Will the coronavirus set up the internet with free data and flat rate?
Internet rates and data caps in the age of the coronavirus reveal that we have never had to pay for the amount of data used.
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The pressure of the global pandemic has made broadband operators release the connection restrictions that users pay for. After years of enforcing limits to protect the network, these new measures may be the beginning of the end to the data restriction we have had for years.
The threat of the coronavirus and official social distancing policies worldwide are driving millions of people to stay at home, holding meetings via video chat, watching videos on YouTube or series on Netflix the rest of the time. This type of use implies a great increase in the bytes that pass through the tubes, both simultaneously and cumulatively.
What we humans are not doing in real life, information is doing in the digital world: coming together. "This will be a huge stress test for our communications networks," Blair Levin, former chief of staff for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), told CNN.
In the United States, Internet providers have proposed changes based on their rates and the amount of data in broadband services. For example, Comcast is increasing bandwidth for low-income customers who are part of the Internet Essentials plan. AT&T is suspending data caps for all customers until further notice. Verizon Fios has no data caps and no additional coronavirus plan, but the company announced it has added $500 million to its 5G deployment plans.
Since the news of the coronavirus as a pandemic, the volume of data use has been increasing. In South Korea, supplier use has increased by 8% and in the United States, since the first week of February, by 10-12%. Vodaphone, the second-largest telecommunications operator in the world, with nearly 120 million customers in a dozen European countries, said its services have increased by up to 50%, possibly in the hardest-hit countries, such as Italy and Spain; the company has even offered unlimited data to freelancers and small businesses during this quarantine.
So, if the service provider can temporarily lift the data caps, there is definitely enough capacity for the network to be used without those limits. Of course, this could not apply to countries in Africa or Latin America, where there is no infrastructure such as those created by Verizon, Comcast or AT&T. During the coronavirus crisis, operators in Latin American countries only show off muscle through social networks explaining how to disinfect your mobile phone, but do not include an increase in the data plan.
If there is enough capacity in the United States or Europe to support the network, why were there different rates depending on the amount of data? Simply because there is money to be made.
The pandemic has reflected that data caps simply don't matter anymore. Small companies in countries affected by the coronavirus such as Spain do not free you from paying the data fee as in the United States, but they give you more data as a gift. The fact that these limits can be removed at will without involving a crisis, leads us to affirm that there is possibly enough capacity so that the network does not fall, nor the Internet breaks like Kim Kardashian's buttocks.
The business model, as we know it, might be changing with the current circumstance created by the coronavirus, because after the telecom operators have made this exception public, it will be obvious to many that there is no reason for such limits to exist, including the FCC in the United States.
For years, providers have claimed data restrictions because some users would abuse the system and absorb the entire Internet, causing congestion and slower speeds for everyone else. These cases possibly did occur, but many years ago, when broadband was in its infancy with little infrastructure and it was possible for a single user to hog an entire building's connection.
Now 100 MB and GB connections are becoming more common; Verizon even offers 1TB. These days, your neighbor wouldn't notice when you view Netflix or how much data you download, only your service provider would.
These facts will be much more visible if providers try to reset data caps. The concept of zero-rating and data limits has already been addressed. If the entire country was using their connection during months of pandemic without any harmful effects and without any problems with the network or government opposition, why should there be a limit?