Sometimes High Speed Internet providers will limit (or “cap”) the amount of data that a customer can send and receive over the Internet, in order to prevent users from using up too much bandwidth and “hogging” the network. While most people, besides heavy downloaders, gamers, and video streamers, are currently unaffected by bandwidth limits or “throttling,” the increasing popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are making it easier for even casual Internet users to approach those limits in the very near future.
Let’s explore what data throttling is and how this issue is playing out in the world of High Speed Internet.
What is Throttling?
Bandwidth throttling is when an Internet service provider intentionally slows down the Internet connection of individual users in order to regulate the network traffic. The main reason given for bandwidth throttling is to limit user speeds for video streaming, BitTorrent, and other data intensive operations, simultaneously increasing the stability of the network while limiting congestion for other users of the network.
While throttling might be a good idea for the stability of an ISP and network traffic, it nonetheless has generated plenty of controversy. It is seen as an unfair practice among some consumers and advocates, as bandwidth throttling is rarely disclosed up front and enforcement is inconsistent. Some also seem skeptical that there is a problem with congestion in the first place, and see this as more of an attempt by ISPs, many of whom are also Cable TV providers, to keep TV subscribers from “cutting the cord” and switching to online video completely.
Which High Speed Internet Providers Throttle or Have Bandwidth Caps?
The short answer: All major Internet providers do, in one form or another.
Time Warner Cable doesn’t practice bandwidth throttling or data caps for accounts using large amounts of data, but they do limit the bandwidth usage, specifically for BitTorrent. This way, any normal traffic and data usage isn’t restricted, but people downloading huge files online through a torrent software will have slightly slower speeds during the download. This is a nice compromise, especially compared to some of the other policies enforced by competitors as seen below.
Comcast used to throttle data for customers who went over 250 GB a month, but they’ve gotten rid of that policy, and instead, Comcast is charging overage fees for any Internet user who passes 300 GB a month. Customers are allowed to use more than the limit for three out of 12 months, but every other time they exceed the data cap, they will be charged an overage fee of $10 for every extra 50 GB used.
AT&T does not throttle officially, but has monthly usage caps: 150 GB limit for DSL and 250 GB for its U-verse service. Additional usage is billed at $10 per 50 GB used over the initial cap.
Similarly, Charter’s data caps range from 150-250 GB per month, depending on your plan. However, unlike some other Internet services providers, if you happen to exceed your cap, you don’t get to pay any overage fees. Instead, your Internet access is simply cut off completely until the next month.
Cox has data caps that range from 30-400 GB per month, depending on the tier you’re subscribed to. Just like with Charter, there are no overage fees. If you exceed your cap, you might lose your Internet access.
How to Avoid Being Throttled or Capped
So how do you avoid being subjected to your ISP’s data cap? The first, and most obvious answer, is to manage your downloading. Keep track of any large downloads you make, and use your ISP’s bandwidth meter if it has one. Many ISPs will send you an email alert whenever you are close to reaching your data cap, so it should be hard to go over without being aware.
If you do a lot of downloading through BitTorrent, you also have some options on masking those downloads and avoid your ISP throttling you, specifically for BitTorrent usage. One method is the use of a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. This won’t remove your data cap, but it will stop your ISP from throttling your BitTorrent downloads.
To sum up, despite the trend towards more bandwidth consumption thanks to streaming movies and easy downloads, most High Speed Internet providers have been enforcing data caps on their networks and restricting the download speeds for heavy Internet users.Despite consumer protests, it looks like data caps and throttling are here to stay with some ISPs. Remember, however, that as a consumer, you have choices. With a little bit of comparison shopping and smart data management, you can avoid any extra charges or limits. How fast is your Internet these days?