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Broadband Data Usage Allowance

Last Edit: 06/12/18

Internet Service Providers in the United Kingdom offer a range of subscriber packages/deals to broadband customers. Broadband is a term that is used to describe a range of Internet connection technologies, but for this page I am referring to DSL and Fibre broadband connections, which are supplied through a landline telephone line or cable service. Since broadband Internet connections were launched in the United Kingdom (roughly from the year 2000 onwards), Internet Service Providers have sold two types of broadband packages: 1) unlimited broadband; 2) broadband with a fixed data usage allowance. While unlimited broadband has come under scrutiny for whether ir ia truly 'unlimited' -- some ISPs have used a fair usage policy for their unlimited broadband packages -- in theory they do not have an allowance or cap. On the other hand, a subscriber with a fixed data usage allowance, is restricted to how much data they can use per month. Why would someone pick a broadband package with a data limit? Usually it comes down to price, entry level (cheaper) broadband packages have a data limit, whereas unlimited broadband packages are a premium product.

Broadband packages, with a data usage allowance, are typically sold with a gigabyte (GB) limit; one gigabyte is 1000000000 bytes. BT state on their website that 1GB (or 1024MB) of data lets a subscriber send or receive 1,000 emails. Therefore, broadband with a data limit typically had/has had a data limit that is higher than 1GB per month. Data usage allowances are usually: 15GB, 30GB, 40GB or 60GB per month. Beyond 60GB, the purpose of a data limit -- to make an Internet connection cheaper -- makes little sense: due to data transit costs that Internet Service Providers have to pay to send data across the computer networks that comprise the Internet.

Broadband packages, with a data usage allowance, were far more common in the past: when data transit costs were higher, and virtually all broadband connections were DSL connections (over the traditional telephone network, which could be over loaded with peak data traffic). With the UK broadband infrastructure now shifting from DSL to Fibre cable, the vast majority of broadband subscriber packages are now unlimited, and its becoming increasingly difficult for new broadband customers to find a broadband package with a data usage allowance. Therefore, to examine a capped broadband package, I will need to cite Plusnet's 'Broadband Your Way', which was a flexible product that allowed customer to choose their own usage allowance: Package 1 2GB included, £1.00 per extra 1GB; Package 2 15GB included, 75p per extra 1GB; Package 3 30GB included, 75p per extra 1GB; Package 4 40GB included, 75p per extra 1GB; and Pro 15GB included, £1.50 per extra 2GB. Plusnet's 'Broadband Your Way' was withdrawn on the 16th February 2009, and its notable that all of Plusnet's current broadband packages are now unlimited.

In the past, whether a subscriber picked an unlimited or a capped broadband package would have depended on their requirements. If they were a light user, who only uses the Internet to send emails and pay bills, then a capped broadband package would made financial sense. However, for a family who uses Internet for streaming services (youtube, sky go, bbc iplayer, amazon prime and netflix) then a capped broadband package would rarely have met their requirements: due to capped broadband packages being DSL rather than Fibre (lower download/upload speed) and the data usage requirements of these Internet services (downloading a netflix film can take 5GB of data). Present day, it appears to be a challenge to purchase a broadband package with a data usage allowance, most of the large Internet Service Providers (BT, Plusnet, Sky, Virgin, Post Office, SEE) are only selling unlimited broadband packages to new customers.