US Bandwidth Consumption Surges As Usage Caps Pose A Looming Threat

from the full-on-squeeze dept

We've noted for years how broadband providers have increasingly imposed arbitrary, confusing, and punitive usage caps and overage fees to cash in on the lack of competition in US broadband. Not only have industry executives admitted these limits aren't technically necessary, they've increasingly been abused to hamstring competitors. AT&T, for example, doesn't impose the limits on its broadband customers who use its streaming video service (DirecTV Now), but will impose the added charges if you use a competitor like Netflix.

For many years ISPs have slowly but surely imposed such limits hoping that consumers wouldn't notice (think of the frog in the pot of boiling water metaphor). But as streaming services have increasingly embraced high-bandwidth 4K streaming, consumer usage has started to push back hard against some limits. For example, Charter Spectrum last week noted that the average Charter subscriber (one that doesn't subscribe to traditional TV) consumes just over 400 gigabytes of data per month:

"Monthly data usage by our residential Internet customers is rising rapidly and monthly median data usage is over 200GB per customer. When you look at average monthly usage for customers that don't subscribe to our traditional video product, usage climbs to over 400GB per month."

It should be noted that Charter is one of the only major broadband providers that doesn't impose usage caps and overage fees. Why? It was banned from doing so for six years as a condition of its 2016 merger with Time Warner (read: in four years it probably will). Many DSL providers (AT&T, Centurylink) impose caps as low as 150 GB per month, with overage fees as high as $10 per each additional 50 gigabytes consumed. Elsewhere, I've seen caps as low as 50 GB per month.

Initially, ISPs tried to claim these limits were necessary to manage congestion. After that claim was repeatedly debunked, you'll find most don't even try to justify the move. But again, the fact that these caps are completely technically unnecessary just kind of falls by the wayside as the practice has expanded.

A home full of heavy gamers and streamers can already eat through these limits in pretty short order. A recent study by OpenVault found that Internet customers are using an average of 268.7GB per month. Those numbers are about to change dramatically with the launch of game streaming services like Google Stadia, which eliminate your local game console and shift all computing power to the cloud. Such services will need at least 25 Mbps to stream games at 60 FPS, and are certain to drive users toward costly restrictions and overages.

Of course this was all by design. Usage caps aren't just glorified price hikes, they're increasingly used by incumbent ISPs to harm competitors. In a functioning market, these behaviors would be restricted by either healthy competition (users would just switch to an uncapped ISP) or regulators (who'd clearly note such limits are misleading, unnecessary, and often anti-competitive). But since most broadband consumers have few if any real broadband options and regulatory capture is so totally hot right now, its a problem that remains stuck in neutral for the foreseeable future.

Filed Under: bandwidth, broadband, data caps, usage caps


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  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 2:46pm

    just over 400gb is cute.

    just after the 2016 story about senators saying you only need 25mbit (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160122/05203433402/senators-whine-about-fccs-25-mbps-broadband- standard-insist-nobody-needs-that-much-bandwidth.shtml) I did a little audit.

    I found that in that month (jan 2016) I used about 1.2TB. Since then, we've gone more to hulu, bit more youtube. and my wife changed jobs to a system with a higher bandwdith usage. I would guess we're more towards 2TB/month now, and we're not even pushing it. Even though, charter has now upped the speed from 60/5 (which they upped from 30/5 the day we moved in, almost 5 years ago) to 120/12 about a year ago.

    Right now it's 3 desktops, 2 laptops, 5 phones, 2 tablets, Xbone and a switch, plus a smartTV

    And we don't do any 4k stuff, only 1080.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Robert Beckman, 10 May 2019 @ 11:39pm

      Re:

      We don’t do any 4K content either, and we had 1292 downstream and 81 upstream over the last 30 days...... after we had $100 in “use” charges from Cox.

      Unfortunately, although Commissioner Pai indicates otherwise, Cox has a monopoly here, with Time Warner willing to do an install for $15,000 and an 18 month wait.

