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AT&T Broadband Caps Begin

If you're an AT&T home broadband subscriber, the all-you-can-eat buffet is closed. May 2 marks the start of data caps for AT&T DSL and U-Verse customers.

DSL users now have a monthly cap of 150 gigabytes a month, while U-Verse subscribers get a more generous serving of 250GB. A user who exceeds the new usage caps three times will pay an additional $10 for every 50GB of data.

In the very near future, this could be you--even if you're not an AT&T customer.

While AT&T announced the broadband caps in March, the data limits will certainly be an unwelcome surprise to many of the Telco's home Internet customers, particularly the growing number who use video-streaming services like Netflix.

AT&T says its average DSL subscriber uses only 18 GB of data per month, and that only 2 percent of its customers will hit the cap. This number's almost certain to rise, however, as streaming services grow in popularity. Netflix added about three and a half million subscribers in the first quarter of 2011, and it's now approaching 24 million customers overall.

A high-definition Netflix video stream uses about 2GB of data per hour, according to Netflix. So it's easy to see how an AT&T DSL customer who watches a few hours of Netflix shows nightly (streamed, not on disc), could quickly reach the 150GB cap.

And AT&T isn't the only ISP with data caps. Comcast, for instance, limits monthly data usage to 250GB. Time Warner has launched trial programs with data caps and overage fees in some markets, but has put usage-based pricing on hold for now.

So you've got to wonder: If only 2 percent of AT&T customers will hit the new data limits, what's the pressing need for a cap? Not to be too cynical here, but it does sound as if AT&T and its fellow ISPs are hoping to cash in on Netflix's popularity.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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