The Rise of Web-Based Software
Remember when we used to get AOL CDs in the mail? Or how about purchasing Microsoft Windows at Office Max? Those days are long gone. In a wonderfully realized act of “creative destruction“, the internet has effectively altered the way in which we use software. With the rise of web based applications like Google Docs, BaseCamp, and TurboTax coupled with the virtualization of gaming we’re seeing a paradigm shift from having to physically install software on your computer to only needing an internet connection. Google, who’s led the pack in web-based software, recognizes this shift and sells “net books” for as low as $199. They’re well aware that most everything can be accomplished from within your browser now and the need for a quad-core i7 processors with 16gb of RAM is waning. Even people who use computers lightly are beginning to realize that Google Docs (or Drive as it’s called now) can meet 99% of your publishing, writing, number crunching, and presenting needs.
Who Stands to Lose From Data Limitations
Websites that provide vital information (WebMD, Wikipedia) and those especially who offer it in multimedia forms (YouTube, Flickr, HowTo) rely on healthy internet speeds and large amounts of transferable data to run their services smoothly. Some applications that stand to lose big from bandwidth caps:
Video conferencing software requires plenty of speed and bandwidth to operate properly. Many companies are cutting costs by letting people work at home. And thanks to services like Skype, employers and clients are able to still have face time with project managers. Limiting bandwidth would cause everyone involved to be weary: “how close am I to hitting my monthly allotment?” “does this guy I’m conferencing have a bandwidth cap in place?”.
The democratization of journalism and entertainment owe a debt of gratitude to YouTube. Thanks to the exponentially-growing video site we’re able to watch well, just about anything online. Some may argue that YouTube is full of dancing cats and nut shots, but if you look at the videos with the most views (“downloaded” the most) a lot of them have some intrinsic value, either from a sociologic or cultural perspective.
No longer the elephant in the room, Spotify will eventually render iTunes obsolete. The streaming music service is something I will pay $9.99/month for until I’m buried in the ground. It’s that good. The app ecosystem is growing and thanks to FaceBook’s open graph the collaboration possibilites are endless. A capped data plan has the potential of limiting music discovery (because you CAN download the songs to your computer) and making the service a lot less user friendly.
Did your ears just perk up?! That’s right. Every time you upload a photo to FaceBook that is data your “uploading” to your account. And the problem is that many of us upload it with the original resolution and have become accustomed to FaceBook doing the resizing work for us to make it fit. We also like to upload videos, which (as described above) take up more bandwidth than any other form of online media.
Effects on Education
The most tragic consequence of data capping. If we want to cut the costs of traditional education (no college is worth $40k+/year) then we must inevitably turn to web-based learning solutions. My friend who works at a Fortune 200 tech company told me they were absolutely starved for talent. That’s sad, considering the growing unemployment problem in this country. We don’t need people cutting metal on assembly lines anymore (thanks China). Technology is, was, and always will be the driving force of this nation’s economy. We can’t sit around and wait for colleges to start teaching these new technologies. Traditional classrooms cannot compete with the more agile and accesible web-based programs. A great read for anyone not convinced open source/web technology isn’t reason enough to be optimistic about our economy read “Why Software is Eating the World” by Marc Andreessen.
Why Data Caps are Put Into Place
Money. As the video explains, ISPs (internet service providers) claim that it’s about network congestion when in reality it’s about the bottom line. Companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and their affiliates must constantly please stakeholders. This constant pressure to increase profits causes them to explore new (and often unethical) ways to charge people. The complete lack of legislation in regard to how these monopolies operate doesn’t help either. Because we’re limited in our T.V./Internet provider choices it places us at the mercy of these companies.
What the Real Problem is
The problem isn’t the amount of data we consume but rather the amount of users who are consuming it at a given time. ISPs are feeding us this bullshit story of how we’re “bottle-necking” the data by consuming too much when in reality, the problem is keeping up with the growing amount of people fleeing to the internet for entertainment, gaming, and business. This can be solved (if it is even a real problem) by continuing to build out the infrastructure (towers). Infrastructure though, is controlled by these same companies attempting to put these data caps in place. Because this is all privatized, the government has little say in how fast and how expansive growth can be. This may be one of the only instances (in my opinion) in the private sector that justify more regulation. When so much is at stake, and the economic future of our country depends it, there needs to be a renewed lobbying effort to combat which is more the less unjustified price gouging.
We All Lose
The ripple effect from widespread data capping can’t be measured or fully realized at this point. The United States was built on innovation. Would we have accepted such limitations when we were building the railroad or inventing electricity? Imagine if initially, utility companies were limited in how much wire they could lay down? Our infrastructure wouldn’t have grown at such a rapid pace. Just as the railroad and electricity turned us into an industrial super power, the internet has enabled an entire generation of entrepreneurs to push the needle forward and discover new ways of communicating, conducting business, and cataloguing meaningful progressions in our culture. Putting data cap limitations in place creates anxiety within both user and developer communities. These same entrepreneurs that’ve given us these brilliant products will be weary of how viable their software will be in an age of data restrictions. Hopefully these ISPs will fall victim to a little creative destruction of their own and get knocked off by companies willing to provide unlimited data to consumers. The problem though, is that companies like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T continue to buy out these smaller companies for their towers (infrastructure), causing a snowball effect of growing power and influence. The longer these would-be companies wait the harder it’s going to be for them to offer unlimited data plans.