In the early days of Internet service, it was normal to pay exorbitant hourly prices to go online. The first big consumer Internet boom came about when Internet service providers realized that more people would be willing to pay for their services if they were allowed to have unlimited access with a monthly fee. For most Internet users, unlimited monthly service was the only kind of pricing structure that they ever knew, and it worked for both the customers and the companies alike. However, as more expensive high-speed broadband services become the norm and Internet users are downloading larger files than ever before, companies are trying to find ways to mitigate costs by imposing limits on their customers. Is this the beginning of the end for unlimited broadband?
One way that broadband Internet providers limit usage without imposing strict data limits or overage fees is to throttle the speeds of heavy downloaders. When throttling is imposed, there is typically a monthly limit that is agreed to in an unlimited broadband package. Once this download limit is reached, speeds may be reduced to a barely usable crawl. Although this technique was at first typically applied to prevent users from illegally tethering their mobile broadband to computers, many home broadband plans now involve throttling.
Traffic management is another way that broadband providers limit unlimited Internet packages. An ISP will typically set certain hours as peak usage hours. During these hours, their network is expected to have its highest amount of traffic. If your provider engages in traffic management, your Internet speeds will be regulated during peak hours so that all of the customers on the network can have acceptable speeds. This practice prevents the company from having to expand their network only to accommodate these brief busy periods.
Many broadband Internet providers are phasing out unlimited plans in favor of plans with firm limits. Currently, this trend is more prevalent with mobile data plans. Depending on the amount of data that you use, they may actually be more cost-effective than an unlimited plan. However, if you are a person who downloads a lot of large files or streams high-quality media, you run the risk of having to pay extremely high overage fees. If you do have a limited plan, pay very close attention to the amount of data that you are using.
What the Future Holds
It is inevitable that eventually, major broadband Internet providers will have to greatly expand their infrastructure. Internet streaming services are becoming the norm and are gradually replacing television's place in our living rooms. On top of the shift to streaming services, ultra high definition pictures will soon become the norm, meaning that these streaming service will require even more data to be transferred. Whichever companies manage to provide the fastest speeds with the fewest limitations will surely be the victors of this technological shift. Although unlimited broadband services may appear to be in jeopardy at the moment, the future for them is actually quite bright. It is increasingly important that consumers compare broadband to make sure they get a reasonable deal and truly unlimited options.