The days of scanning the legal fine print are gone.
I’ll admit outright that I’m a blatant offender of this practice. I typically see those pesky user agreements as obstacles in installing or purchasing just about any technology-based product, and I usually just accept the terms without reading them.
What I have come to learn is that even though user agreements can be cumbersome and full of legalese, it is in the customer’s best interest to not only read them – but also to question them.
That is the situation I found myself in recently after changing my personal Internet subscription.Et tu, Mediacom?
After canceling my previous agreement with Internet service provider AT&T largely because of its newly imposed 150-gigabyte bandwidth cap on certain Internet services, I went with what I considered to be the best alternative: Mediacom broadband Internet.
But then I discovered Mediacom’s 250-gigabyte bandwidth cap in the fine print of the company’s online acceptable use policy at www.mediacomtoday.com/aup
I felt dejected. I had come to the end of the line, because I know I will continue to purchase Internet service regardless, and my options are severely limited.
I put on my reporter’s hat and called Middletown, N.Y.-based Mediacom Communications Corp. for answers.
The combination of the acceptable use policy wordage and speaking with Tom Larsen, Mediacom vice president of legal and public affairs, gave me a good understanding for why the company, which services 22 states, imposes the bandwidth restrictions for its Internet users.
Larsen said the cap is applied primarily to ensure users aren’t running businesses out of their homes using Mediacom residential Internet service and as a way of limiting the use of peer-to-peer services that, in some circumstances, are used to download and upload illegal content such as copyrighted films.
“The policy is really centered around making sure that folks are in the appropriate package,” he said. “We don’t want a situation where people are using commercial-type bandwidth in a residential setting.”
By Larsen’s testimony, it would be extremely difficult for a typical Mediacom Internet user to come anywhere near the 250-gigabyte ceiling. Mediacom, however, does not have a tool to allow customers to check monthly bandwidth use, instead choosing to contact customers if they come near the cap. “It’s a very, very small amount of customers who would come close to this cap,” he said.E-commerce consequences
Still, I can’t escape a sinking feeling in my stomach when thinking about bandwidth caps in general.
Services purchased by the end user should not be subject to restrictions on the very service that was paid for. A similar example is purchasing a DVD and having to endure criminal warnings that can’t be fast-forwarded, despite the fact the DVD was legally purchased in the first place.
As the U.S. population becomes more savvy with technology, businesses models such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and iTunes have brought about ways to receive services in an exclusively online setting. These products are convenient and meet consumer demands – but they typically don’t skimp on bandwidth usage.
Placing bandwidth restrictions on Internet plans is a good way to scare users into using less bandwidth, especially in cases where there isn’t a tool for customers to measure their usage.
As a byproduct, bandwidth caps inherently prohibit the expansion of Internet services and products. If users are unwilling or unable to use services requiring additional bandwidth, these services will limit their offerings, making for a much more restrictive e-commerce environment. Who does that favor? Largely, just the Internet service provider.
Read the fine print. But you might not like what you find there.Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.