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Bandwidth Caps Can Cause Risky Decisions and Uncertainty

The fact that the study only included 12 households and that it was done in South Africa may raise some doubt, but the results seem to be rather common sense. At least for most users in the U.S., the results are somewhat hypothetical as the bandwidth caps in South Africa are extreme and range from about 1 GB to 9 GB allowances per month.

The would be scenario suggests that dramatic bandwidth caps lead users to equally dramatic decisions to avoid additional charges when a bandwidth limit is surpassed.

“People’s behavior does change when limits are placed on Internet access—just like we’ve seen happen in the smartphone market—and many complain about usage-based billing, but no one has really studied the effects it has on consumer activity,” said Marshini Chetty, a postdoctoral researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. “We would also hear about people ‘saving’ bandwidth all month and then binge downloading toward the end of their billing period.”

Chetty found that people would also sidestep and use mobile connections and share Internet connections with others with available bandwidth. However, the "risky" behavior is created when people decide what to download and what not. While many users are not aware how much bandwidth music streaming and background processes can consume, they understand that software updates and security patches count against their bandwidth allowance.

“We were surprised to learn that many of the households we studied chose not to perform regular software updates in order to manage their cap,” Chetty said.

We are talking about just "many" of a total of just 12 households, but the conclusion that obvious downloads may be skipped sounds like a conclusive behavior under extreme bandwidth cap conditions.

“This activity can be benign for some applications, inadvisable for others and downright dangerous in certain cases," Chetty noted.

According to the scientist, ISPs "need to keep in mind the reactive behaviors that consumers adopt and the consequences of those behaviors." A solution may be to provide customers better tools that analyze bandwidth usage, Chetty suggested.