U.S. DoJ Probing Cable Companies Over Data Caps

The Internet is still something of a wild frontier, where everything is growing and evolving fast, but the rules are still being written and shootouts between companies are general practice. It’s grown so much that it’s gradually invading just about every other market sector, from phone service to retail and more.

The TV industry is a major battleground, as online streaming video from the likes of Netflix and Hulu nibble away at cable companies’ market share and, more importantly, make people question why they’re paying so much money for cable and satellite. In an on-demand world, the paradigm of cable/satellite programming is laughable, as TV programming is delivered in bundles of channels that users are forced to pay for but won’t ever watch.

Lobby at Comcast HQ (Image credit: The Consumerist)

Cable companies such as Comcast see the writing on the wall, and they’ve been using the ISP wings of their services to creatively stifle the encroaching competition through measures such as monthly data caps. According the Wall Street Journal’s anonymous sources, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into whether those tactics have slipped into antitrust territory.

From the consumer’s point of view, the faster the DoJ can pick apart cable companies’ (allegedly) underhanded tactics, the better. Pay TV is expensive yet contains an overabundance of horrifically bad and boring content, while there’s more great stuff available on demand from far cheaper online sources than a body one watch in one’s lifetime. Still, though, some of the most popular content (such as sporting events) is still on pay-TV, and those providers maintain a death grip on it. Many people would be more than happy to cancel cable if they could still get those few favorite channels, so if the DoJ could shake things up for us, that’d be super.

On the other hand, ISPs have a point when they complain that power users are overwhelming their networks. Rolling out nationwide broadband was/is not exactly a small investment, and continually maintaining and upgrading that infrastructure is no small task either. They need to charge for their services.

Fortunately, although we can (and will) all have our opinions on the matter, the Antitrust Division of the DoJ is going to do the actual work of deciding if any antitrust violations have occurred. Whatever comes of the investigation, the TV market is going to be shaken up.