If you get your Internet service from AT&T, odds are you're now living with a bandwidth quota. Wired is reporting that the telecommunications giant has started capping its 16 million broadband users at either 150GB or 250GB per month. DSL customers will be restricted to 150GB, while UVerse users will be capped at 250GB. Exceed those limits, and you'll pay $10 for an additional 50GB. That may work out to just 50 cents per gigabyte, but the extra bandwidth allowance only comes 50GB at a time.
As a Canadian who has lived with far more limiting bandwidth quotas for years, it's hard to get too worked up about the fact that ISPs south of the border are starting to put caps in place. A bigger issue is how users are charged for exceeding their monthly limits. Bandwidth is cheap, relatively speaking, and it should cost AT&T a fraction of the $0.50/GB being passed along to consumers. Making folks pony up $10 even if they just barely trickle over the limit seems particularly mean-spirited.
Obviously, ISPs have their own interests to protect—cable TV businesses and video-on-demand services threatened by the bevvy of streaming video available on the interwebs. All that streaming video, coupled with BitTorrent downloads and online gaming, is surely responsible for the bulk of the congestion on "local loops" that Wired says ISPs are seeking to combat. I'm not sure that imposing quotas will greatly reduce congestion, though. If ISPs are being honest when they say only a tiny fraction of subscribers will be impacted by bandwidth quotas, it seems unlikely that capping those users will result in a meaningful reduction in network congestion.