Achille pointed out that her 14-person public relations and marketing agency is a service business; if a client decides to send over 25 massive media files at a moment's notice, it's not like she can say no. Nor can Achille necessarily project when massive exchanges of data will occur: "[We have] no means of forecasting what our Internet usage requirements will be."
Large file types are a common bandwidth hog among small businesses--and a common concern in the context of metered broadband. Heavy use of voice-over- Internet Protocol (VoIP) platforms is another, as is rapidly increasing reliance on cloud computing of all shapes and sizes--video conferencing, collaboration, productivity, project management, accounting, email, and the list goes on and on. That's not to mention the proliferation of iPads and smartphones on the corporate network, including employee-owned devices whose owners might be trying to avoid data charges on their own personal wireless bills.
Some small companies say they're so reliant on the Web that usage-based billing would force them to revamp how they do business. Joshua Gross of Coalition Technologies, a 26-person Web design and development agency, said metered Internet access would land a direct hit on his company's bottom line because its business is the Internet. Coalition's operations depend heavily on videoconferencing, screen-sharing, VoIP, and other online activities. "We would have to restructure the entire manner in which we conduct our business, and that would correlate to our clients losing flexibility in dealing with us," Gross said via email. AchieveIT, a 14-person software startup based in Atlanta, has a similar story. Most of its sales come from online product demos conducted via Cisco's WebEx and a VoIP phone system.
"Our lifeline is the Internet," said AchieveIT CEO Scott Regan via email. AchieveIT is a Comcast customer. "A cap or overage charge on our [Internet usage] could be disastrous, requiring us to rethink our sales model and purchase and deploy all new telephony equipment."
The vast ranks of the self-employed--freelancers, consultants, "solopreneurs," contractors, and so on--are another group that stands to be impacted, since they typically purchase technology through similar channels as consumers. Likewise, virtual SMBs and companies with remote employees often rely on the same broadband networks used by consumers--and sometimes even their own customers.
That's the case at Accountechs, an accounting firm based in Phoenix. The company is virtual: Each of the firm's six employees works out of a home office on cloud-based systems. They're all Cox Communications broadband customers, as are many of the firm's clients. Cox's usage policies vary by market. Accountech partner Andy Gutierrez said usage limits have never been an issue in the past, but he noted that Cox recently added its data usage meter to his available user tools. "It's a rather ominous sign," Gutierrez said via email.
If metered usage became reality, Gutierrez said Accountechs would be forced to increase its prices and decrease service levels. It could also mean fewer new hires if the company begins provisioning dedicated Internet access for its employees. Most of the small businesses I spoke to predicted similar consequences of metered broadband; all of them said that increased Internet costs would either directly reduce their profit margins or require cuts elsewhere in the budget.