A few years ago, large ISPs began taking advantage of a lack of competition in the broadband market by imposing arbitrary, unnecessary and confusing usage caps and overage fees. Initially, these companies tried to claim that this was necessary to manage congestion on their networks. As data emerged indicating that this claim was bullshit, large ISPs were ultimately forced to acknowledge as much and back away from the claim.
Shortly after that, ISPs instead began claiming that these glorified price hikes were necessary as a simple matter of "fairness," and the industry narrative-du-jour became that it only made sense that heavier users should pay more money for broadband.
This excuse was bullshit too; Americans already pay some of the highest prices for broadband of any developed nation under the flat-rate pricing model, which any large ISP earnings report will show you is perfectly profitable. And if "excessive consumption" really was a problem, it was a problem caused solely by a small number of users that could easily be shoved toward business-class tiers. It didn't require saddling everyone with confusing and expensive surcharges.
These days, after being hammered for years for bogus justifications, large ISPs no longer even provide a reason for these rate hikes. Take Cox Communications for example. The company has quietly announced it would be expanding usage caps into several new markets, charging users $10 per each additional 50 GB of data users consumed over a one terabyte limit. The e-mail being sent to users, which is getting widespread attention on Reddit, doesn't even really bother to offer a justification for the price hike:
Several news outlets and reporters (including myself) tried to get Cox to explain its reasoning for the hikes, and the company simply refused. Of course there's a simple reason ISPs no longer try to justify this behavior: they don't have to.
Consumers in captive markets can't vote with their wallets, and cable providers are slowly but quietly enjoying a growing monopoly over next-gen broadband as telcos refuse to keep pace and upgrade their DSL networks. The end result is the ability for these companies to impose massive new rate hikes that not only result in users paying more money for the same-exact service, but help incumbent ISPs penalize the use of would-be streaming competitors. Zero rating an ISPs own services -- while still penalizing competitors like Netflix -- adds another layer of anti-competitive adventure to the proceedings.
But fear not! Cox did tell some news outlets that the company would soon be letting users avoid the caps and subscribe to an unmetered connection, for an added, unspecified cost. In other words: if you don't want to pay us more money for the exact same service, please pay us more money for the exact same service. Why? Because we can, and regulators couldn't care less.
Whenever the conversation about broadband caps pops up, many people quickly get bogged down in debate over whether or not a terabyte is fair, losing sight of the fact that these limits are utterly unnecessary, and we wouldn't be seeing them at all in a healthy, competitive market. What's deemed "fair" today won't necessarily be fair in the multi-user 4K streaming households of tomorrow. And without competitive pressure, there's nothing ensuring these caps scale with use. In fact, ISPs are incentivized to tighten the noose further once you've agreed to have your usage metered.
And with the current Ajit Pai-led FCC clearly intent to turn a blind eye to both a lack of competition and the predatory behavior that results from it (be it violations in privacy or net neutrality), there's plenty more anti-competitive shenanigans and feebly-justified nonsense waiting in the wings.