Overage Fee or Data Extortion?

Have you read the fine print in your cellular service agreement? I thought I had but I failed to do the math. My current cellular-based Internet service provider (ISP) agreement places a cap on data usage at 5 Gb per account (I have two accounts -- see my previous posts). I was aware that there are some severe penalties for going over the monthly limit. I am almost certain the salesperson pointed this out to me when I signed up. I figured if I managed my usage I should be fine.

When I was given a gift this Christmas for a season of one of my favorite TV shows from iTunes, I started thinking about how it would affect my data usage. There are 16 episodes each about 500 Mb in size. I wanted to avoid exceeding my monthly data usage limit so I started doing some math concerning how much I would exceed that limit if I downloaded all 16 episodes this month.

I calculated I would need to download 8 Gb of data to get all of the episodes. I also calculated I would use about 7 Gb of my 10 Gb limit this month based on current usage. Assuming my estimates are correct, I would exceed my monthly limit by about 5 Gb. That didn’t seem so bad until I did the math.

My ISP charges $0.25 per Mb over the limit. Thus, 1 Gb = 1024 \* $0.25 = $256.00 and my 5 Gb overage would cost me a whopping $1,280.00. If you consider that the cost of a 5 Gb monthly plan is $59.99 (plus about $18.00 in fees and taxes -- something else they don’t tell you about), charging customers $0.25 per Mb over their limit is (IMHO) extortion-level policy. If I’ve made an error in my estimate, let me know but I am pretty sure I got it right. I also called customer service that confirmed this estimate.

But it gets worse. I was never able to download the first episode. I was unaware that my ISP is so unreliable that the connection drops every 30-40 minutes. My cellular router has a feature that automatically (and quickly) reestablishes the connection if it drops. For normal Internet access (web browsing, email, etc.) this frequent hiccup isn’t that noticeable. However, programs like IRC or iTunes don’t like that. In fact, my IRC client drops an average of 4-6 times per day and iTunes won’t even download a single music file. As you may have guessed, even Windows Update and Ubuntu’s Update Manager cannot handle the drops very well.

Unfortunately, this means my new ISP solution is not as ideal as I thought. It’s better than nothing but I can no longer use the term ‘broadband’ to describe my Internet service. So much for ‘The world’s most reliable network.’ Bah!

I contacted my ISP customer service and technical support center about this problem. I was told (in no uncertain terms) that the service I have was never meant to be used for streaming media of any kind and they do not (will not) support such activities. No, that isn’t in the agreement or the fine print.

Consider yourself forewarned: a cellular-based ISP may not be a viable solution as your only Internet access. It was meant to be used seldom for light business-related tasks (web browsing, email, etc.) and nothing more. My cellular provider doesn’t offer 3G in my area but that has turned out to be a good thing. I would be interested in reading comments of those who have 3G: can you download large files or streaming media? Do you have overage fees?

I guess I am back on the hunt for a broadband connection. Does anyone have a 100’ tower they aren’t using?

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Charles Bell

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