Okay, I'll explain.
In this brave new world where streaming media from the likes of Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu have virtually eliminated video rental stores and threaten to carry away our beloved reference-qualty Blu-rays on a river of rushing bits, the notion of "internet access" takes on new meaning. The capacity of the data pipeline running into our homes affects both the quality and quantity of the video content we can download, not to mention our ability to upload, store, and share our personal media in the Cloud.
And on this front, I'm afraid all is not well in Streamville. Even as serious home theater enthusiasts reluctantly jump on the bandwagon and adopt streaming as an adjunct to discs, we join the legions who care less about image quality and gave up their DVDs long ago. A report last May by Sandvine, a broadband analytics firm, said that nearly half of Internet usage in the U.S. during peak hours—some 49.2%—was accounted for by "real-time entertainment" activities. That's up from 29.5% two years ago. And Netflix was the king, capturing about 30% of peak traffic by itself (at least before its July rate hikes prompted a mass defection of subscribers).
Add to this growing entertainment traffic significant amounts of uploaded data (much of it movie, music, and photo files) beginning to flow into Cloud-based back-up services like Mozy, Carbonite, and Dropbox, and you might not be surprised to learn that the Internet service providers are clamping down. We've begun to receive alarming letters from Home Theater readers who are being notified of limitations being placed on their Internet service should their monthly usage push beyond 150 or in some cases 250 gigabytes per month—an amount that's proving surprisingly meager for a number of legitimate users who count on their ISP for HD movie downloads, file back-ups, and gaming. AT&T notified customers they'd be charged extra for going over their cap, a move they justified by citing that the "average" household uses but 18 GB a month. Yet, by AT&T's own calculations, that 250 GB is only good for about a dozen or so HD movie downloads if that's all you do with it—about three a week. Not a whole lot, really.
Some readers may have experienced excessive bandwidth throttling, whereby their ISP slows down network performance to reduce or restrict usage, or even worse. The most publicized and extreme case so far has been that of Andre Vrignaud, a Seattle-based gaming consultant who got cut-off by Comcast last month—literally banished for a year—after he hit his 250 GB cap two months in a row with a combination of data flowing from and to Netflix, Carbonite, and Amazon's Cloud Drive. I traded emails with Andre last weekend, and he's convinced that cable TV providers doubling as ISPs have a vested interest in using whatever means available to slow the explosive growth of Cloud-based entertainment services that now threaten to overtake them. I do think the man's got a point worth considering.
Which brings me back to my original question. Have you been data-throttled in a manner that suggests something beyond your ISP's normal management of peak hour bandwidth? Have you been forced to pay significant overage charges for legitimate, legal Internet use? Have you been notified of draconian new policies to limit your data access? Or—heaven forbid—have you been cut off like Andre? We'd like to hear your story. Email me at email@example.com