Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Cable’s Pay-Per-Byte Plan Finds a Foe in Congress

homer-simpsons-donutA New York congressman has a message for cable companies that want drop their all-you-can-eat broadband Internet plans: Don’t even think about it.

That instruction comes from Rep. Eric Massa, a Democrat who represents the Rochester area, and it’s aimed specifically at Time Warner Cable (TWC), which is starting to experiment with broadband “caps” in Massa’s hometown. Rabble-rousing quote: “Just at a time when access to information is driving our economic recovery, Time Warner is moving to stagnate the 21st Century technology needed to rebuild America.”

But any of the big Internet pipe players contemplating charging their users on a per-use basis–and most of them are–can expect to get similar blowback from lawmakers. It’s a no-brainer: Consumers now expect to be able to use as much data as they want. And the cable guys–or the phone guys, in the markets where AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) are offering Internet service–are easy political targets.

That’s a problem for the cable/phone guys, who want to use the caps to manage the boom in Web video. Their spin: They need the caps to make sure that power users who are consuming hours of movies, TV shows, etc., via their PCs shoulder an appropriate bill for the bandwidth they use. The cynics among us think the plan is designed to discourage people from ditching their cable TV service in favor of  Netflix (NFLX) on-demand, Hulu and TV downloads from Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes.

The cable guys are aware of the brewing backlash. At the industry’s annual convention last week, they were musing openly about better ways to sell their plans: Not as “caps” on use, for instance, but as “additional levels of service.” That’s going to take some awfully persuasive campaigning, and that’s not the kind of thing monopolists excel at.

But perhaps they can just use this “Simpsons” clip to make their case:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik