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Bandwidth Cap Study for the Net Neutrality and Consumer Rights Folks

Just a quick note here. A post-doc at GA Tech and Microsoft Research, Marshini Chetty, has a paper called “You’re Capped!” Understanding the Effects of
Bandwidth Caps on Broadband Use in the Home
that was accepted for the 2012 ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012) which was just held in May. My guess is some will attack the method and others will question the significance of study focused on patterns in South Africa. That being said the three levers–invisible balances, mysterious processes and multiple users–seem like plausible ways to understand how people deal with caps. Invisible balances refers to “inability to track their bandwidth balance or what was remaining of their cap at any time.” Mysterious processes are the ones that may be eating up bandwidth but the user can’t tell which process is the culprit. Multiple users pose a similar problem as households can’t always tell who is the biggest consumer. For me, some behaviors identified such as not updating security patches and waiting until the end of the month to “binge download” could have big implications for network providers seeking to manage their data flows and for policy makers who are trying to understand the way caps affect the average users ability to use the Internet well. As Chetty points out, there is much work to be done in this space. In that sense the work reminds me of early medical studies that start the ball rolling and show promise for larger studies on an issue. Movements to give users better ways to understand their data usage and whether ISPs are living up to their promises might want to take note of this sort of research and support its development.