Being a customer of AT&T internet over the past 3 years I was unaware of bandwidth caps on my data usage until recently. For the better part of those 3 years I was using AT&T DSL Pro with download speeds (up to) 3.0 Mbps and upload speeds (up to) 512 Kbps. I was/am a user that streams video a fair amount, using Netflix and Hulu for programs, documentaries and movies I am interested in and it never occurred to me that at some point, if I pushed the threshold of data usage I potentially could be billed additional charges. AT&T's DSL service has a cap of 150 GB a month, with AT&T stating the average consumer uses 18 GB a month. I assume I am not the average consumer considering my streaming addiction.
A couple months ago I upgraded to AT&T U-verse which offered me (up to) 6.0 Mbps download speed and (up to) 768 Kbps upload speed as well as an increased bandwidth cap of 250 GB a month. Great, streaming possibilities expanded, but my interest was already piqued. What is the point of implementing a cap if most users will never reach its limit?
AT&T claims, 'the top 2% of customers use about 20% of the total capacity of the network...[these users] can cause congestion at certain points in the network, which can slow internet speeds...' The crux of the cap on bandwidth is to prevent heavy users from damaging the experience of average users. It's quite clear that I will never reach 250 GB as I would have to: send/receive 10,000 one page emails, download/upload 2,000 medium resolution photos, download 1,000 mp3 songs, stream 1,000 one-minute YouTube videos, watch 100 hour-long TV shows, and stream 50 full length movies - all in 30 days' time.
Personally, my alluded addiction to streaming probably isn't like most consumers - a couple programs a week so I never sit at the computer for hours on end. For those people who were once heavy TV users that are making the switch to online over-the -top video-services like Netflix and Hulu, capped bandwidth doesn't look so appealing. In fact, the cap can be seen as a way for internet providers (often also acting as cable TV providers - such is the case with AT&T and Comcast) to prevent their users from becoming heavy video streaming users. In other words, providers could be seen as preventing users from cancelling their TV cable packages.
I anticipate changes in the near future as consumer needs change permanently. With the prevalence of high definition videos and ability to stream them from multiple media points at any given time, when one internet provider pushes a tiered service or increased bandwidth cap to its customers, the other providers will follow suit.