As a responsible Mac user, I usually feel immune from most Internet threats…except for one. Using my Mac exactly as Apple intends it to be used sometimes renders my Internet connection virtually unusable for up to a month, and costs money to fix. Could this happen […]


As a responsible Mac user, I usually feel immune from most Internet threats…except for one. Using my Mac exactly as Apple intends it to be used sometimes renders my Internet connection virtually unusable for up to a month, and costs money to fix.

Could this happen to you? It depends on whether your Internet provider has a bandwidth “metering” policy (or “cap”). These caps are one of the most controversial topics for Internet users in 2009, and can put a significant crimp in your Internet use. Recently, Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY), who represents the Rochester area, introduced the “Broadband Internet Fairness Act” (H.R. 2902) (PDF). Massa got involved soon after Time Warner Cable unsuccessfully used Rochester as a test market for metering. Under this bill, the FTC would have veto power over such caps and thus allow them only under certain agreed-upon scenarios.

In my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, the standard level of cable Internet service has a limit of 3GB of bandwidth per month. Overage is charged $2 per GB. Downloading a single movie from the iTunes store will blow through an entire monthly limit, and even the cable company’s most expensive “premium” service only allows 50GB of bandwidth. In 2009, that’s not really much bandwidth at all.

Once you’ve hit your limit, you have to severely restrict usage until the next month, or face a large bill. Your Apple TV remains stale without its new content, your iMac stops downloading podcasts, and your iPod weeps because it’s sick of the same old music you had last month.

Apple is the leader in multimedia content creation; new Mac users are always pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to buy from the iTunes store, or create their own content. A common question we get in our local user group is “I’m not sure what I did wrong, but all of a sudden I have a substantial overage bill from my cable company.” Of course, the user did nothing wrong, other than subscribe to a few podcasts, and perhaps download a new Apple software update and buy some shows with iTunes! The Mac is also blessed with great online backup services like MobileMe, yet when our user group did a presentation on backup strategy, I had to warn novice users to be careful lest their backups end up costing them an arm and a leg in bandwidth overage fees!

While on the surface this appears to be an isolated issue with a few providers, it is not. Bandwidth metering is a growing threat to cable Internet users in many cities. The American Cable Association (ACA) has come out in support of bandwidth caps, and the former chair of the ACA, Patrick Knorr, who implemented bandwidth caps in Lawrence, stated in multiple interviews that flat-rate Internet pricing is an “unsustainable” business model.

Unfortunately, using the Internet normally with bandwidth metering is also unsustainable. When Mac owners are worried about downloading movies, doing backups or performing system updates, that hurts the Apple brand. Apple is continually innovating new ways to make the Mac OS the best Internet operating system, creating a whole ecosystem with iTunes, MobileMe and iLife. All of these great products rely on the ubiquity of the Internet. When Internet providers start making normal Internet use an expensive proposition, Mac users lose.

Apple should lead the way and come out against bandwidth caps. Given that many of the offerings on the iTunes store actually compete with cable TV, Apple should be vigilant that cable companies do not use bandwidth metering as a way to stifle alternative ways of viewing content. Additionally, Apple should add a bandwidth meter to the Airport routers; that way the bandwidth use of entire households can be tracked. If bandwidth caps are inevitable, Apple can arm the consumer with data to monitor their usage and dispute discrepancies with their ISP.

Apple could be an ally for consumers (even the “PC guy” in the commercials would be helped!), while at the same time standing up for its own brand and vision of consumer Internet use. If you disagree with the idea of bandwidth metering, make sure your voice is heard by giving customer feedback to your own Internet provider and writing your member of Congress. I had better end this article now…bytes and bits equal dollars and cents for me, unfortunately!

  1. Wow, your ISP’s premium service only allows 50 GB in bandwidth…that is crazy, do you live in Soviet Russia, where bandwidth is a precious resource of the State, and must be doled out in very small amounts to the proletariat or something?

