Broadband Provider Wide Open West Tries To Justify Unnecessary Broadband Caps Using... Pizza?

from the monopolies-are-like-pepperoni dept

For a long time now, we've explained how broadband usage caps are bullshit. They serve no technical purpose on the network, and aren't genuinely helpful in managing congestion. Their real role is several fold: one, they let ISPs charge US consumers (who already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world) even higher rates; two, they let ISPs falsely advertise a lower price than they actually charge; and three, they can be abused anticompetitively (exempting an ISP's own streaming content from caps while still penalizing a competitor like Netflix).

Despite this, regulators historically haven't much cared, even during a pandemic showcasing how affordable broadband is essential for survival. And ISPs keep slowly expanding the adoption of such caps across the states in the hopes nobody will notice (think of the boiling frog metaphor with you as the frog).

That includes Colorado-based Wide Open West (WOW), which recently announced it would be implementing new usage caps and overage fees for its subscribers starting June 1, 2021. Utterly tone deaf to the fact there's a pandemic and economic crisis going on, the ISP attempts to soften the blow by pretending that costly, confusing broadband caps and overage fees are akin to delicious pizza:

"What's a monthly data usage plan? Let us illustrate …

Imagine that the WOW! network is a pizza. Piping hot. Toppings galore. Every WOW! customer gets their own slice of pizza, but the size of their slice is dependent on their Internet service plan. While customers who subscribe to 1 Gig get the largest slices, those with Internet 500 get a slightly smaller piece, and so on. But, it's all the same delicious, high-speed pizza that you know and love."

To be clear, broadband is not remotely comparable to pizza. On a properly constructed and funded network you don't just suddenly run out of "pizza" because there's a few gluttons about. Smart network optimization technology is routinely used to ensure that doesn't happen. Also note that while WOW is busy talking about pizza, at no point can they be bothered to clearly state what their new, arbitrary usage limit is (1 to 3 terabytes depending on your plan):

"Now, say you're not full after your slice and you grab another. That extra slice is like a data overage. Don't worry—we got extra pizza... umm, data... just in case. If you exceed your data allowance, we'll automatically apply increments of 50GB for $10 to your account for the remainder of the current calendar month. Total overage charges will not exceed $50 per billing statement no matter how much data you use. Even better—the first time you experience a data overage, we'll proactively waive fees."

How nice of you to "proactively waive fees" from arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions (WOW used to use a lack of a cap as marketing bragging rights). Again, there's no reason for these restrictions to exist outside of boosting revenues. And it's a tactic that only works thanks to limited competition, as many of these customers will have no alternative ISP to switch to. ISPs also know people get bogged down in conversations about whether "one terabyte is generous," which distracts from the reality that these limits shouldn't exist at all on a properly built network.

ISPs spent many years trying to pretend that usage caps were necessary due to congestion. But after data scientists, network engineers, and even the industry's own leaked memos repeatedly proved that wasn't true, the industry finally stopped. These days, ISPs will usually just implement the restrictions without bothering to justify them, knowing there's no regulatory or competitive penalty. But if you're "lucky," you'll get an ISP which feels inclined to get creative as they try to pretend that screwing you over is something you should actively enjoy.

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Filed Under: broadband, broadband caps, data caps, pizza
Companies: wide open west, wow


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 6:27am

    Failing Pizza analogy.

    In a city like NYC, you'll always find competition for Pizza. Do you want the best PIzza? Maybe go to Grimaldi's, DiFara's or (my personal favorite) Lucali. Do you want the cheapest pizza? Go to any 99¢ pizza shop. Do you want the original pizza place? Go to Lombardi's. Do you want shitty pizza? Go to any of the "Ray's Pizza" places (if they're still around).

    The ISP's however, are like Pizza in many parts of rural and suburban US: It's Domino's and that's what you're stuck with. NYC Pizza is like ISPs in Spain.

    I would say that's a better Pizza analogy, don't you Karl?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:06am

    If you exceed your data allowance, we'll automatically apply increments of 50GB for $10 to your account for the remainder of the current calendar month. Total overage charges will not exceed $50 per billing statement no matter how much data you use.

    As noted, they don't even try to claim a "reason" for adding these overage fees, and no wonder, since statements like that prove that any of those reasons are completely bogus. If there was any actual, network management reason for data caps, you sure wouldn't stop charging them when a person blew beyond their limit.

    In fact, it almost incentivizes someone to plow through the cap and just keep going.

    0 to 1 TB = standard monthly fee
    1 TB to 1.25 TB = up to $50 over standard monthly fee
    1.25 TB to <undefined> = no extra cost!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:28am

      Re:

      In other words, they just added 4 new data plans and raised their "unlimited" plan by $50/mo. All without raising prices! It's genius.

