Could bandwidth caps come to mobile phones -- because of porn?

It's simple: Where you have video viewing, you have pornography seeking.

Let's face it: We're a world that loves smut. More than a third of Internet users surf to salacious sites on a semiregular basis, according to some purely academic research cited in a recent Harvard study (PDF). Most of those users hit nearly eight X-rated sites each month -- and, even with a typical visit lasting only 11.6 minutes (insert inappropriate joke here), that can add up to an awful lot of video-based bandwidth.

As smartphones become more advanced and more common, one has to wonder how much of that viewing may spill over into the mobile world. More important, though, is what that could mean: With on-the-go data speeds already being a common source of complaint, a spike in heavy adult-oriented downloads just might convince carriers to consider some kind of mobile bandwidth caps in the future.

Sound far-fetched? Keep reading.

The Cellular Porn Strain

Japan, as we all know, tends to be a bit ahead of us when it comes to technological advances. Mobile Internet use is no exception, either: With a two-year jumpstart in the world of high-speed mobile access, Bloomberg reports, Japanese customers are now using the Internet from their phones three times as much as we are.

So where does the porn come into play? It's simple: Where you have video viewing, you have pornography seeking. Japan's largest carriers are reportedly finding that the hunger for porn is starting to cause a serious strain on their networks -- and, as such, they're starting to impose caps on the users who transfer the most data.

Just ask Yusuke Tsunoda, a Tokyo-based business analyst who explains the implications with more innuendo that we could have possibly requested.

"Pornography will eventually open a debate about how carriers should modify their business model as data traffic swells," Tsunoda tells Bloomberg. "It may prompt even tighter access restrictions."

Now, to be fair, the carriers don't have any firm data on how much of Japan's mobile surfing is purely porn-related. They do, however, say the majority of the data transferring is likely from movie streaming, and the nation's top porn providers say mobile-based sales are "driving [their] revenue growth." If that's not enough, a telecommunications research group tells Bloomberg mobile-based porn revenue is exploding, with projections showing cash flow from cell phone smut more than doubling over the next five years.

The Need For Speed

The issue, of course, comes down to speed: Japanese customers are complaining that access is slowing down to a stop around peak usage times (which, in this case, happen to be around midnight -- surprise, surprise). The parameters may differ, but the overall concerns really aren't a far cry from those that have led American Internet providers to experiment with broadband caps in recent months. Whether it's AT&T's monthly data caps or Cox Communications' bandwidth management system, the concepts all revolve around companies taking steps to keep heavy users from dragging their networks down.

The idea of straight-out throttling -- that is, singling out certain types of Internet traffic and selectively slowing them -- has been met with fierce criticism in America. Still, some providers have found ways to implement such activity-ranking systems as a form of bandwidth management, temporarily slowing or stopping certain types of large data transfers when the network gets overloaded. What's to stop the same logic from being applied to a cellular-based system here?

Mobile bandwidth caps may still be years away for us, but they may ultimately be something we'll have to contend with as mobile Web browsing becomes a bigger part of our lives. Apple can keep porn out of the App Store, after all, but it can't keep you from seeking what you please in Safari. If Japan's situation is any indication, America's unlimited data plans could eventually come with a caveat.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site,

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JR Raphael

PC World (US online)
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