Well, the Internet was fun while it lasted, but now three of the nation's largest service providers are going to shut it down and throw us all back to the dark ages of telephones and postage stamps. "Some people use the Internet simply to check e-mail and look up phone numbers. Others are online all day, downloading big video and music files. For years, both kinds of Web surfers have paid the same price for access. But now three of the country's largest Internet service providers are threatening to clamp down on their most active subscribers by placing monthly limits on their online activity."

"One of them, Time Warner Cable, began a trial of 'Internet metering' in one Texas city early this month, asking customers to select a monthly plan and pay surcharges when they exceed their bandwidth limit. The idea is that people who use the network more heavily should pay more, the way they do for water, electricity, or, in many cases, cellphone minutes.

"That same week, Comcast said that it would expand on a strategy it uses to manage Internet traffic: slowing down the connections of the heaviest users, so-called bandwidth hogs, at peak times.

"AT&T also said Thursday that limits on heavy use were inevitable and that it was considering pricing based on data volume. 'Based on current trends, total bandwidth in the AT&T network will increase by four times over the next three years,' the company said in a statement.

"All three companies say that placing caps on broadband use will ensure fair access for all users. Internet metering is a throwback to the days of dial-up service, but at a time when video and interactive games are becoming popular, the experiments could have huge implications for the future of the Web [...]

"'As soon as you put serious uncertainty as to cost on the table, people's feeling of freedom to predict cost dries up and so does innovation and trying new applications,' Vint Cerf, the chief Internet evangelist for Google who is often called the 'father of the Internet,' said in an e-mail message.

"But the companies imposing the caps say that their actions are only fair. People who use more network capacity should pay more, Time Warner argues. And Comcast says that people who use too much-like those who engage in file-sharing-should be forced to slow down." [NYT]