It seems like every method we use to access the Internet, wired or wireless, has some sort of data consumption cap. Some of those consumption caps are used to set a limit such that an additional revenue stream can be created at higher data volumes. But other caps are used to set a level that separates acceptable use of a network from abusive use of a network.
Whatever the language used or the commercial model implied, the existence of a cap seems to be fairly consistently aimed at the “top 1% of users”. It is said that the 1% consumes a disproportionate volume of data when compared to the average user. The implication being (without it really ever being stated) is that the 1% of users impose a disproportionate cost on the network operator. They are also commonly referred to as bandwidth hogs.
But there is a big problem with this. Bandwidth and volume are not the same. Bandwidth is typically measured in bits per second. Data volume is typically measured in bytes. To provide an analogy, a network’s bandwidth is equivalent to the number of lanes on a road. Data volume is equivalent to the number of miles an individual car travels along a road over a certain period of time.
The cost of building a road is almost fully correlated to the number of lanes that are built. But there is no correlation between the cost of building the road and the number of miles a car travels along it after it is built.
The same is true for a network. The cost of a network is almost completely determined by the bandwidth that is needed. And that “need” is extraordinarily predictable. Just as for a road system there is a network busy hour. The number of people you want to allow through a road system at a certain speed determines the number of lanes you build. And as a network operator, the number of people who you want to experience a certain bandwidth at the same time determines the total bandwidth you build.
Back to our 1% “bandwidth hogs”. Let’s say that this 1% all used their Internet connection fully for every minute of every day. If they did then they would consume a very large volume of data – lots of those bytes. Way more than the average person. But did they actually cost the network operator a disproportionate amount more? No. Imagine these bandwidth hogs actually turned their use off only during the busy hour – the hour that drives the cost of the network. Would removing 1% of cars from the rush hour on a road make any noticeable difference to the experience of the other 99%? No. Would those bandwidth hogs consume very much less data volume by refraining from using the network during the busy hour? No.
So there is no link between the 1% bandwidth hogs, when bytes are used to pick them out, and the cost to the network operator.
The problem is actually the large percentage of people who all want to use the network at the same time. That’s probably nearly all of us. And that’s a hard problem to solve. But making a scapegoat of people that continuously use an Internet service isn’t going to help. If all those bandwidth hogs left the network today the cost for the network operator doesn’t change and the experience we all have during the busy hour doesn’t get any better.