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Data cap

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A data cap, often referred to as a bandwidth cap, is a restriction imposed on data transfer over a network. In particular, it refers to policies imposed by an internet service provider to limit customers' usage of their services; typically, exceeding a data cap would require the subscriber to pay additional fees. Implementation of a data cap is sometimes termed a fair access policy, fair usage policy, or usage-based billing by ISPs.[1]

American ISPs have asserted that data caps are required to provide a "fair" service to their respective subscribers. The use of data caps has been criticized for becoming increasingly unnecessary, as decreasing infrastructure costs have made it cheaper for ISPs to increase the capacity of their networks to keep up with the demands of their users, rather than place arbitrary limits on usage. It has also been asserted that data caps are meant to help protect pay television providers that may also be owned by an ISP from competition with over-the-top streaming services.

Example cap[edit]

In 2016, Comcast offered a service plan with a data cap of 1 terabyte.[1] At contemporary data consumption rates, each family member of four would need to separately watch 100 movies in a month to approach the cap.[1] In that case, typical data usage habits would not exceed that cap.[1]

Unlimited data[edit]

"Unlimited data" is sometimes a marketing promotion in which an Internet service provider offers access to Internet without cutting service at the data cap.[2] However, after a user passes some data cap, the provider will begin bandwidth throttling to decrease the user's data access speed, slowing down the user's internet use.[2]

By region[edit]

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.[3]

Before 2010 there was a trend of providing unlimited data without bandwidth throttling.[4] In the United States the Federal Communications Commission has fined service providers for offering unlimited data in a way that misled consumers. In June 2015, the FCC fined AT&T Mobility US$100,000,000 for misleading consumers.[5] In October 2016 the FCC reached a settlement with T-Mobile in which they would pay US$48,000,000 for failing to disclose restrictions on their unlimited data plans.[6]

Iranian Communications Regulatory Authority set a Fair Usage Policy in 2017.[7][8]


American internet service providers have asserted that data caps are needed to provide "fair", tiered services at different price points based on speed and usage.[9][10][11]

In 2016, Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper criticized the historical assertions that data caps are meant to conserve network capacity, arguing that the cost of actually delivering service had "declined much faster than the increase in data traffic". When Sonic was first established in 2008, its infrastructure costs were equivalent to 20% of its revenue, but these had fallen to only 1.5% by 2016 because of the declining equipment costs.[9] Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent made a similar assertion in an investors' call, stating that the "days" of having to make investments to keep up with customer demand were "over", and there would be "significant free cash flow generated from the cable operators as our capital expenditures continue to come down."[10]

As most major U.S. internet providers own television providers, it has also been suggested that data caps are intended to discourage users from dropping their pay television subscriptions by placing de facto restrictions on the use of competing streaming video services that are delivered over the internet, such as Netflix.[9][12] The lobbying group Internet Association additionally argued that data caps are meant to create "artificial scarcity", especially in markets where there is limited competition in broadband, also pointing out that some providers offer their own streaming video services that are exempted from data cap policies, such as Comcast's Stream TV. Comcast defended the exemption by stating that the service is not delivered over the public internet; it can only be used while connected to the provider's home Wi-Fi router.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Willcox, James K. (October 19, 2016). "How Easy Is It to Burn Through a 1TB Data Cap?". Consumer Reports. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Gikas, Mike (June 18, 2015). "AT&T and the truth about 'unlimited' data plans". Consumer Reports. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  3. ^ Nick Reese (October 9, 2015). "Internet Providers with Data Caps". Broadbandnow.com. Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  4. ^ Wolff-Mann, Ethan (June 7, 2016). "'Unlimited' data plans aren't really unlimited". Money.com. Archived from the original on May 31, 2022. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  5. ^ Federal Communications Commission (June 17, 2015). "AT&T Mobility Faces $100M Fine For Misleading Consumers". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  6. ^ Federal Communications Commission (October 19, 2016). "FCC Reaches $48m Settlement with T-Mobile Over Unlimited' Data Plans". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  7. ^ "Iran Telecom Regulator to Ease Internet Fair Usage Policy". Eghtesad Online. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  8. ^ "Iran Regulator Introduces Internet Fair Usage Policy". Financial Tribune. November 21, 2017. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "What big ISPs don't want you to know about data caps". CIO. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Wolff-Mann, Ethan (June 7, 2016). "Broadband CEOs Admit There's No Real Reason For Data Caps Besides Boosting Profit". Money.com. Archived from the original on December 20, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  11. ^ Brodkin, Jon (May 14, 2014). "Comcast plans data caps for all customers in 5 years, could be 500GB". Ars Technica. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  12. ^ "Netflix Wants Help from U.S. Against Cable Data Caps". Bloomberg. June 27, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  13. ^ "Comcast rolls out a new Stream TV app for its cable and internet TV customers". TechCrunch. February 15, 2017. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  14. ^ "Comcast Wants to Limit Your Netflix Binges". Bloomberg.com. January 28, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2017.

External links[edit]