A Dirty Word for Downloaders in Any Country

Photographer: Jonatan Martin

Photographer: Jonatan Martin

For months, Deutsche Telekom has been talking about how it needs to make its broadband network faster. Now, it wants to hit the brakes -- at least for the heaviest users.

Citing growing strain on its network, the company has uttered a word no broadband user wants to hear: limits. Deutsche Telekom announced that new fixed-line Internet customers will face a cap on how much data they can download at high speed.

The cheapest contracts, with speeds up to 16 megabits per second, will come with a monthly allowance of 75 gigabytes. According to Deutsche Telekom, that's enough for 13 movies, three of them high-definition, 60 hours of Web radio, 400 photos and 16 hours of online gaming. After that, downloads will top out at 384 kilobits per second, or slower than the minimum speed advised by YouTube. More expensive contracts, promising speeds up to 200 Mbps, have higher limits.

The idea wasn't popular in the U.S. when AT&T and Comcast introduced similar caps. In Germany, it has caused media outrage and become a political issue even though it'll be about three years before the limits are implemented and relatively few people will bump up against the cap.

Nonetheless, Germany's economy minister Philipp Roesler wrote to Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann to express his concern, according to Der Spiegel magazine. Politicians from the leading opposition party are even asking for a law to prohibit such caps as they prepare for an election this year. The carrier is still 32% state-owned.

The backlash shows a central dilemma operators face. They're trying desperately to avoid losing customers as the challenge from cable grows, but their networks are straining under the fast-growing traffic. With German cable operators offering higher speeds and greater bandwidth, though, download limits risk pushing customers away.

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