I have heard this story far too many times, over and over. Angry, disgruntled
customers of cable Internet service complaining viciously and intensely over
the bandwidth restrictions which their ISP has instituted upon them, limiting
their upstream bandwidth to practically non-existent levels, or introducing other usage restrictions. In fact, it's not surprising that a good majority of
DSL customers come from the disgruntled ranks of former cable customers.
Sometimes twice the money and half the bandwidth, but DSL is real bandwidth you can use.
So, why? Most people seem to overlook the pricing structure of today's
Internet. For instance, the Internet, at least in US/Canada, has always been
marketed on a flat rate basis. Ever since the days of $150k/year host connections to ARPANet, the Internet has preserved a firmly cemented tradition of flat rate pricing. This is just another manifestation of the all-you-can-eat marketing gimmick, which has proven quite effective with
emerging technologies when combined with the ferocious persistence of the
typical Internet user on a good bargain. Almost no Internet user today would
tolerate being billed by connection time, data transferred, etc., and attempts
to do this have largely failed (with the exception of things such as AOL).
So we have a flat marketing paradigm in which everyone pretty much insists
on unlimited Internet usage for a flat connection fee per month.
But where do Internet Service Providers get their connections? From backbone providers running huge transcontinental data trunks - your friends
like UUNet and BBN, which have essentially been around since the divine
beginnings. And do you think THEY charge ISPs a flat rate per month?
Oh no! They charge by units of data transferred!
So this puts the ISP in a somewhat tight squeeze; they must use a fixed income to pay variable expenses and still keep the enterprise profitable. That
is not an easy thing to do, given the rapidly changing pace of Internet network topology and organisation.
At any rate, doing this hasn't really been a problem in the past, as connection
charges from backbone providers are generally low enough that one can
make a thundering profit. This has worked quite well in recent years, with
everyone limited to 56K connections.
Then, two things happened: 1) Home broadband connections were deployed to many areas. 2) The nature of commonplace Internet
activities was revised. The MP3 format became widespread, and then friends
like Napster came along. Suddenly everyone is their own server, and transferring quite large amounts of data to top it off.
It is only a natural reaction on the part of the ISP to either charge more (which would not be tolerated by most consumers), or institute an ever-growing list of restrictions on use which basically snuff out anything that could set bandwidth consumption at a significant deviation over the norm. This is not at all surprising, and not just out of cost concerns.
Unlike with DSL, a cable Internet connection is not a direct point-to-point
connection to your ISP. It is a shared grid that is in most areas designed to
fulfill the requirements of a global downstream network in which the signal
is intended for all recepients (TV viewers). Dispite thundering claims of upgrades and The New World Order, I would say most areas in North America
still lack cable wiring to homes that is capable of delivering an upstream signal
back to the provider. In the late 70s and early 80s when the cable infrastructure was designed, few people envisioned that someday being able
to talk back to the cable exchange might someday be a grand idea, so in a lot of places, upstream data transmission over cable lines is a cheap "hack" (such as a wiring in of another line) or just outright unreliable. Of course, we should
all know by now what happens when an area of the cable grid in an area becomes saturated with customers, particularly ones consuming upstream bandwidth, which requires somewhat more "beef" to accomplish over cable lines. Service sucks.
Most have heard the very realistic proposition that 2% of cable Internet customers in a given area might have consumed 95% of potential bandwidth on the local infrastructural level. Unlike with downstream cable, where the signal is intended for everyone, a few large upstream transmission endpoints can easily saturate the grid to an unusable level. I see this firsthand where I live.
These are all motivating reasons for the ISP to institute these bandwidth caps. For $40/month, you're not going to get something that has the functional equivalent of a T1 line--you might have in the past, when broadband providers were still living their vision of everyone surfing the web
at high speed from home. Then it all blew up in their face -- people started running FTP servers with w@r3z, pr0n, mp3z, so this is what you get--what you pay for. People should definitely look at the realistic side of things, and then commence with their complaining.