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There are three main reasons for anxiety related to bandwidth caps: invisible balances, mysterious processes and multiple users

A new Georgia Tech/Microsoft study shows that bandwidth caps are putting unnecessary strain on users in South Africa.

Marshini Chetty, a Microsoft Research intern and postdoctoral researcher from Georgia Tech's School of Interactive Computing, conducted a study that shows negative user experiences associated with bandwidth caps. However, Chetty believes the pressure put on Internet users could be relieved with the right data usage monitoring tools.

The study, which is titled "'You're Capped!' Understanding the Effects of Bandwidth Caps on Broadband Use in the Home," was conducted in South Africa. Chetty met with 12 households in the country, where caps were universal until February 2010. South African Internet service providers (ISPs) generally range caps up to 9 GB of data monthly, but some plans are as low as only 1 GB of data, which is significantly lower than 150 GB - 250 GB caps in the U.S.

According to Chetty, there are three main reasons for anxiety related to bandwidth caps: invisible balances, mysterious processes and multiple users.

Invisible balances refer to households having to pay extra fees for small bandwidth cap increases. When this method wasn't ideal, some families would visit other family members to use the Internet, or just switch from desktop PCs to smartphones.

Mysterious processes mean the household's inability to identify which programs are consuming the most bandwidth. Videos and downloads eat up much more of the monthly cap then Web browsing, but not everyone is aware of this and can be cu off in the middle of their activity because the cap reached full capacity.

Some users would even skip software updates because it ate up too much of the monthly bandwidth cap.

"People's behavior does change when limits are placed on Internet access -- just like we've seen happen in the smartphone market -- and many complain about usage-based billing, but no one has really studied the effects it has on consumer activity," said Chetty. "We would also hear about people 'saving' bandwidth all month and then binge downloading toward the end of their billing period.

"We were surprised to learn that many of the households we studied chose not to perform regular software updates in order to manage their cap. This activity can be benign for some applications, inadvisable for others and downright dangerous in certain cases. For example, not installing security patches on your system can leave you vulnerable to viruses and other sorts of cyber attacks."

Multiple users in a household can also add to the strain of bandwidth caps because not all family members can monitor each other's data usage throughout the month. One may be consuming much more data than the other's, leaving the rest of the household unknowingly limited with Internet use.

Chetty has recognized that bandwidth caps can be problematic, and is urging ISPs to come up with better tools that allow households to monitor their data usage and also create better alternatives for when these caps are met. 

"As ISPs move toward usage-based pricing, we need to keep in mind the reactive behaviors that consumers adopt and the consequences of those behaviors," said Chetty. "Because when you have broadband caps, you will use the Internet differently.

"So if you're going to have caps, you should empathize with your users and offer ways for customers to see how their data are being used and who is using them."

There appears to be strain associated with mobile bandwidth as well. In January 2012, England-based mobile advisory company Arieso reported that the top 1 percent of heavy users are bandwidth hogs, accounting for half of the entire world's mobile traffic.

Source: Georgia Tech

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By shadowamazon on 5/8/2012 1:43:59 PM , Rating: 5
Wet its pants when it saw this study. Now imagine the benefit of implementing a usage cap
1. we can charge people more money when they go over it, Comcast wins.
2. Once people are scared of going over their cap, they will shun from internet based entertainment and switch back to cable TV like the good ol'days, Comcast wins again.

RE: Comcast
By spamreader1 on 5/8/2012 2:06:30 PM , Rating: 5
More like splooged than wet thier pants.

RE: Comcast
By retrospooty on 5/8/2012 1:59:49 PM , Rating: 5
LOL... Regardless, when dealing with companies that have service that we all want like cellular, internet, cableTV, etc etc... They will always set themselves up to win. the only alternative is to not buy it, which sucks more than not having it. As much as I hate my cell bill, cable bill and home internet, I would hate not having it alot more.

