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It’s common knowledge that mobile providers like AT&T and T-Mobile throttle user connections Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling If you are on an unlimited plan that's throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers advice on how to ease the pain. Read More after they use a certain amount of data in a month — but did you know that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might be doing the same thing?

Why do companies employ this infuriating practice? And what can you do about it?

The Reason Behind Data Caps

Before answering this question, let’s define what data caps actually are. Both ISPs and mobile providers put a limit on how much data you can use in a month. Comcast is testing 300 GB monthly caps, for example, while cell phone plans have a wide variety of data caps The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone Though mobile phones have improved over the years, cellular plans have either stayed the same or gotten worse. Luckily, we've found the best deals for US smartphone users. Read More ranging from 10 MB up to over 10 GB.

What happens once you use that amount of data? It depends on the provider. Sometimes your connection is slowed down, also known as throttled. Or you’re charged for the data that you use above the cap. In some cases, you simply lose Internet access altogether.

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This practice is infuriating to customers, so why do providers do it? According to StopTheCap.com:

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…former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski defended the practice, claiming it would bring lower prices to light users, spur “innovation”, and enable consumer choice.

Mobile providers have repeatedly stated that data caps help ease congestion, and Verizon even told the U.S. federal government that data caps exist to relieve the need to throttle their customers. Cable ISPs also use data caps to manage “congestion” — but there are several reasons why no one believes these explanations.

First of all, the amount of data available on cell phone plans has skyrocketed faster than the speed at which additional infrastructure has been built. You might have expected to get 1 GB on your plan a few years ago, but now it’s easy to get a 30 GB single plan or a 100 GB shared plan.

And yet, the providers aren’t saying that congestion has increased significantly.

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Second, and more importantly, is that cable companies and their lobbyists are starting to admit that their data caps are more about making money than relieving congestion. The lead lobbyist of the cable industry put it simply as, “Our principal purpose is how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost.”

At the end of the day, it’s about making money Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Imagine a world where the content you are allowed to view on the Internet is tightly controlled by your Internet service provider. On MUO Debates, we explore and question this reality. Read More .

Many people are getting fed up with data caps, especially when companies put caps in place and then charge more money to get the same service that customers previously had. Comcast, for example, charges people in Atlanta an extra $35 per month to remove their recently-added data cap. Customers in Florida, however, only pay $30 for the same cap removal.

And this seems likely to continue until projects like Google Fiber expand and start posing a serious threat to the industry Here's How the New Internet Might Finally Kill Comcast Here's How the New Internet Might Finally Kill Comcast Many Americans want to see Comcast crash, burn, and receive a comeuppance for their bad service and worse support. But is such a fate even possible for a monopoly as big as Comcast? Read More .

What You Can Do About It

Before looking at how to bypass your data caps, you should take a moment to register your support with groups who are lobbying against the price gouging practice that’s taking place in the name of (non-existent) congestion relief.

StopTheCap.com has a great page on how to take action against ISP data caps, and many of the suggestions apply against mobile providers as well. Sign this petition against data capping to make your voice heard.

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Many people believe that usage-based pricing and data caps violate the central tenets of a free and fair Internet What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More , and it’s time for customers to speak up against these unfair practices that we have to endure from our service providers.

Sign petitions, share information, and get in touch with legislators! That’s the only way we can win this war.

How to Bypass Data Caps

Now that you’ve taken a moment to address the root of the problem (you did sign the petition, didn’t you?), let’s explore how you can get past data caps on your own Internet and mobile plans.

Technically, you can’t bypass your data cap. Once you’ve been throttled, you’re stuck until the end of the month — unless you resort to questionable practices, like deleting the throttle-service file mentioned in our article on avoiding mobile data throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling If you are on an unlimited plan that's throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers advice on how to ease the pain. Read More .

