AT&T has decided to throttle users of it’s unlimited plans, and the unlimited wireless data plans are disappearing fast in the US.

Yet a recent study indicated that data caps are a crude and unfair tool for relieving congestion. The study recommends “policies honestly implemented to reduce bandwidth usage during peak hours should be based on better understanding of real usage patterns and should only consider customers’ behavior during these hours”

The problem isn’t how many bits people use. There is not a big bucket of bits that the carriers will run out of if everybody uses too much. The flashing lights on the routers don’t cost more to run either if people are moving their bits through the pipes in large numbers.

What is a problem is connection capacity. If too many people are hitting the towers, as I understand it, the towers have a hard time handling the traffic, and you get the poor wireless data service you see in some big cities and at tech conferences.

There’s also the good old fashioned flood of packets that cause increased packet loss as routers get overworked by too much traffic. That’s what makes DDOS attacks work. So there *are* problems, but limiting the amount of data I use at 3 AM when nobody else is using the Internet, doesn’t help the problem.

Throttling may help some because it knocks people into using a slower network with different capacities, but again it’s a brick bat to the head kind of solution. Sure, folks who use lots of data are more likely to be connecting at peak times, but it doesn’t mean they are, and it doesn’t mean they’re the root cause of the problem.

The situation reminds me of any kind of situation where a line or queue forms. Look at bridge tool booths or airport security lines for similar behavior. They can get horribly backed up, but the solution is not to somehow punish or throttle people who drive or fly often.

I suggest that carriers abandon data caps in favor of a ‘fast pass’ model. When the network reaches capacity or congested situation, all regular users get throttled a bit, unless they pay for a higher tier of service. That may sound bad at first, but remember, that right now, all users get throttled anyway in places like San Francisco, and the only option you have is to pay more to use your phone less. What if, instead you had the same service with the same issue you have now, for the same price but no data cap. However, you had the option to pay more per month to get your connection prioritized. You’re not violating net neutrality, because all users are connected, and all traffic is treated equally. You just don’t get throttled.

Of course the fast pass model requires pricing that makes it so that not everybody uses it. You want to avoid the situation you see sometimes on the Bay Bridge where the fastTrack lanes are backed up but the other lanes are not.

It’s possible they might even be able to provide tiers of fastpass where the more you pay the less likely you are to get throttled. And the throttling only happens at peak times. In non-peak hours everyone has full unthrottled access anyway.

I can already imagine some of you screaming why this is a horrible idea, so have at it, respectfully, in the comments. In the end maybe we can figure out some model that is agreeable to most, if not all? Who knows?