RE: Comcast
By kleinma on 5/8/2012 2:09:51 PM , Rating: 2
I am finding less and less to watch on TV these days. I really could care less except for the NFL games. I could get an HD over the air antenna to get those, but my wife watches a good amount of the channels you don't get over the air.

RE: Comcast
By Argon18 on 5/8/2012 3:29:00 PM , Rating: 5
Here's my beef with subscription based tv like cable and satellite: Advertisements . I'm *paying* for the service. Why are there commercials here? Just like web sites or computer software that has a free version with built-in advertisements, or a paid version that has no advertisements. Cable TV and Satellite *are* the paid version. And yet you are still bombarded with ads for 16 minutes of each hour. No thanks!

My second complaint is their " Channel Bundles ". Why can't we pick what channels we want, a-la-carte? If I want just the Speed TV channel, why so I need to buy the Super-Mega-Bundle of 15 additional channels for $35 per month? All I want is that one channel. The other 14 in the bundle are crap, I don't want them. I should be able to add just the one channel for a modest fee, instead of being forced into buying a bunch of channels I don't want. No thanks!

I get 34 stations through my antenna, all of them in HD, and the picture quality is *better* than the same station viewed through Comcast. I see noticeably less pixelation and compression artifacts on the over-the-air stations! Sure, there are still commercials, but at least I'm not paying for them.

Between the HD antenna, Netflix streaming, Youtube, Hulu, etc. I don't miss cable TV even one bit.

RE: Comcast
By retrospooty on 5/8/2012 4:01:07 PM , Rating: 3
"Here's my beef with subscription based tv like cable and satellite: Advertisements . I'm *paying* for the service. Why are there commercials here? "

It's not really a paid service. You are paying your cable company to get you access to their channel lineup, but you dont pay those TV stations to supplement advertising. The exceptions would be HBO, Showtime and such... You pay for those channels and they dont advertise (except to promote their own shows LOL)

RE: Comcast
By tastyratz on 5/8/2012 4:59:42 PM , Rating: 2
Very true. People think cable tv owns operates and controls all channels they sell.
While higher up in the food chain many media companies fork back to just a few sources, in general these operations function independently and people forget that.
Cable companies only receive broadcasts from a set of channel providers. They buy channels in packages and get "bulk discounts" on licenses. In that example, it might cost 2 cents per subscriber to give everyone "tv japan", but selling a la cart for those explicitly requesting it would cost them $15 per month.

These channels have their OWN profit margins and programming to provide. They broadcast over the air to reach x subscribers and get advertisers to pay more, offsetting their costs. they ALSO get money from cable companies selling to multiple subscribers.

The reason you pay $10 or $20 for premium un advertized network channels, is the same reason why you see tons of ads and pay $100 for 300 other channels. Advertisements subsidize the selling price.

As much as you might like your 400 channels, If they all cost as much as HBO you might choose more wisely and miss out on a lot of great content.

That being said, I think the cable companies have a monopoly squelching competitive network resellers from driving prices down further, and I think the product has turned to crap. Prices inflate as they bundle more and more channels together forcing you to ONLY buy the more expensive package to get a few good channels. More expensive filler than most people want. The system sucks, I just understand how it works on top.

RE: Comcast
By wallijonn on 5/9/2012 12:37:47 PM , Rating: 3
The reason you pay $10 or $20 for premium un-advertized network channels, is the same reason why you see tons of ads and pay $100 for 300 other channels. Advertisements subsidize the selling price.

You forgot that they need money to bribe our Congressmen not to regulate the CableTelComs and that every time a major sport contract is updated everyone's bills go up $5.

RE: Comcast
By someguy123 on 5/8/2012 10:23:42 PM , Rating: 3
You're paying for the transmission and maintenance, not for the content. Do you think your ISP provides you with dailytech? I'm pretty sure dailytech has ads, even though I clearly paid for my pipe.

I agree about the channel bundles, though. It's either all or nothing.

RE: Comcast
By Oakley516 on 5/8/2012 11:41:28 PM , Rating: 2
How do you get 34 HD channels to watch with an antenna? I hear people say this often when discussing over the air reception, but I don't understand it.

