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