How to Avoid Mobile Data Caps

But if you find that you’re hitting your data limit on a regular basis, you can use data compression to your advantage. We’ll start with mobile options, as there are more of them:

  1. Enable Chrome’s data compression. Chrome offers data compression on both Android and iOS, which will lower your monthly consumption of bandwidth. Go to Settings > Bandwidth Management > Reduce data usage to activate compression. Opera’s Turbo function does the same thing. (Plus Opera is just awesome 5 Ideological Reasons Why You Should Try Opera 5 Ideological Reasons Why You Should Try Opera Not a lot of people have tried Opera or even heard much about Opera as the browser has always watched from far away as Internet Explorer, then Firefox, and now Google Chrome are taking the... Read More .)
  2. Use a VPN with compression. Some mobile VPNs, like Hotspot Shield, offer data compression to further limit the amount of data you consume.
  3. Install data-saving apps. Because of the irritating prevalence of data caps, developers have started creating apps that help you consume less data in various ways. Onavo Extend and Opera Max are two great examples.

And also look into these clever tricks for reducing mobile data usage Saving Mobile Data: 5 Clever Ways To Reduce Data Usage Saving Mobile Data: 5 Clever Ways To Reduce Data Usage If you’re on a limited mobile data plan, you may find opening your bill to be harrowing experience. Is there an overage charge? How much? And why was there so much data used? While the... Read More .

How to Avoid ISP Data Caps

Unfortunately, there are fewer tried and tested strategies for avoiding throttling from your ISP. The deployment of data caps by ISPs is more recent and not as widespread (at least in the U.S.) so counter-tactics are still being developed. Here’s what we know so far, but as we come across more, we’ll keep you updated!

  1. Use the Data Saver extension for ChromeGoogle’s compression extension is still in beta, but reports say that it can save you a lot of data by compressing pages on Google’s servers before sending them to your browser. No reports yet on just how much more of your data Google gets when you use this extension.
  2. Tweak your browser settings Ultimate Browser Settings: Must-Change Items In Chrome, Firefox, & Internet Explorer Ultimate Browser Settings: Must-Change Items In Chrome, Firefox, & Internet Explorer Let's take a look at those must-change browser items. Maybe you do the same, or perhaps you think that the settings should be different? Read More for maximum data savings. The best thing you can do here is to make all plug-ins click-to-play (we have tutorials on this for Chrome How to Stop Auto-Playing Flash and HTML5 Videos in Chrome How to Stop Auto-Playing Flash and HTML5 Videos in Chrome Auto-playing videos can be obnoxious. Here are a couple of Chrome browser tips and extensions to prevent videos from auto-playing. Read More and Firefox How To Stop Auto-playing Flash And HTML5 Videos In Firefox How To Stop Auto-playing Flash And HTML5 Videos In Firefox Does auto-play video drive you mad? We'll talk you through the best ways to stop auto-playing videos in your Firefox browser. Read More ). This is a good idea for all sorts of reasons, but it will definitely save you data. You can even disable images if you really need to cut down on your bandwidth.
  3. Use Opera’s Turbo function 3 Unmissable Reasons Opera Is the Right Browser for Your Mac 3 Unmissable Reasons Opera Is the Right Browser for Your Mac Chrome and Firefox rule on Windows, but on OS X, Opera is the browser to beat. Eternal favorites Chrome and Firefox can give you flexibility, but not without some heavy compromises. Read More . The desktop version of Opera offers data compression with Turbo.

As of right now, that’s the best way to go. You might be able to find a desktop VPN that offers data compression, but they seem to be rare, possibly because of the massive amount of data they’d be asked to compress. Using the Data Saver extension and enabling click-to-play plug-ins should make a noticeable difference, though.

It’s Time For Change

Data caps are a blatant money grab, and they don’t do customers any good. It’s time that we take a stand and voice our displeasure to ISPs and mobile providers.

But until enough people form a unified front, we’ll have to resort to finding ways around them. If you have any other useful methods to reduce data consumption, or tricks for not hitting data caps, please share them in the comments so we can all benefit!

How often do you run into data cap issues? Have you tried reducing your data consumption? How did you go about it? Share your experiences with us below.

Image Credits: SharkPaeCNX via Shutterstock.com

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