How Broadband Caps Are Affecting You


What Are Broadband Caps?

Broadband caps, or data caps, are monthly limits set by your data or wireless provider on the amount of data you can download through your connection. For many carriers it is 2 gigabytes per month.

The truth is broadband caps probably don’t affect you much right now, unless you are constantly streaming audio and video. The overwhelming majority of users don’t come anywhere near the 2 GB data cap. It is estimated that only about 3 to 4 percent of smartphone users hit the broadband caps. In order to hit that limit, you’d have to average about 20 minutes of watching Youtube videos a day, and 30 minutes of streaming music.

The problem though, as a New York Times article points out, is that most people don’t have a clue about how much a megabyte is, or how much data they use. It’s a lot easier to measure talk time, because people know exactly what that means.

SEE ALSO: Tips To Avoid Data Throttling

How Much Data Does Streaming Video Use?

Even worse, customers can’t be blamed for their ignorance, because even data providers don’t agree on how much data an activity uses. If you look at the data calculators offered by Verizon and AT&T, none of the same activities listed agree with each other on the amount of data they use.

Is an email 10KB or 20 KB? Does streaming audio use 1 MB an hour or 0.5 MB an hour? Is a movie 350 MB and hour or 300 MB an hour?

So What Happens When You Bump Into Your Data Cap?

When you hit your cap you will either get “throttled,” which means the provider will severely restrict your download speed, or they will charge you overage fees for all the data used above the limit, which can get quite pricey. For example, T-Mobile throttles your data, while Verizon charges an extra $10 for each gigabyte over the limit. Users who consistently run over the limit can even be disconnected from their service.

Now that wireless companies are offering 4G LTE coverage, which means faster downloading, the amount of data used per month is growing steadily, and people will inch closer and closer to their data cap. Some analysts even argue that the benefits of greater speed provided by 4G LTE are worthless because of data caps, which restricts how and when users get online.

The problem for users is a data cap requires smart surfing in order to avoid hitting the limit. You have to start asking questions like: How much data do I have? How close am I to reaching the limit? What happens when I go over? How much data will the current application or movie take up?

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently said, “Anything that depresses broadband usage is something that we need to be really concerned about. We should all be concerned with anything that is incompatible with the psychology of abundance.”

Wireline Broadband Caps

AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner are now starting caps for wireline services. Comcast has a data cap at 300 GB, and charges an extra $10 for 50 GB of data. But just as with wireless services, a typical user only requires 32 GB of data a month, so most are not in danger of hitting the limit.

Apparently only about 1.5 percent of users reach this limit. The new wireline caps are not without controversy, because not all data is treated equally. For example, data over Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand service doesn’t count towards your limit.

SEE ALSO: Broadband Internet

The Future Of The Internet And Broadband Caps

Expect data caps to become more of an issue. Websites will become more complex, network coverage will increase and speeds will improve. People are relying more and more on their phones for surfing the Internet and transferring data, which may force companies to reexamine their data offerings.

Sprint offers truly unlimited plans, but Verizon CFO Fran Shammo recently said in a conference that, “Unlimited is just a word, it doesn't really mean anything…that whole unlimited thing, I think, is going by the wayside.”

Who knows what new developments are around the corner and how they will impact data transfer.

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