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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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Here's an idea
By HoosierEngineer5 on 5/8/2012 3:52:46 PM , Rating: 5
I think advertizers should PAY ME $10 per Gbyte to download their ads. That's what I PAY just to look at them.

Also, websites need to cut down on fluffy graphics that just burn up bits as heat.

RE: Here's an idea
By JediJeb on 5/8/2012 11:55:57 PM , Rating: 2
That is a really big problem lately. I especially hate the sites where I have already read through the content before the ads have fully loaded because they have tons of video and flash in them. I don't run adblocker but I do run noscript on FF and it is amazing just how much content that should be in simple text is tied up in scripts. Dailytech isn't too bad, but some have all of their text in some kind of graphic that also requires a script before it will load, that is just too wasteful of bandwidth and I usually never go back to a site like that.

Imbedded video is also something that gets over used. I usually stop it from loading if I can. Something like a news story I usually prefer to read instead of watch a video, since reading I can stop and come back later if needed instead of having to sit through a video or have it reload if I missed something. Eye candy is no substitute for substance.

RE: Here's an idea
By loboracing on 5/9/2012 7:47:57 AM , Rating: 2
Funny, I was about to post the exact same thing. I wonder what percentage of a typical webpages data size can be attributed to ads. I don't have a smart phone but I was wondering how much data usage you could save if you didnt get any ads in your webpages.

-My phone can fold in half, let's see your smart phone do that!

RE: Here's an idea
By HoosierEngineer5 on 5/9/2012 8:45:06 AM , Rating: 3
I don't have a smartphone. I use a PC with a 28" monitor. It doesn't fold too well.

RE: Here's an idea
By HoosierEngineer5 on 5/9/2012 8:47:58 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder if Apple has a patent on this yet...

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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