      As that fantastic video said, we can “Oligop-ple down their balls”

      https://youtu.be/0ilMx7k7mso

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    FlatZOut (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 2:48pm

    History Repeats Itself

    April 18, 1775: ”The British Are Coming”

    May 8, 2019: The Usage Caps Are Coming”

    ...
    No? Not even a peep?
    K. I’ll see myself out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 3:06pm

    I have Comcast and their 1TB cap. I went over of this last month once again and added another $80 to my Cable bill which is about double my monthly cost. What a scam and a complete Monopoly. This really needs to change. Everything is going through the Internet these days and we only have CAPS as they try to slow down Cable Cutters. Then they jack prices up even more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 8:04am

      Re:

      If you are consistently going over the 1TB/month cap, and pay $50 or more per month in overages wouldn't it make more sense to get the $50 unlimited add-on for your internet? You have to call to have it added, but then you don't have to worry about any caps. I have a buddy that uses 5+TB/month on Comcast and they don't say a word.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2019 @ 10:39am

        Re: Re:

        More customer-friendly ISPs (that are still not unlimited) make that an automatic step. They'll say something like "$10/TB to a maximum of $50/month".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      daniel, 9 May 2019 @ 1:02pm

      Re:

      I dropped Comcast Cable Broadband and joined Verizon Gigabit Connection; real bonafide 945Mbps download and 905 upload uber bandwidth high performance speeds.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 3:25pm

    I don't see stadia making a notable blip on average data usage. The latency inherent in stadia's design makes it an unplayable mess for a lot of games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 6:16pm

      Re:

      If Stadia is using the same technology that they used during Project Stream, it will easily hit people's cap, if they game daily.

      During Project Stream, which allowed "testers" to play Assassin's Creed Odyssey, I almost hit my 1TB Comcast cap during the month of December. The only reason I didn't is because I kept on checking my usage and stopped playing for a week during X-mas break.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 3:50pm

    It's a problem with refusing to revolt...

    We get stuck with unchecked shit conditions and zero fucks given.

    At what point do we decide enough is enough? Ever? I bet our providers are happy to push us to that limit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      K`Tetch (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 9:55pm

      Re: It's a problem with refusing to revolt...

      this is a point. Gives me a great idea for an article...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 8:04am

      Re: It's a problem with refusing to revolt...

      Revolt how, cancel internet service? Not likely.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re: It's a problem with refusing to revolt...

        Apparently some of my neighbors have decided to cancel internet service.

        They attempt to log into the routers in the homes around them.

        Just to take a look, I tried to log into every router I could see from home.

        Six of the eight I got into with no problem. The default password the local Spectrum crews use is "Password1". Amazing how many people never change that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 4:23pm

    simple solution

    The main problem is that the bandwidth hogs keep jacking up the price for the light users. Broadband badly needs to change from an "all you can eat" model to a pay what you actually use model. That would be the fairest system, just like there's a meter on every other utility piped into your house (and many things like water and nuclear and hydro produced electricity are essentially a free commodity (with expensive infrastructure to provide it), not very dissimilar to internet service.

    Though the fattest and hungriest bandwidth hogs will no doubt complain loudly if they ever get metered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 4:44pm

      Re: simple solution

      Well, this side of the pond, unlimited broadband at reasonable rates if the norm. There is no small print, or weasel words to limit an unlimited connection. Note, the dominant cost of a network is the infrastructure build and maintenance costs, and so bandwidth costs and data caps only make sense if being used to nickel and dime customers, and or combat cord cutting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vamwolf (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 4:50pm

      Re: simple solution

      Nope. That system already abuse

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 6:25pm

      Pay per kb

      That would end advertising in the free world. I certainly would use redundant ad-filtering elements to assure that I'm not paying for someone to pipe their adversarial content at me at my expense.

      I suspect anyone else who is aware they could block ads would do so once it was clear they were paying a directly quantifiable cost for for the privilege of suffering advertisements.

      I remember that when people had to track their anytime phone minutes it was a knifing offense for a telemarketer to call a cell phone line.

      Imagine what happens when end-users have to pay-per-kilobyte and big data believes it's still okay to stream them hi-def advert video.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 6:26pm

      Re: simply bad solution

      That is a truly bad fix because data isn't like water or gas. You don't use it up, you don't empty a tank.
      Measuring data as if you are pumping gas for your car. Your ISP either has the bandwidth, or it doesn't. And if it doesn't - what are they charging you for?

      As the article points out a usage cap is not about managing the network traffic. It's just an artificial meter to squeeze cash out of the users.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 9:18pm

      Re: simple solution

      Bandwidth hogs?

