Bandwidth caps can create "uneasy user experiences", says study

For years, we have heard that most people don't even come close to the broadband data caps that many Internet Service Providers and wireless carriers put in their services. However, a new study claims that placing such caps on users could create "uneasy user experiences"

The study was conducted by Marshini Chetty, a postdoctoral researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. Chetty conducted her study of broadband caps while she completed her internship at Microsoft Research; She interviewed 12 South African households for the study.

Broadband caps in that country average 9 GB a month, and some are as low as 1 GB, which is much lower that most US broadband caps. Chetty said that in South Africa, members of the households she interviewed said they tried many ways to avoid reaching those caps, including visiting family members to use their Internet connection, or switching from their desktop PC connection to their smartphone.

Chetty states:

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. We would also hear about people ‘saving’ bandwidth all month and then binge downloading toward the end of their billing period.

While Chetty admits that broadband caps in the US are higher, many users still exceed them. Chetty recommends that ISPs that have such caps "... should empathize with your users and offer ways for customers to see how their data are being used and who is using them."

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