The End of Unlimited?

[I have not run out of material about SID Display Week 2011, but it’s time to get back to some of the other news in the HDTV Almanac world of large screens and home entertainment.]

One of my favorite hobbyhorses is the concept that content as a service will eventually become separated from the data pipes that deliver it. I expect that “data” will become a utility, just like water or electricity. And I believe that “telephone” and “television” services will become the separate content services that they really are. One logical outcome of this shift will be that the data access will be metered, and those who use more data will pay more than others who use less. That’s how water and electricity utilities work, and eventually data utilities will work in much the same way.

As evidence of this inevitable shift, I offer the news from Verizon from last week. According to a report by Reuters, the company plans to eliminate flat-rate data plans for new smartphone customers starting this summer. Instead, consumers will be able to choose among different tiered plans based on a monthly limit for data transfers. AT&T dropped its flat-rate data plans last year.

I expect that most users will actually end up paying less under these plans, and that the heavy-users will end up paying more of their share. This does have implications for data-intensive activities, such as streaming Netflix content to a smartphone or tablet, but I expect that the market will work itself out and competition will help keep the costs down for both wired and wireless data service.