Internet service providers are facing a quandary. Back in the late '90s, in hopes of boosting their businesses, they stopped charging people by the hour for online access and began offering unlimited, always-on broadband connections. The freedom to surf for as long as one wished and the faster load times attracted more and more households to the web. According to Nielsen data, between 2000 and 2006 broadband subscriptions grew from less than 10 percent of the country to 69 percent. Today, that growth has started to stagnate. Only about 75 percent of the population is online and, of those who aren't, 17 percent say they don't see the point of getting connected. It's not a question of access either; only 1.3 percent of those that aren't online and are interested in broadband don't have access to it, according to a Pew Internet and American Life study issued in January. So broadband providers, eager to show revenue growth in a relatively stable market, are trying to squeeze more money out of the existing subscriber base. While some providers are experimenting with offering premium services like faster speeds at higher prices, others such as AT&T and Time Warner Cable are trying to revoke the all-you-can-eat broadband plans to which we've become accustomed. But when it comes to metered broadband -- charging customers based on the amount of data consumed -- just about everyone loses. Even the carriers.
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