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Fair usage policy of internet and mobile data service providers

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-06-2017 shAikh zoaib saleem

Mobile data and broadband, for accessing the internet, have become a necessity for most of us. In this age of internet of things (IoT), many of our devices are connected to the internet. But it’s not just connectivity that is important. We also need this connectivity at a good speed. If your data plan gives you 1 or 2 gigabyte (GB) of 4G data a day, you may have experience a sudden decline in the speed of internet as the day ends. It is not because machines hate you. It is more likely to be because a ‘fair usage policy’.

Internet service providers, and telecom companies in case of mobile internet, monitor the consumption data for each connection. Based on this, you receive updates stating how much data you have used up. These messages may also warn you when you are close to your usage limit. For most prepaid mobile users, crossing this limit typically means either stopping of internet service or extra charges.

However, even in many of the other data plans that claim to provide ‘unlimited’ internet access, there are limits on how much data is allowed. Often, these limits are not mentioned upfront. But, once you reach this limit the bandwidth available to you would drop sharply to a predetermined lower level. For instance, if you have an ‘unlimited’ plan with 5 megabits per second (Mbps) bandwidth, and a ‘fair usage’ limit of 20 GB a month, your download speeds could go down to 1 Mbps if your data consumption exceeds 20 GB. The limits and lowered speeds vary across plans and service providers and are a part of your internet service providers’ fair usage policy. This policy also varies across different plans. The service providers reason that if heavy users consume more bandwidth constantly, it affects the quality of service experienced by others, who are not heavy users but are on the same network.

Internet usage and data consumption are rapidly increasing in India. The total mobile internet traffic in India in 2016 was 29% more than in 2015, according to a report by Nokia, India Mobile Broadband Index 2017. The report also states that the total data payload increased from 128 petabytes to 165 petabytes in the same period. (There are 1,024 terabytes in a petabyte and one terabyte is made up of 1,024 gigabytes of data.)

To put this in perspective, you need about 1 GB of data at a good download speed to watch a live stream in high definition from a video-on demand-platform. Users of such platforms are also increasing in India (read about it here: bit.ly/2sFLrqZ).

If your data consumption is high, you need to check if your internet connection comes with the rider of fair usage policy. If it does, monitor your data usage over one month and compare the same with your fair usage limit. You can monitor your usage through your service provider, or by using simple apps that are easily available online or are pre-loaded in your phones. If you exceeding the limit often, bargain for a better deal or look to move to another service provider. There are broadband plans available that do not have such limits on usage.

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