More and more Internet service providers (ISPs) are imposing usage caps on their customers in order to limit the amount of traffic sent through their networks at any given time. For the most part, this limit is artificial and doesn’t result from any actual congestion for the company, as long as the company practices proper network administration and upgrades as their user base expands.
Comcast and AT&T are two of the larger providers that have jumped on the limit bandwagon. Comcast is under fire right now for cutting customers off without appeal from the Internet for exceeding their 250 GB limit. This appears to be imposed selectively, but it’s important to take in to account exactly what counts towards that limit.
Online backup services such as Carbonite and Amazon Cloud Drive are intended to give their users a reliable and secure backup of all their data in the cloud without having to manage a local NAS or arrange for their own rack-mounted storage solution at a remote colocation. These services are provided at a fee and require the user to upload their data.
For users of a limited home Internet connection, this upload counts against your bandwidth usage as ISPs monitor and count both upload and download data streams. If you’re capped at 250 GB and you back up 150 GB of data, you’re left with 100 GB of download and upload bandwidth for the rest of the month. This can be especially painful when you consider how many people currently store over 500 GB of information in their hard drives.
This isn’t limited to just backup services either. Services like Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music, and Apple’s iCloud are also bandwidth intensive services that require the bulk of your data to be uploaded to their servers from your computer. In addition, downloading content also requires some amount of uploading to go along with it.
Unfortunately, this is a problem without a clear solution. You could visit a friend or business that has no cap on their bandwidth and initiate big uploads and/or downloads there, but that isn’t a practical solution for most people. Alternative service providers are frequently few and far between as the primary provider often has exclusivity with lines to and from your home. Apartments make deals with providers regularly in exchange for investment and/or discounts that lock out any providers that need to use connections in the apartment. WiMax service providers like Clear are known for throttling connections to below dial-up speeds at times of high usage.
There is a ray of hope in all this. Amazon has recently started a service (AWS) that allows you to mail a hard drive to the company and have its data transferred to a virtual drive online. Solutions like these are bound to become more popular as ISPs continue to punish their customers for using their service. Ultimately, it’s up to the users to complain enough about these policies to force the ISP to make a change. Whether you’re being affected by the cap or not, it’s only a matter of time before it happens to you.