The all-you-can-eat train is coming to the end of its tracks.

Every now and then I come across someone who’s still paying by the minute to make phone calls. If you’re very young you might not even know that paying for each call you make was once a possibility, but until 1984 it was the only way phone calls outside your immediate area were sold and until the mid 1990s it was still pretty much the standard way things were done.

Data? It’s free. Bandwidth is unlimited, all-you-can-eat. Right? Not any more.

AT&T has announced the end of unlimited data consumption over your home-based Internet connection. To be clear, the cap on your data usage at home is pretty darned high, so only the hungriest data consumers will be effected. But it begins a trend that can only get worse. Expect other providers to jump on board. Expect data caps to get pushed lower. Expect to be paying for your consumption of bits.

Considering that in other countries a much faster internet connection than is even available in the USA can be bought for about 1/4 the price we pay here, this is horrifying. Yes, I’m talking about the consumer-value aspect of things, but I’m even more concerned about the global competitiveness aspect of our businesses. Paying for bits? Seriously?

It makes no sense that companies like Verizon charge higher rates for their 4G networks while simultaneously telling us how much pay-by-the-bit data we can consume over these connections. And I warned you about the issue almost a year ago. But at least in the world of wireless communications there’s a rationale for not allowing consumers to hog vast quantities of data; the bandwidth is limited. In the wired world, bandwidth is SO plentiful that the idea of needing a cap to conserve bandwidth simply isn’t meaningful.

Just as with banks starting to charge fees to have checking accounts (go find another, generally smaller bank that doesn’t do that), you have options. There will continue to be companies that buy huge amounts of bandwidth from the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world and resell it in unlimited buckets, like the guys behind The Puck. But pretty soon if you want an unlimited data plan so you can keep using your video connection, Netflix, and telephone over the Internet and not have to think about the cost every time you do something, you’ll have to do the legwork of finding and switching to that kind of provider, first.

Business Change? You bet. BAD business change? For just about everyone.

At least AT&T is being honest about their intentions. Verizon used to have an “unlimited” data plan that turned out not to be.

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