are going to plunge it into us to the hilt, and if we're lucky, maybe they'll whisper gently into our ears about what good girls we're being for taking it all so bravely.
And there they will be, their blurry forms pumping away at us even as the shame starts creeping in.
Right now, if those stats are accurate, the bandwidth cap will only apply to the top 2% of users. Those are the only people who are going to be charged on this new pricing plan. Have you ever known a company content to only make money off of the top 2% of their users? And even if AT&T is somehow perfectly happy with this tiny slice of the potential market, what's going to happen? That top two percent will then be more aware of their data usage, right? That means their average rate will go down, therefore the cap will go down - but that price will probably stay just the same. Even if this is baseless fear-mongering and AT&T's caps don't decrease, the internet will always require more bandwidth as it grows in functionality. The highest end of the caps they're rolling out today will be absolutely stifling a few years from now.
Any time there's a new way to charge for a service, you know others offering that service are going to follow suit. Comcast has had a secret 250GB bandwidth cap in place for years. Now they have an excuse to publicize and lower it. Which means we'll be dealing with an internet operating under bandwidth restrictions very soon, and that's going to be a very different thing than it is now: It will be a place where you buy a game on Steam one week, so you can't watch internet porn for the rest of the month. You'll just have to suck it up and content yourself with masturbating to erotic twitter-feeds, or else scrolling rapidly up and down pages of ASCII art so it kind of looks like Jessica Rabbit deepthroating if you squint hard enough through the tears.
PROTIP: Crying actually helps, as the watery blurriness lends a semblance of softness to the 3s making up her hair.
You'll have to start keeping a mental tab of your friends' Internet habits -- who is usually through their bandwidth by what point in the month - and carefully decide who you share content with. Why bother sending Jim that video of a cat sledding down the stairs on the back of an unconscious toddler? You know that bastard loves his Call of Duty; he's always burnt through all of his data by the first Thursday of every month. Guess he'll just have to wait until August to get all the new meme references. They'll still totally be funny by then, right?
But at least AT&T is making sure nobody's going to be caught off guard when they reach their cap: Users will be sent warnings at 65 percent, 90 percent and again at 100 percent of their allotted data. But warnings aren't going to be enough -- you'll know when you're going over, sure, but not how much each item is costing you, and whether or not it's worth it. When bandwidth is a finite resource, websites will have to roll out info-warnings in their links, like fast food menus.
But these are all just inconveniences so far. One of the major fears is that stifling broadband caps will strangle the online economy, which is the only one even sort of working these days. That's probably not the case, however: Website designers will have a veritable boom phase as companies scramble to reduce their bandwidth footprint, while the more thorough designers can just straight up retire -- all they have to do is comb through their archives and sell companies back their own website code from 1997.
My God, it's already begun ...
Physical media will come roaring back from the brink of destruction. Record, game, and maybe even book stores will come back into play in a world where everybody's watching their data usage. Far from hurting our economy, bandwidth caps might actually be the move that drags us out of this recession. Think about it: Economically speaking, we were doing pretty good back in the late-90s. It might be a blessing that we're about to bent over and humped all the way back there.
Even we comedy writers stand to benefit from data restrictions: No longer will we have to do the arguably marginal "real work" that we put into articles like this today. As long as we make sure all of our sources hotlink to PDFs of heavily illustrated books -- oh, the extravagant lies we could tell! It's a whole different game when internet pedants have to measure out exactly how much nitpicking is worth in real dollars.
Oh, but that's assuming we'll still have jobs, which is doubtful, since free content on the internet will be the first thing to go. Who's going to tolerate bullshit ads when you have to pay for the very data needed to download them? If we do survive, it'll likely be on a pay-to-view system. If you can't afford it, don't worry: There will probably be an entire black market of bootleg internet trivia thriving in shady Chinatown alleyways where skinny men with bad teeth hock printouts of the 7 Farts That Changed History -- because what else are you going to do? Go outside? Talk to your family?
Thanks, stock photos! This looks totally natural.
They'll have to kick out all the head shops and hobo villages currently nesting in the ruins of old Blockbuster stores once Netflix and Hulu collapse. And they will collapse: One proponent of the new plan actually argues that the caps aren't so bad because, even with the high-end limits in place, you could still stream up to one HD movie a day before you run out of bandwidth. One whole movie! Per day! Of course, that also means you'll have to decide between Netflix, pornography, gaming, and regular internet usage ...
Oh god, the gaming!
Online gaming is already set to take a good, solid kick to the beanbags with the dissolution of data-intensive services like DLC, Steam, and on-demand consoles like OnLive. But the virtual sack-thwacking will only get worse from there: Multiplayer games have to track every bullet, every jump, every throat-shattering cry of "fagg0tzz!" that occurs during gameplay, which makes them absolute bandwidth monsters. Anybody using a connection with a bandwidth cap is going to have cut way, way down on their online play, or else the games themselves will have to fundamentally change. Graphics for at least the online content of games will be thrown all the way back to the "-bit" era, or maybe even to the fabled "imagination" era. Luckily, we old-school nerds know what that means: The re-launch of the MUD.
Speaking of text-based gaming, that brings up a pretty good general strategy for dealing with the bandwidth capped future: Rediscover the joys of imagination. And you should probably start soon - the more practice you get in now, the less you'll feel the sting when the caps come crashing down and we're no longer spoiled by streaming reels of infinite high-def media spooling out before us. Imagination is about to make a big comeback, because pretty soon here, graphics have to start mattering less to online gamers, text is going to be your primary internet media, and friend, listen close, because this is important: You need to get in some practice picturing sci-fi starlets naked right now. It is a skill that I fear has atrophied in the nerds, and the loss of bandwidth is going to leave a hole in their libido that Playboy cannot fill. For everybody else, well, get thyself to porn-hounding and start filing away whatever you can't download into your mental masturbatory vault. With a little imagination and a well-stocked vault, you might just make it through this mess. If you need help, just remember the words of LeVar Burton:
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook but maybe you should just start hoarding that bandwidth instead.