Data Caps — Are They Really That Big a Deal?

Data Caps — Are They Really That Big a Deal?

Guest Post by Matt

I have to be honest. Before writing this article I had the mindset that data caps weren’t that big a deal. See, I do business online, as well as consume content. So my days are filled with emails, web browsing, YouTube videos and uploading/downloading files. I’m currently a Comcast customer, and have never hit their monthly data cap. So my thoughts were that since I did so much online, and never hit the data cap, that most others don’t either. Therefore, all the complaining you see in the forums and in the comments of blog posts was just that — complaining, but with no real rhyme or reason why. They’re just complaining to complain about something.

But the more I researched and dug into the details, I’ve come to find that many people do have a legitimate reason to complain about data caps. Some have even been shutoff from their service, or at the very least threatened to be shut off.

Others are upset over principal. There are reasons why Internet providers put caps on their services, but their reasons make you wonder if they’re only looking out for their best interests and not so much the interests of their customers.

So the point of this post will be to examine the reasons for data caps and the pros and cons, so that maybe at the end of this you (and me too) can answer the question, are data caps really that big a deal?

Why Are There Data Caps?

The common answer from Internet service providers is that data caps exist to prevent anyone from abusing the service. To keep people from hogging all the bandwidth. Those that do will face the consequences, usually in the form of overage fees, or in a worse case scenario, loss of their service.

This answer only creates more questions though. For example, why not setup a system to monitor and control how much bandwidth is used during peak times, since this is usually when the lines are congested anyway. Another thought is to segregate the “power users” from everyone else, and set them up on their own special plan or charge them extra amounts for the bandwidth they use.

What’s more is that Comcast has even said that the majority of their user base uses 10 GB or less of data each month, so hitting the 250 GB (now 300GB) cap is very unlikely. But then why have a cap in the first place? Just to prevent the 1% or 2% of users from using up all the bandwidth?

Does that really make sense?

That’s their (the ISPs) core reason. However, other people feel that there is more to it.

For example, it’s been suggested that the data caps are in place to protect the Internet provider’s best interests. Ok, that might be obvious. More specifically, though, their TV service. By placing a cap on their bandwidth, users won’t be able to consume excess amounts of Hulu or Netflix, therefore not feeling tempted to shut off their TV service altogether.

I can see that as a possibility – can you?

Pros and Cons to Data Caps

There are both pros and cons to data caps. Obviously, so pros will favor the ISPs more than consumers and vice versa, but when determining if data caps are really that big a deal, it’s important to look and consider both sides of the argument.

Here are the pros and cons that I’ve come up with.

Data Cap Pros

  • Different price points. This works for both the provider and consumer. On the provider end, having a data cap allows them to create plans that don’t have caps, such as for businesses, for example. Businesses will naturally choose a more expensive plan to have unlimited bandwidth (if they know they’ll need it). For the consumer, data caps can create different price points so that there isn’t a one size fits all plan that may be too expensive.
  • Easier pricing model. By having bandwidth caps, we avoid having a different pricing or billing structure setup, such as metering or pay-per-bit. Most consumers prefer “flat rate” pricing. They’re even willing to pay extra for it.
  • File sharing is kept to a minimum. Data caps keep others from sharing excessive amounts of files, which in turn keeps ISPs from having to filter the type of content being consumed due to copyright issues.

Data Cap Cons

  • Discourages users. Consumers feel like they have to constantly monitor their usage, or else they face consequences. I can tell you from experience that it’s much easier to not use the extra Internet or video services at all, then it is to keep track of everything. You would think that ISPs would want people to use the Internet, as the more people that use the Internet, and the more of it they use, the more money they can make.
  • Data caps aren’t current for the 2012 user’s needs. One man posted a rant in the Comcast forums explaining that the current caps don’t meet the needs of the tech savvy users of 2012. Whether that is actually true or not, you can’t argue that the needs of every individual will only continue to rise as more apps, services and programs come out, not to mention as tablets and smart phones continue to find their way into the hands of every American.
  • Limited use of other software or services. Data caps can keep you from using other services, such as Dropbox or other online storage companies. This requires a lot of bandwidth to upload/download your content. Andre found this out the hard way, as Comcast shut off his service after a couple months of exceeding their 250 GB cap. Many of these services people use to protect their data or for work.

What Do You Think? Are Data Caps a Big Deal?

There’s definitely no question that there are two sides to argument of data caps, even if you forget the reasoning of punishing (or preventing) heavy bandwidth users.

But as we continue to cut the cords and shift away from traditional the traditional sources for our utilities, like the phone and TV, it’s clear that data caps can certainly get in the way. But still, there are people out there that feel like data caps aren’t that big a deal — that Internet providers will accommodate the users as needed.

What do you think? Are data caps that big a deal?

About the author: This post was written by Matt, co-owner of Plug Things In. Plug Things In has written detailed Internet guides that help you understand how Internet service works, what your options are and how to “plug into” them.


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