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Monday, February 6, 2012

How to reframe lies about "unlimited" Internet access

A recent Hacker News comment inspired me to come up with a way to embarrass Internet providers which claim to have "unlimited" service but actually impose restrictive caps. Rather than coming clean about what they really offer, they do a marketing ploy and manage to get away with it.

Here's one way to turn it upside-down: talk about it in terms of time and percentages instead of amounts of bandwidth. People "get" time, especially when you talk about slices of it.

Imagine someone who has a 200 GB monthly cap on 20 Mbps service. You could talk about how that's X movies from Netflix or Y songs from iTunes or whatever, but that's hard to appreciate. Who really hits those numbers?

Instead, try this. Let's assume 200 GB is about 215 billion bytes: 214 748 364 800. A 20 Mbps pipe moves about 2.6 MB/sec: 2 621 440.

Now we divide. That 20 Mbps pipe, running full-tilt, will blow through that 200 GB cap in 81920 seconds, or about 23 hours. Congratulations! You just used a month worth of traffic according to your ISP, and you did it in under a day.

Here's where you hit them: this is not a 100% pipe. It's about a 3% pipe. After all, you can only run it at 20 Mbps for about 3% of a month, at which point you hit the cap and you're in trouble. Even with a 2 TB cap on transfer, it's now a 32% pipe.

I can see the ad campaign now. It's a series of vignettes where someone goes into a store, orders something, and then only gets 32% of it. Maybe they order a pizza, and when it comes out, 68% of it is missing. Instead of seeing cheese and bread, there's just the metal pan underneath. Someone else orders a drink and some special effects wizardry shows a top-down shot with a vertical column of liquid consuming 32% of the glass while the rest is just air.

They leave for the competition, where they get a complete pizza and a drink with no funny stuff. The camera pulls back "through" the window to reveal the company's name and tagline: "Get what you paid for".

A little honesty goes a long way.