- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

About the Dreaded Bandwidth Cap

Recently I switched ISPs. Main reason is that the folks at CenturyLink refused to renew a super discount program that offered me more than 40 megabits downloads for less than $40 a month. So I’m paying a bit more for a somewhat higher level of speed from Cox Communications as part of yet another super discount package, a bundle that includes cable TV.

No matter. It’s one of those things, and I guess I’m lucky to have a choice of two ISPs that offer real broadband as now defined by the FCC. That definition calls for 25 megabits or higher downloads.

Meanwhile, the FCC is poised to set new regulations that impose net neutrality on ISPs. That means your ISP cannot throttle your speeds because a service, such as Netflix, is using lots and ought to pay an extra fee, or ransom, for the privilege. There has been loads of fear-mongering on the subject. that net neutrality will discourage ISPs from investing in building out their systems — and improving performance — so that more people get faster service at affordable prices. I wouldn’t pretend to judge such matters, except to say that I have seen the need for net neutrality in practice, and many of you have.

No it’s not my ISP throttling Netflix. When I was still with CenturyLink, they had some sort of disagreement with a backbone or peering provider that kept traffic from my web server coming in at full speed. Now as a small businessperson, I do not have the cash to pay off an ISP so my little server can perform at the full rate offered by its gigabit pipe.

In any case, I’m happy with Cox when it comes to my broadband performance. I’m really getting something in the range of the advertised speed, more or less.

But there is one potentially fatal problem that continues to threaten the well being of anyone who spends a fair amount of time online, and that’s the bandwidth cap.

With CenturyLink, it was 250GB, but only for downloads. So I could upload to my hearts content. I could send tens and tens of gigabytes to a cloud-based backup service and never suffer from exceeding the bandwidth limit. Not so with Cox with similar and sometimes higher bandwidth allocations that depend on your Internet plan.

Whether downloading or uploading, it’s all counted towards the total, and I have to tell you I’ve come awfully close. So I’ve taken the step of cutting back on the type of files I send to the cloud. I haven’t even watched much in the way of streaming video, but that will change when I reactivate my Netflix account later this month to binge on “House of Cards.” But I might wait till March so the bandwidth consumed doesn’t count against this month’s allocation.

I never thought I had to fret over such things, and I’d be tempted to return to CenturyLink, despite the higher price, if I didn’t have a 24-month deal with Cox. Assuming finances are sufficient, I might have considered upgrading to Cox’s GIG Life — their new gigabit service — when it arrives in my locale.

But what about the bandwidth cap? Well, it’s 1TB for GIG Life, which is still insufficient. While it may seem generous, if you’re really taking full advantage of the higher performance for which you’re paying, you’ll use that up in days with 4K TV streams and other content. And don’t forget your online backup service, iCloud, Microsoft’s One Drive, or any other cloud-based storage system.

I suppose I understand the limits when it comes to wireless carriers. They are already clogging the cell towers, so more data may indeed tax their capacity. Is there any danger of that with your ISP? If they are feeding 100 megabit or even 1,000 megabit service, is it fair to restrict a customer’s bandwidth to a few hundred gigabytes?

Indeed, what happens if you exceed your bandwidth cap?

Well that appears to depend on your ISP. Some might tolerate it from time to time. Others reserve the right to throttle your service or cut you off as a serial abuser. In some cases, you just pay for the higher bandwidth and be done with it, and if the price for using the service too much is reasonable, I suppose that’s all right.

Now I do not know how much bandwidth these ISPs can handle, and whether that’s the reason for putting limits on their systems. But I would hope they’d just add sufficient capacity to handle the extra load, but someone has to pay for the extra Internet pipes. It’s not that consumption is going down. Of course when you call and complain, they might just try to upsell you to a business class service at maybe twice the price. There’s always a way to grab extra cash from you in exchange for your alleged excessive online use.

Unfortunately when you read about all the joys of cable cutting, being able to use iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Dish Network’s Sling TV and other services to get rid of cable, you may not consider the potential land mines. If your former cable company supplies your broadband, they’ll make up what they lose — and possibly more — if they charge you for using too much bandwidth when you download all that extra content.