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AT&T Is Slowly Limiting Online Video Streaming

It was fun while it lasted, but the end of unlimited internet access and video streaming is upon us. Plans by AT&T to limit customers using its basic internet plan to 150 gigabytes of data every month will almost certainly be followed by other cable operators.

If AT&T’s plan comes close to the new industry benchmark for capping data usage, which is not an unreasonable assumption judging by the relative silence of other cable operators, Netflix fans needn’t worry quite about pulling back dramatically on their online viewing habits … yet.

Here’s how it breaks down: AT&T’s 150 gigabyte cap is equivalent to streaming around 70 hours per month of high-definition video or 150 hours of standard quality. It will impact about 2% of customers. Comcast’s 250 gigabyte cap, which it introduced in 2008, equates to 150 hours of high-definition video per month.

Compare this with the fact that the average American watched just 14 hours of online video last December, according to market researcher comScore Inc., a 12% increase on the previous year. In contrast, Nielsen estimates that Americans still watch over 150 hours of TV per month.

One caveat: once AT&T and others start to cap the amount of gigabytes for flat-rate customers and start dishing out penalties for exceeding those caps – and as streaming grows with the use of iPads and other tablets – cable operators are only likely to introduce even stricter data caps.

Will AT&T’s cap affect your video streaming? What data cap, if any, would you be happy with?

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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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