      There are no bandwidth hogs. You can not exceed the package you bought, that is until they started laying in caps. Bandwidth hogs was a red herring they tried to sell the gullible public to justify the caps.

      The real problem here is the ISPs didn't want to put money into building up the infrastructure. To do so makes their stock prices drop as that is money that wasn't turned into profit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 10:03pm

      Re: simple solution

      [asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 1:15am

      Re: simple solution

      Pay as you use models were atrocious ripoffs throughout the 90s, over here in the UK. The bills were always excessive, and this on top of the fact you couldn't even use your phone at the same time. Since the industry switched to a flat monthly rate for unlimited use, the internet was actually able to transform from a luxury for a few people, to something we all use in our everyday lives.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 4:29am

      Re: simple solution

      wrong! There is a very big difference between bandwidth and things like power and water. The caps don't really need to exist and the companies need to invest some of those ill gotten gains in infrastructure like they are supposed to. And how about we don't lest media companies own ISPs and vice versa.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 8:07am

      Re: simple solution

      The main problem is that the bandwidth hogs keep jacking up the price for the light users.

      No, the ISPs jack up the price. And they do so because they can, not because the mythical "bandwidth hogs" are forcing them to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 10:58am

      Re: simple solution

      "The main problem is that the bandwidth hogs keep jacking up the price for the light users."

      This is incorrect, it is an old and tired excuse they have been using for some time. It assumes a required resource is nearing its upper usage limit and this is simply not the case. If there is some data you would like to present which supports your allegation then please post it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      longtimelurker, 9 May 2019 @ 11:06am

      Re: simple solution

      Oh, you're so right! After all, if those bandwidth hogs suck all the bits from the internet, the ISPs won't have any bits left in the bucket for the light users. That's exactly how it works! That's such a fair system, after all. Just like when the water company runs out of water, which is finite, and the power company runs out of electricity, which is finite, the ISPs will run out of bits and the world will just not be able to use the internet anymore!

      ----said no engineer ever

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 5:39pm

    Metro/TMobile throttles a lot of video, but I can avoid that by using TunnelBear, encrypting the strem where they do not know it is a video stream, and does not get throttled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 6:04pm

    There are also some that will charge you overage fees unless you get their more expensive services.

    Comcast is like that. If you want unlimited date with Comcast, you have to get their Comcast business service, starting at $99 a monh, plus equipment rental and static IP if you need one

    Wave broadband business service starts at $179 plus taxes and equipment rental, and inlcudes unlinmited data usage and one static IP address

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 10:04pm

    "Heavy users" was also the propaganda used to rationalize ISPs extorting money out of Netflix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    nethead, 9 May 2019 @ 6:25am

    You have to, at some point, treat broadband as a public utility, and ensure customers aren't being taken advantage of.

    Should've been just like the Rural Electrification Act right from the start, sometime in the 90s. Instead we've got this grossly mismanaged, resource-inefficient infrastructure build out by hundreds of different companies, focused almost entirely in urban areas, charging obscene prices for subpar service when compared to any other first world nation.

    Our government needs to get its shit together.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    longtimelurker, 9 May 2019 @ 11:18am

    New Proposal

    In honor of this --sanity, I have a new proposal. Let's add a surcharge to vehicles in addition to the cost of the gasoline it uses. We will attach a fee to any vehicle that travels more than 360 miles in a calendar month. Any vehicle travelling more miles than allowed by a single tank of gas will have to pay this surcharge to continue to use the road. Once your car has reached 360 miles this month it will cease to operate until the surcharge is paid. This will prevent the roads being too congested, save on wear and tear, and we will not have to worry about building more roads to actually meet the needs. However, every vehicle must have a card reader installed so you can conveniently pay when your car shuts down once it's reached 360 miles. This is soley a benefit to you, the consumer, because it will save the state from needing to maintain the roads, and shift the burden onto those freeloaders that want to utilize the product they purchased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 12:57pm

      Re: New Proposal

      Close. The car wouldn't shut down when you hit the limit, a governor would kick in and it would be limited to 20mph and below until a payment for "excess use" was received.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 9 May 2019 @ 9:53pm

    "Stuck in neutral"?

    Usage caps are not a neutral problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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