Earlier this year, Time Warner Cable began trialing the use of data caps on its broadband service. It later abandoned the project after a welter of bad publicity, but the encounter scared a lot of Web users into believing we need legislation to prevent ISPs from limiting the online freedom we’ve come to believe is sacred. (The Time Warner Center in New York, pictured left: locus of many Web nerds’ fury.)
That legislation has arrived, courtesy of Eric Massa (D-NY). His Broadband Internet Fairness Act would allow the FTC to veto ISP plans that charge customers based on how much bandwidth they use.
If you’re anything more than a casual Web user–which is to say, if you stream videos on Netflix, buy music and movies on iTunes, play online games, send large media files, or just watch Family Guy on Hulu–this legislation is enormously important to you and your Web-loving wallet. Should ISPs someday be able to charge by the megabyte, we are all going to be in deep trouble.
As the bill points out, the Web has become home to innumerable “agricultural, medical, educational, environmental, library and nonprofit purposes,” which make it part of essential infrastructure. Volume-pricing usage, Massa says, would stifle these services and put a halt to innovation, particularly in the area of streaming video. Since most ISPs are now cable television providers, too, using bandwidth caps to push TV package deals could be construed as anticompetitive action.
It is not known when the bill will come before a vote. To read the bill, click here.