      Sounds like the "reason" to me,

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BernardoVerda (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 5:35pm

      Hey. listen -- have I ever got a great deal for you! (sucker!)

      "We're imposing data caps because we have no choice -- we're running out of megabits.

      Oh! But don't worry -- we have a whole additional pile of surplus megabits, for anybody who's willing to pay an arbitrary monthly fee to access them!"

      It amounts to a published confession that the whole premise is arbitrary flim-flam to gouge their customers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:23am

    I still remember the VP

    The bastard had the balls to show up to a class of Computer Engineers and talk about how data caps were not only coming for wireless but would be eventually physical necessity /for fiber/. Even one who was in danger of flunking out would have smelled the bullshit and said "Fiber back link and smaller cells". There was both an unspoken and spoken after "who does this fucker think he is trying to fool".

    Hillariously they had to do a 180 from the modicium of mobile competition and then openly whined about it ruining their quarterly earnings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:23am

    We need data caps because bits are a limited resource!! We need to mine for more bits!!! Rabble!!! /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 9:13am

      Re:

      Too many people are converting their refined bits into bitcoin! We need to ban that mint to preserve the Internet As We Know It!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:34am

    Yet another reason...

    There is of course yet another reason to institute a data cap, it helps paper over the amount of money you haven't been spending on maintaining your network.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:37am

    Ignores the fact there's another pizza every minute. and since there's plenty of pizza for everyone, there's no reason for caps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 7:40am

    An ISP is like a river, you don't need caps, because it just flows, flows, flows. Unless it's the Colorado River, then you do need caps, because it doesn't get to the ocean anymore. But that's in indictment on western water policies, which is another story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Melvin Chudwaters, 6 Apr 2021 @ 8:30am

    The only fix for this nonsense is, unfortunately, legislation.

    That legislation should be written to allow these ISPs to sell service on a per-speed-tier basis, or a per-data basis... but never both at the same time.

    They'd be required to do the per-data plans at their fastest available speeds. Neither sort of plan would be allowed to have no throttling except the minimum necessary to deal with congestion for only the duration that congestion continues.

    These speed tiers, after all, aren't the natural consequences of the technology. It's not as if they have to spend more to install higher-speed coax/fiber. The customer doesn't need a 500mpbs modem (all the ones bought off the shelf now days allow for the highest speeds currently available, only software limits them to lower).

    So, given that, any time they both try to sell via speed tier and per data, they are enforcing two mutually contradictory rules merely to gouge for money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 9:28am

    So data caps are the pineapple on the pizza?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 10:49am

    Pizza

    sticking with the analogy...
    If broadband was like Pizza... Here in the great US of A, you only that you have one choice in your area and it's really just a tortilla with tomato sauce smeared on it... and apparently the guy before you asked for all the cheese.

    Enjoy your pizza.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 10:59am

    A more realistic analogy using beer:

    "We know you just bought and paid full price for this 24-pack, but our new beer-cap policy means we must take back 23 of those cans from you with no refund. We'll tell you this is because there isn't enough beer to go around, and we're doing this so that some customers will have any chance to get any beer at all, but we'll then prove ourselves liars by letting you get he whole rest of the case anyway if you pay $10/can in overage fees and buy more cases too. On that last note, don't look at the dozens of cases we have in stock behind the curtain or the daily full supply truck out back.

    Also, you should check out our zero-rating program, which lets you get free* beer**.

    * only exempted from overage fees. Must still pay full price.
    ** We've decided to call these bottles of foamy, cloudy yellow liquid our part-time stockroom guy Randy said he brewed in the out-of-order restroom at he truck stop down the road 'beer.'
    But now it looks like a better deal since you don't have to pay more for it, doesn't it?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BernardoVerda (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 5:46pm

      Re:

      My first reaction was that your example of clawing back 23 out of 24 bottles was a bit of an exaggeration.

      But then I remembered that last week I saw a post in which somebody served by this particular company (WOW) did the math...

      He showed that under his current plan, if he actually used the "unlimited" plan that he's been paying for, he could hit his monthly cap in less than eight hours.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2021 @ 5:10pm

    Sadly, WOW used to be relatively decent.

    But since they seem to be actively pushing customers out of their cable business to use streaming instead, i wonder what they will do with all that extra capacity as people continue cord-cutting and WOW continues to suggest to the older crowd that they should cut the cord as well. Oh right! Start using data caps, that's the ticket.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 6 Apr 2021 @ 11:00pm

    So, since I don't have a bandwidth cap I'm getting unlimited pizza? Or, does it just mean I'm able to enjoy the one pizza I've actually paid for without the restaurant randomly taking pieces of it to give to other customers because they forgot to make enough to cover all the orders?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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