December 22, 2014 by phicks2012
One day in late November I received an automated phone call from a very polite but impersonal computer warning me that I was about to exceed my monthly Comcast “internet data cap”. I was confused, because I’d never realized I actually HAD a data cap, and in ten years I certainly had never EXCEEDED it. As a matter of fact, when I went on-line to check my NORMAL usage I discovered that my average usage (for the entire household, mind you) had always been between 75GB and 101GB (averaging about 90GB out of an original monthly allowance of 250GB — later increased to 300GB — and this included almost constant internet use with regular on-line gaming).
I noted, though, that in October of 2014 (this year), my usage had suddenly increased by nearly 80% to 160GB, and that by November 23rd it was already up by 224%, spiking at 290GB. Because my personal usage habits had not changed, I was baffled. How was this possible? Aliens?
I mean, consider that I live easily far enough away from neighbors and from the highway to make casual tapping into my home network/wifi (which Comcast suggested as a possibility) highly unlikely, and that I can’t even reliably use my own laptop in my bedroom due to weakened signal. Consider as well that I have the network encrypted, and it becomes extremely doubtful that an unknown outside user or data vampire could quickly and easily tap in and use up my Gigs. So I asked for other possibilities, and I’ve now learned a few things that I’d like to share.
The main thing is that the recent popularity of streaming live video to “devices” instead of watching TV is extremely data intensive. Programs coming in via the cable box to your TV do not (according to the tech rep I consulted) count towards the data cap, for all that they consume bandwidth. If you watch (as I virtually always do) cable TV, or shows recorded on your DVR, or Comcast On Demand, or DVDs, then you don’t really risk depleting your data stock at all, even (according to the same tech rep) if you also spend considerable time on the internet and indulge in on-line gaming.
However, if you choose routinely to stream videos of any kind to your computer or to your mobile device(s) (I don’t have one of these mobile devices, by the way, unless you count my aging laptop) you can and will use up an alarming amount of your allowed data in a very short time indeed! Make a note of that for future reference, if you didn’t already know.
Computer updates, Platform updates, and other such automatic data transfers do also count, but tend to have very minimal impact. Video intensive web pages have more impact, because even if you do not watch the videos they run in the background, and spending a lot of time watching videos on YouTube will definitely eat up GBs as well — as will extensive uploading or downloading of videos, frequent video-conferencing, and over-using programs like Skype.
Excessive live streaming from networks to computers will also count, and Netflix and Hulu and their ilk will suck up data bytes that can mount up too, if these services are used “excessively”. I do occasionally make use of one or both of the latter, and just occasionally will watch a missed program streamed from the network. However, I do not use any of these on a daily basis (maybe a few times a month), and certainly not all day long.
There is, on the other hand, a service (though there are others like it) called ROKU that allows one to plug a small thumb-drive that acts as a tuner into a device (laptop, pad, etc) and, using this, to tap into the local network or WiFi to stream live TV to that device. This is handy, if you don’t have a cable box on your TV, or are away from home at a WiFi hotspot, but (unlike cable) it does use data, and (unlike Netflix or Hulu) I’m told that it will not stop after viewing a single video. Rather, it supposedly will allow your device to act like a TV set, and will continue to stream show, after show, after show to your device as long as it’s activated — each video eating up GBs of data. If you happen to use this at home, it will draw from the household network, and if you fall asleep watching ROKU on your tablet at home, I’m reliably informed that it will run literally all night, acting like a virtual data super-sponge.
Well, apparently this is what happened with my data.
One of my housemates had connected up a ROKU device about midway through October to watch TV on her tablet and/or laptop rather than getting a cable box or using a cheaper adaptor box (the latter only providing basic cable). This enabled her to get the extra channels she wanted without paying extra for them, and economy is generally a good thing. However — while in her defense it didn’t occur to her that doing this created a data drain, or that it might pose any sort of problem — she had, in addition to watching nearly all of her TV on her devices, also been streaming more than one program at the same time on occasion, mainly in order to watch multiple football games simultaneously, and the GBs were suddenly being used up at a frightening rate. As a result, the household data usage, unbeknownst to her or to me prior to that computer call, had absolutely sky-rocketed.
Now while Comcast (or more accurately Time-Warner according to some sources), won’t turn off your services if you exceed the 300GB data cap, they WILL charge for the extra data (in 50GB blocks) that you use, and my budget simply isn’t set up for that, especially when it’s totally unnecessary. See the definitions of “luxury” and “necessity”, if in doubt.
By the way, I understand that this happens with satellite and with DSL as well, and so isn’t unique to cable. The Cable and Satellite and DSL providers advertise how easy it is to sync your devices and watch anything anywhere, but they don’t mention in the ads (at least verbally — check out the hastily flashed fine print on their TV commercials) that doing this can very quickly throw you into data overdraft with its applicable charges.
So beware of the seductive promise of live streaming video. Unless the providers raise their data caps and improve their data compression ratios, you can very quickly and easily find yourself paying extra for blocks of data if you don’t watch out!! Just a word to the wise from one of the “newly educated”! 😉
As a test, after my housemate disconnected her offending ROKU I spent the rest of the day watching TV, browsing the internet, and on-line gaming to test the data usage. It equalled around 2GB, despite the fact that the ROKU had actually still been in use for a very, very short while that morning. To use up 300GB in a month requires an average usage of 10GB per day. You do the math.
I also called Comcast the following day and asked how to avoid using up November’s remaining 8GB in 7 days — and just how much data my on-line gaming would use if I didn’t quit for that week. I was told that actually WOW was surprisingly low impact, and that if I played my game 24/7 it would use only around 4GB per month, or .134GB per day. The word was that if we avoided on-line videos, we really ought to be okay…and guess what! We were! Of course, I hedged my bets by not gaming. I was bent and DETERMINED to come in under that bloody cap, but as it turned out I probably needn’t have bothered. So far in December our average data usage is about .68GB per day, with no other economizing at all now that the video streaming has been curtailed.
SO…to recap, we now KNOW that
1)There is a data cap of 300GB
2)300GB is well sufficient for normal usage, but not for excessive video streaming,
3)If the cap is exceeded we (meaning I) will be charged for overages, and
4)We can supposedly avoid all this simply by not streaming video as an unnecessary alternative to easily available TV.
So, streaming video as a regular entertainment medium is therefore now banned, by Royal Decree, at The Castle. Offenders probably will not be publicly flogged, but verbal abuse is not utterly out of the question, and fines are entirely likely to be imposed.
Long Live the Queen! 😉