P2P on 3G Implicated in End of “Unlimited” Data Plans?

One of the big news items in the U. S. geek world this week was AT&T’s replacing “unlimited” data plans with tiered plans for the . As PC World describes them, “New users will have to decide between a 200MB plan for $15/month or 2GB for $25.” Similar changes were made in the United Kingdom, leading Charles Arthur of the Guardian to explore the reasons for the change.

His reports that, in the UK, 97% of the users consume less than 500 MB of data a month, while fewer than 1/10 of 1% consume more than 800 MB a month.

After discussing the relative bandwidth demands of text messages, music, and videos, he concludes that the disparity is related to the UK’s recent Digital Economy Bill (a plain-English discussion of it is here).

Closer investigation suggests that this is a sort of collateral damage from the rumblings that preceded the Digital Economy Act – that it’s caused by peer-to-peer users who were perhaps worried about the “three strikes” talk, and figured that their landlines (if they have them) might be monitored or throttled if they download a lot of data; or they might be surcharged. For as we’ve pointed out before, “unlimited” doesn’t mean unlimited on landline broadband.

So those wary folk – put by one network as numbering “in the few hundreds” out of millions – have signed up on “unlimited” plans, taken the SIM out of the phone, and then use it in a 3G dongle to download stuff. Because it’s unlimited, they can get what they want. And as they don’t mind how quickly it arrives, the speed isn’t a particular issue; they’re just after volume. O2 says that 0.1% of its smartphone users – that’s about 2,000 people – are consuming 36% of its data. Other networks indicate the same.

I don’t know what to think of this, and, frankly neither did the persons who commented on the article.

My instinctive reaction is that it’s rather fanciful reasoning. It seems like a lot of work to download something of marginal value.

P2P filesharers seem to be today’s all-purpose villains of the internet, being blamed for everything from the decreasing bonuses for music company execs to a bad harvest of peaches in Georgia.

Music and movie execs assume that, if persons are willing to share it, persons are willing to buy it.

That’s shaky reasoning. I think it’s likely that much of what gets traded via filesharing would be unlikely to sell at volume.

Funny. Music and movie execs seldom consider that producing lousy, uninspired, derivative music and vapid, all-CGI no-plot movies that are remakes of last decade’s flops may affect sales.

Full Disclosure: I don’t use p2p. I don’t like bit-torrent; years ago when I found out that my older boy had put Kazaa on the family computer when Kazaa was new, I was all over him like a bad suit. Same with my younger one and LimeWire. It wasn’t so much the sharing; it was the security holes.

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