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Bandwidth Caps Can Cause Risky Decisions and Uncertainty

By - Source: Georgia Tech | B 4 comments

A study conducted by Georgia Tech scientists and Microsoft Research found that bandwidth caps are changing user behavior to a degree that may not be desirable.

The fact that the study only included 12 households and that it was done in South Africa may raise some doubt, but the results seem to be rather common sense. At least for most users in the U.S., the results are somewhat hypothetical as the bandwidth caps in South Africa are extreme and range from about 1 GB to 9 GB allowances per month.

The would be scenario suggests that dramatic bandwidth caps lead users to equally dramatic decisions to avoid additional charges when a bandwidth limit is surpassed.

“People’s behavior does change when limits are placed on Internet access—just like we’ve seen happen in the smartphone market—and many complain about usage-based billing, but no one has really studied the effects it has on consumer activity,” said Marshini Chetty, a postdoctoral researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. “We would also hear about people ‘saving’ bandwidth all month and then binge downloading toward the end of their billing period.”

Chetty found that people would also sidestep and use mobile connections and share Internet connections with others with available bandwidth. However, the "risky" behavior is created when people decide what to download and what not. While many users are not aware how much bandwidth music streaming and background processes can consume, they understand that software updates and security patches count against their bandwidth allowance.

“We were surprised to learn that many of the households we studied chose not to perform regular software updates in order to manage their cap,” Chetty said.

We are talking about just "many" of a total of just 12 households, but the conclusion that obvious downloads may be skipped sounds like a conclusive behavior under extreme bandwidth cap conditions.

“This activity can be benign for some applications, inadvisable for others and downright dangerous in certain cases," Chetty noted.

According to the scientist, ISPs "need to keep in mind the reactive behaviors that consumers adopt and the consequences of those behaviors." A solution may be to provide customers better tools that analyze bandwidth usage, Chetty suggested.

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  • 0 Hide
    Herr_Koos , 14 May 2012 16:43
    Well there you have it! Out plight is out in the open for all the world to see. Things have improved somewhat since the study was done though; I now have a 20GB international + 30GB local only package for the same price I paid for 9GB a year ago.
  • 1 Hide
    Dandalf , 14 May 2012 17:25
    I would never, ever subscribe to a service that didn't offer uncapped data. My current tariff is an O2 one that doesn't exist any more, and regardless of how much 'encouragement' i get from them to switch, I am happy putting up with the artificial 6mb/s limit for the peace of mind knowing I can go to any page and download any file.
  • 0 Hide
    contrasia , 14 May 2012 22:22
    I absolutely agree. There are quite a number of people who don't update because of their internet speed alone, let alone bandwidth constraints added onto that. You often see dozens of computers when you're working in IT Tech that have no service packs installed, or are missing hundreds of important updates, sometimes even including their Anti-virus. If you could endup paying more because you had to get a security patch or an update for your Anti-virus, the general consumer might not bother (It doesn't help that Microsoft never tell you what the patches actually do or are for, but rather give a generic vague reasoning that you see repeated in almost every update. People arn't going to know how important it really is if you don't tell them). A lot of consumers don't even realise how important it is to keep the OS updated in the first place.

    Another possible reaction is less use of the internet, which could also result in less investment in internet connections, and with behaviour like that it's possible they could stop altogether. Way to pull back our progress >_>"
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 15 May 2012 07:03
    I love how tech websites talk about bandwidth caps as if they're some kind of otherworldly concept. They're the way broadband has been billed since it was launched in quite a few countries, including here. I remember back in 2004/05 a lot of people around here got suckered into a $30 200MB/month DSL plan! Things like ISPs making content off their own servers unmetered is just standard practice here, making the recent brouhaha over a US ISP deciding to do so seem amusing. I definitely do the "splurge on downloads at the end of the billing period" thing. I also delete a lot less of what I download and my circle of friends often pass around hard drives to exchange files rather than just downloading everything ourselves. There are literally millions of households that have been using capped bandwidth for the entire time they've had broadband that you could survey for a study like this.