It’s all fun and games until you get notified of a data cap. Nobody likes it, but almost every Internet Service Provider (ISP) has it. Data caps are probably the most controversial policy of big ISPs. So, what secrets are big ISPs keeping from you about data caps?
Dreaded Data Cap
Put simply, a data cap, usually mistaken as a bandwidth cap, is the restriction on the amount of data downloaded. This restricion is followed by a promised service speed. It is a policy set by ISPs to their consumers to limit data usage per client. The come on: although your data is capped, ISPs claim faster speeds to compensate for the limit. This arrangement seems fair – but users more often than not get the short end of the stick.
What Big ISPs Don’t Want You to Know About Data Caps
# 1 Data Caps Ensure Fairness
In their best defense, ISPs suggest that your data is capped because of network congestion. To put it bluntly, a group of heavy internet users is hogging all the bandwidth, leaving nothing or less for the average ones. And in order to avoid that, the best solution is to limit data usage per user.
To convince you better, ISPs even equate data cap with greater speed.
The claim seems reasonable on the surface. You get to enjoy lag-free stable internet despite your data being capped for reasons of fairness. However, although it is true that congestion significantly lowers speed, capping data is definitely not the ideal solution.
Think of it this way. The best way to reduce traffic is not to limit where you can travel. It is to build more roads and develop the ones currently used.
# 2 Truth, Congestion, and Speed
To better understand why capping data for fair use and speed is not about congestion, it is best to know how bandwidths work. This is a very technical subject, but I’ve summarized it so you can understand better.
TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, is the protocol that manages congestion. It works by detecting loss of interchanged data by retransmitting it and tagging it as congestion; when it does so, the protocol scales to match into equilibrium, lowering the speed by accommodating all the users.
What does this mean? Whatever the file size (gigabyte or megabyte), their travel rate is the same. When one user downloads a huge file, the download speed is parallel to someone downloading small amounts of data. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that heavy users hog all the bandwidth when, in fact, it is shared equally among all.
Network congestion is not mainly due to the amount of data used; the cause is the number of users sharing the same bandwidth. Speed is the limiting factor, not the data itself.
However, ISPs limit the data while advertising high speed that is unattainable when a data cap is enforced. If congestion were really the problem, they can just lower the number of users to attain genuine high and stable speed, or allow multiple users but settle at a lower rate.
But of course, they will not allow losing many consumers that bring them money.
#3 It’s Really All About the Money
We have already debunked the argument about network congestion justifying data caps. What is left to discover is the grand scheme’s real motivation. And unsurprisingly, it’s money.
When you exceed your data cap, you spend more money. If you subscribe to a better data plan, it will cost you more. You get scared of losing data at the most crucial time, and slow internet bothers you. It seems that the only solution is to spend more.
That’s not all. Big ISPs capitalize on data caps to promote their own media service. It could come in a bundle like excluding a specific video streaming app that they own from the data cap, but in turn, charge more to others in the competition. They hook you in with their own and dissuade you from others by imposing you with additional charges.
Next, and arguably last, is the big ISPs connection with cable television. Most of them offer cable television service. If people are always fidgeting with their smartphones and laptops, who would watch cable? ISPs limit your internet use, so you can have time watching TV and viewing their ads, generating more revenue for them unconsciously.
There you have it – three secrets big ISPs don’t want you to know about data caps. In the end, data caps really serve their bottom line at the expense of speed, efficient service, and consumer fairness.