I live just east of the largest city in the US, and don't find nearly that many stations using an antenna. The four main broadcast networks, WABC, WCBS, WNBC, WNYW (FOX), and then WPIX (The CW), WWOR (MyNetworkTV), WNET (PBS), WLIW (PBS) and also two independent networks, WPXN (ION) and WLNY (a small Long Island station).

That's just ten stations, nowhere near 34, and also nowhere near what I receive through cable.

RE: Comcast
By someguy123 on 5/9/2012 1:41:43 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe they're just lucky? I've also seen some DIY antennas that apparently pick up more channels, so maybe it's a matter of signal strength.

RE: Comcast
By Dr of crap on 5/9/2012 8:31:56 AM , Rating: 2
With HD/digital the signals don't travel as far and can't be picked as well as pre-digital TV. In fact most have lost those stations that were far away from them and now with digital can't be picked up. BUT I know in my area I can get 4 or 5 new HD channels from the same broadcaster.

For example my local PBS is on 2.1, there is also 2.2, 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5. Not that there is anything I'd want to see on those others, they are out there. This is true with the rest of the "normal" pre-digital channels. I have at least twice the number of channels on over the air now as before the digital conversion. Try and do a rescan every few months to see if what you pick up changes!

RE: Comcast
By RedemptionAD on 5/9/2012 9:35:06 AM , Rating: 2
A cable or satellite Tv provider pays for each channel they broadcast so it ends up being $.50 - $5.00 per channel, per user. The cost of which is recovered in monthly fees plus advertising, it isn't quite as bad as it feels paying it.

Bandwidth caps are in today's digital world a step backwards as Internet service is as necessary to infrastructure as highways and telephone service and the cap structure will only halt progress in that field. A lot of people forego cable Tv for Internet service nowadays and a better method should be used to promote advancement. I think phone line subsidies should be transferred to wireless carrier subsides for rural areas and major metropolitan areas should have no subsidies due to customer concentration that makes profitable business possible.

Just my $0.02

RE: Comcast
By kmmatney on 5/8/2012 8:39:13 PM , Rating: 2
My current data cap is 250 GB with Comcast, and I've never come close. With 5 internet users in the family, and often several friends over using the internet, I've still only ever hit 100GB once. I can see how a low cap could be stressful, though, and agree that it would keep people from wanting to stream TV over the internet a win for Comcast.

RE: Comcast
By TacticalTrading on 5/9/2012 3:27:29 PM , Rating: 2
What would happen if they set a low a cap?

Simple, at my house, if we got close to the cap, the internet would be turned off to avoid overage charges.
Think anyone else would behave this way?
Also: I would demand Every App and OS tell me how much bandwidth they intend to use BEFORE using it. Think of it as going back to the connect only when I need to mode. (which is frighteningly all the time)
I would want Email clients to tell me how much bandwidth they are going to use before fetching the mail.

IMHO, it never happens. the current 250GB cap is a check on heavy users, which is all they really need to do.

Heavy control of this sort always sounds good, but in the long run, it will result in lower revenue and fewer subscribers (especially in 4g areas)


RE: Comcast
By Jeffk464 on 5/10/2012 9:51:21 AM , Rating: 2
That is exactly the point Comcast wants to implement caps that will deter you from using neflix and hulu. They will then offer you their own streaming service that won't effect your data cap. Its just an attempt(probably successfully) to try to maintain their government enforced monopoly. The way around this is to go with ISP's that don't provide cable TV service as they don't have a vested interest in blocking you from getting your content from hulu, netflix, amazon, or iTunes. I put an antenna on the roof and get my movies from redbox and I'm really enjoying the extra $100 in my pocket every month.

RE: Comcast
By Jeffk464 on 5/10/2012 9:55:15 AM , Rating: 3
If you invest that $100 a month over your working life you probably save enough to pay for 5-10 years worth of retirement.

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