    Seriously, though, if ISPs are worried about this stuff, why don’t they treat bandwidth like the electricity company treats power, just pay for what you use, at a reasonable rate?

  2. 3GB Limit??? Holy cow, I downloaded over 4GB yesterday alone!

    1. Yup. That’s for the basic user. Setting up a new Mac with all the updates takes half their bandwidth for the month, so I usually just install it manually for my clients.

      Also remember that’s 3 GB combined upload and download.

  3. With a Mac OS X 10.5.7 update coming in at 449MB we have a lot to worry about, constant Windows updates and virus definitions are a must have as well. Make it a security argument and we’ll win.

    Good call on the electricity company, but then they wouldn’t be able to charge my grandmother who just checks her e-mail $40 a month. Business and the customer is always going to want more, but for utilities where it costs millions of infrastructure to get into the game it’s not a business where market based economics are always fair. If a company comes in and is successful- it’s be a couple of months till they’re bought out, and near monopolized once again.

    With technology your money goes further every day, as users will be wanting more bandwidth it will be cheaper for companies to deliver more bandwidth over existing lines. Dial-up to high speed connections, case in point. Tethering is coming and could change their game, but it might be for the worse.

    Your ISP should be careful, if they suck more than the government would providing it, votes will be more socialist- and they’ll be out of the job. In the past, in some Provinces in Canada there was ‘State’ run utilities and it went pretty well. They got sold off so the Government could make a quick buck and now everyone pays more. This is one thing Soviet Russia might be able to do a better job of. Sweden isn’t doing to bad for itself.

    Bring on an essential services delivered without competition debate!

  4. Yeah, I’m from Lawrence and refuse to use Sunflower’s services for their insanely debilitating bandwidth cap. I use DSL instead; It’s a little slower, but no bandwidth caps.

  5. Count Pollen Monday, June 29, 2009

    Same in Belgium. 30 GB. extra usage is not billed by default, but continues with a smallband connection (128 kbps instead of 6 Mbit). My current provider also counts upload as bandwidth usage… so i am doomed.
    I still sometimes manage to dl 180 GB at smallband, just to get back at them :)
    In the Netherlands (where I am originally coming from), there is a “fair use policy”, meaning, no real data limits untill abuse becomes obvious (> 300 GB for several months I think). Much faster networks there as well. In “Nieuwland” 50 Megabit / s download and uploaqd is guaranteed!


  6. That’s nothing. I pay 80 dollars a month for the premium 17 GBs a month… I have an apple TV and it is useless unless I rent and rip(which I believe is illegal….Terrible…..I am moving back to Lawrence next month. Sad to see this is the case. Although, 50 GB will seem like heaven compared to what I have been living with the last 2 years unless it is over 80 dollars a month..

    When and where is the MUG in Lawrence. Would love the opportunity to participate. I have been a Apple/Mac user since 79….

  7. in germany we dont have bandwidth caps..DSL ranges from 2-50Mbit uncapped…of course there are some entry level dsl offers with traffic limits, but every provider also has uncapped plans.
    Mobile broadband (3G/HSDPA) is capped though :/ hope that changes sometime soon.

  8. Same in France, no bandwidth caps, for 30 euros you should have 20 Mbit download / 800Kbit upload, mine come with free phone landline to most countries in the world.

    Mobile broadband is still a mess, but You can get the iPhone from three official providers, I will update my none iPhone contract to a iPhone 3GS contract in paying once 149 Euros and then 18 Euros for 1 hour call + 15 Euros for full iPhone use(with tethering), included free country wide access to WiFi hotspots.

    1. Interesting : I can use (claim) 1,500.000 WiFi hotspots all over France

      EDIT: tethering only as option : another 30 Euros per month

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  10. spoonbender Monday, June 29, 2009

    Wow, thats really bad. Three gigs a month. Even if your a legit bit-torrent user, you would be dead in the water after a couple of hours.


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