Survey finds that 83% of Americans don’t understand the concept of bandwidth

Om Malik at GigaOm is on the anti-cap bandwagon again today, publishing a post titled “No Surprise: Survey Shows U.S. Consumers Hate Broadband Caps.

The International Data Corporation on behalf of Zeugma Systems survey of a very small sample size of 787 people found that 81% of Americans do not like the idea of establishing a bandwidth cap and charging for use above the cap, and that 51% would try to change service providers if their ISP imposed bandwidth caps.

Fighting numbers, but the telling result was the next one: 83% say that do not know what a gigabyte [is] or have no idea how many gigabytes they use.

As I noted August 28, the Sky is Falling. The idea of internet usage caps has become the gun control of the internet; any limitations are bad and rob the average person. The staggering thing is that the anti-cap message has gained such wide acceptance, and if there’s a win here, it’s for the anti-cap crusaders.

But lets think about this rationally. Comcast says that the 250gb a month cap will affect exactly 0.01% of all their users. Not 10%, not 1%, not even 0.1%, but 0.01%. Lets crunch the numbers some more: 51% may switch based on the notion that an infinitely small number of them may face cap issues, but the survey also found that 95% of “those surveyed said that they would happily pay for more premium bandwidth services if they can get it for services such as video, VoIP, gaming and telecommuter VPNs” despite only 5% saying that “those who use more should pay more.” 54% “would switch service providers if a competitive service offered a premium tier,” although strangely only 26% “said they would pay their service provider an additional fee for premium bandwidth services.”

Let me say upfront that I’m not personally in favor of internet caps as a broader idea, and I’d love nothing more than to have the ability to sign up to an ISP that offered unlimited internet access. There’s a half reasonable argument around caps limiting innovation in online service delivery in the future, even if evidence would suggest that markets respond to caps by innovating to deliver content more efficiently, and as in the case of Australia, content providers do deals that see cap exemptions for their content. However, what we see here is a fear campaign based on ignorance as opposed to fact. 99.99% of people will never be affected by Comcast’s cap (there are different rates with different ISP’s, so the rate may vary), and there is absolutely no reasonable argument I’ve seen yet that justifies the notion that users who use 1TB or more a month should be subsidizing those who use 1gb. Bandwidth costs money based on throughput, so a high end user DOES cost more money to supply than a low end user, so I’m at a loss to understand any argument that suggests that both should pay the same for their internet access.

See also Everyone needs to calm down about Internet Caps for more on how internet caps work for most people.