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 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 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.
This practice is infuriating to customers, so why do providers do it? According to StopTheCap.com:
…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.
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. 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.
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.
Many people believe that usage-based pricing and data caps violate the central tenets of a free and fair Internet, 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.
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 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.)
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. Onavo Extend and Opera Max are two great examples.
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!
Use the Data Saver extension for Chrome. Google’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.
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 you data. You can even disable images if you really need to cut down on your bandwidth.
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.