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It’s common knowledge that mobile providers like AT&T and T-Mobile throttle user connections 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 impose data caps, and what can you do about it?
The Reason Behind Data Caps
Before answering this question, let’s define what data caps are. Both ISPs and mobile providers put a limit on how much data you can use in a month. For example, there’s a Comcast data cap in many states across the US. And even though unlimited mobile plans are more prevalent than a few years ago, most plans still have data capping in some form.
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 companies charge you for the data you use above the cap. In some cases, you simply lose internet access altogether.
So why do data caps exist? Mobile providers have repeatedly stated that data caps allow for lower prices and help ease congestion. Verizon has told the US 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 many people are skeptical.
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 several gigabytes of data on your plan a few years ago, but now it’s easy to get dozens of gigabytes for the same price.
And yet, even with so many people streaming mobile video, the providers aren’t saying that congestion has increased significantly.
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.”
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. Remember that Comcast data cap? You can remove that for an extra $50 a month.
What You Can Do About Throttling and Data Caps
Before looking at how to bypass your data caps, you may want to first 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.
Many people believe that usage-based pricing and data caps violate the central tenets of a free and fair internet, and that the time has come for customers to speak up against these unfair practices. Sign petitions, share information, and get in touch with your representatives to make your preference known.
How to Bypass Data Caps
Now that you’ve taken a moment to address the root of the problem, 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.
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:
- Enable data compression. Some web browsers can compress the data you download to your device. Google Chrome offers data compression on both Android and iOS, which will lower your monthly consumption of bandwidth. Opera’s Turbo function does the same thing.
- Use a VPN with compression. Some mobile VPNs, like Hotspot Shield, offer data compression to further limit the amount of data you consume.
- 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. Samsung provides an app for its Android devices called Samsung Max.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to reduce your mobile internet usage.
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 US) 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!
- Tweak your browser settings 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 and Firefox). This is a good idea for all sorts of reasons, but it will definitely save on data. You can even disable images if you really need to cut down on your bandwidth.
- Use Opera’s Turbo function. 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.
It’s Time For Change
Data caps are a blatant money grab and they don’t do customers any good. There’s ample reason to take a stand and voice your displeasure to ISPs and mobile providers.
But until enough people form a unified front, we’ll have to resort to finding ways around them. Unfortunately, internet issues are hard to mobilize around, as we see with the debate over net neutrality.