Bandwidth cap

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A bandwidth cap, also known as a band cap or a data cap,[1] limits the transfer of a specified amount of data over a period of time. Internet service providers commonly apply a cap when a channel intended to be shared by many users becomes overloaded, causing a strain on the provider. The provider then charges based on the amount the subscriber goes over. Implementation of a bandwidth cap is sometimes termed a fair access policy, fair usage policy, or usage-based billing.

As of October 2015, there were 58 wired broadband providers in the US that used data caps, among them major wireless cell phone providers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T.[2]

Standard cap[edit]

Generally, each user of a network is expected to use high speed transmission for a short time, for example to download a megabyte web page in less than a second. Continuous usage, such as when sharing files or streaming videos can seriously impair service for others. In DSL, where the core network is shared but the access network is not, this concept is less relevant. However, it becomes more relevant in cable internet, where both the core network and the access network are shared. This issue is most relevant with wireless internet where both the core network and the access network are shared and the total network bandwidth is relatively narrow.

One type of bandwidth cap, administered by an Internet service provider (ISP), simply limits the bitrate or speed of data transfer on a broadband Internet connection. The purpose of bandwidth capping is to prevent individual users from consuming the entire transmission capacity of the cable, a shared resource[citation needed]. However, critics argue that it is a method to charge consumers more by introducing tiered bandwidth caps.[3]

Capping might be handled by the user's cable modem. Knowledge of capping has led to attempts at uncapping, though this is considered by ISPs to be a theft of service.[4] When uncapping succeeds, the resulting data transfer rate is supposed to be extremely fast, but users who are caught are said to be banned permanently by broadband ISPs[citation needed].

Sophistication is possible, and even required in limiting bandwidth. The simplest approach simply limits the data rate. The problem with the simplest approach is, a very active user could consume the maximum bandwidth continuously, theoretically imposing an excess burden on the ISP and possibly reducing the performance of other users[citation needed].

Channel capacity is a finite resource, and using huge amounts of it can be deemed an abuse[citation needed] in countries with poor communications infrastructure. Dial-up ISPs often published policies that tried to clarify the difference between "unmetered" and "unlimited".[citation needed]

A more sophisticated approach is called "bursting", the administrator would specify a "peak rate limit", a lower "sustained rate limit", and a "credit limit"[citation needed]. If one were to continuously saturate their connection, they would only get the sustained rate. While they are idle or use less than the sustained rate, they accumulate a credit, in bytes, up to some limit.[citation needed] If they try to saturate their connection after idling, they will get the peak rate until their credit runs out, at which point they will again be running at the sustained rate limit.[citation needed] The transition from peak rate to sustained rate could be abrupt, gradual, or even an arbitrarily designed curve. If they alternately idle and saturate, their long-term average data rate will never exceed the sustained rate limit, and their short-term data rate will never exceed the peak rate limit. This is known as a Token bucket.

Other schemes or models are possible to regulate bursting. Running at the peak rate could accumulate a debt. Once the debt reaches a limit, the user is held to the sustained rate limit and the debt does not change.[citation needed] Only running below the sustained limit (or idle time) pays back the debt.[citation needed] The behavior is similar.

Lowered cap[edit]

Another type of capping refers to the reported phenomenon of an ISP reducing an individual user's bandwidth cap, without notifying that user, as a defensive measure and/or as a punishment for heavy use, especially for upstream traffic. "Servers" tend to use upstream bandwidth heavily, and violate most service agreements. (Cable and other broadband services tend to be asymmetrical, making upstream capacity scarcer than downstream.) Somehow the ISP detects that the user is an offender — perhaps by analyzing traffic to detect the activity of a server, or perhaps by comparing the user's long-term data rate against an unpublished limit. If a user gets tagged as an offender, then the ISP imposes a lower bandwidth cap upon that user, and/or restricts other services. e.g. NTT Communications in Japan imposes a 30GB/day upload cap with a warning for a first violation and disconnection for repeat offenders.

The implementation of a sustained rate limit might appear as a reduced cap. If the data rate improves automatically after idle time, this would confirm the operation of a sustained rate limit.

Reports claim that the intervention of an administrator is required to remove a lowered cap.

A number of broadband Internet Service Providers in North America and Europe introduced bandwidth caps in the early 2000s[citation needed]. The same practice has been in place in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia (All others except ADSL broadband) and South Africa since the release of broadband. Data caps on internet in New Zealand result from many popular websites being hosted in the United States, hence local ISPs must lease international capacity; a proponent of a second international cable to the United States claims that cheaper international capacity will result in ISPs raising their data caps.[5]

Download quota[edit]

A download quota is a restriction fixed by ISPs (Internet Service Provider) to limit the volume of data downloaded by the end user during a fixed period, usually a month. Once a fixed download cap (e.g. 250 gigabytes/month) has been reached by the end user, the speed at which they access the internet is usually throttled to a slower speed, cut off, or they are charged for excess data usage.

Caps to limit competition[edit]

The increasing popularity of online video streaming services such as Netflix has caused some consumers to cancel their cable TV services in favor of Internet-only plans. This has caused cable providers to respond by creating data caps, which according to Gigi Sohn, are intended to discourage the use of video streaming.[6] Cable companies have also resorted in some cases to requiring video streaming services to pay special fees to avoid being slowed down via throttling.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brodkin, Jon (2014-05-14). "Comcast plans data caps for all customers in 5 years, could be 500GB". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  2. ^ Nick Reese (2015-10-09). "Internet Providers with Data Caps". Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Rogers Network Management Policy". Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  5. ^ Tom Pullar-Strecker (2011-05-21). "Subsea cable step closer with signing". Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  6. ^ "Netflix Wants Help from U.S. Against Cable Data Caps". Bloomberg. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  7. ^ "Netflix Agrees To Pay Comcast To End Slowdown – Consumerist". 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2016-04-15. 

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