The Stupidity Of Data Caps: No One Knows What A Megabyte Is
from the caps-don't-work dept
We’ve argued that data caps for internet access are silly, and even as they’re becoming more popular for both wired and wireless broadband data offerings, it seems more people are recognizing this. The NY Times has an article about data caps that makes the key point upfront: no one knows what a megabyte is:
But what, exactly, is a megabyte?
If a sampling of pedestrians on the streets of Brooklyn is any guide, most people have only a vague idea. One said a megabyte was “the amount of something we have to use the Internet,” adding, “We should have three or four.”
Miranda Popkey, 24, was closer: “It’s a measure of how much information you store. If there are too many of them, I can’t send my e-mail attachment.”
A megabyte is, in this context, 1,000 kilobytes — or about the size of a photo taken with a decent digital camera, or roughly one minute of a song, or a decent stack of e-mail.
Therein lies the problem: Counting things like minutes and text messages is fairly easy, but there is no intuitive or natural way to gauge data use.
It’s actually much worse than that. The fact that it’s not easy to mentally keep track of these things without significant effort means that there’s a real extra cognitive cost in using broadband with caps. You have to sit there and think about what you want to do online. You have to think:
- How much room do I have before I hit the cap?
- How much data will this content actually take up?
- What if I’m wrong?
- How much does it cost if I go over?
- Wait, what if this is taking up a lot more data then I thought?
- How much more data will I need this month?
- No, seriously, what if I confused things and watching this video uses up my entire allotment?
Etc. It can go on and on like this — and the really serious problem is the fact that this cognitive cost is a very real cost, and it means people will just do less online, and will avoid using the service altogether. The caps are adding a punishment to something that people want to do, meaning that they’ll do less of it, and therefore value it less.
It still amazes me how short-sighted many ISPs are that they aren’t looking to capitalize on this more by competing by getting rid of caps. Of course, one key reason is that there just isn’t that much competition, and so the short-sighted view can win for the time being. But it’s a dangerous long-term strategy. Pissing off customers as a business model isn’t a very good idea.