Let's doff our 3GB caps PDF Print E-mail

Our bandwidth habits are determined by what we have available to us – not the other way around. A press release arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago.

In it, the company attempted to explain that South Africans are happy with their 3GB monthly data allowances – or caps – and even suggested that South Africans tend to overestimate how much they use the Internet.

Now hang on just a bit – 3GB is a pittance. A weekend on YouTube – casually, and legally, watching videos – can easily go over 3GB. That`s before we`ve looked at normal Web browsing, e-mail and those Friday afternoon Flash games everybody loves so much.

The average user isn`t content with 3GB. It`s the other way around: they have 3GB, and now they have to make do with what their budget allows. This cap nonsense – and the misinterpretation of the data surrounding it – needs to stop.


ISPs look at how people are using their limited resources, and when figures come back showing how people tend to remain within those resources, the providers proudly exclaim that they know what`s best for the users.

Let`s say Johnny Internet-user earns R8 000 a month. He carefully apportions what he has available to him, so that he doesn`t run out of money by the end of the month. What he has left on payday is put away into savings, and he gets another R8 000 bucket to dip into.

If employers use the logic of ISPs – then again, some do – then Johnny would forever be stuck earning R8 000 a month. The data his employer has shows that Johnny only needs that much money. Any more would be a waste. Says the CEO who drives around in a Mercedes Benz S-class.

Similarly, ISPs (and the folks who work there) would not get by on a mere 3GB or 5GB a month.

Saving grace

Thankfully, uncapped packages are becoming more affordable. At the moment, the really affordable unlimited transfer accounts are only available to folks on certain line speeds – mainly the 384Kbps offering from Telkom.

My mom uses one of these cheaper uncapped accounts on her 384Kbps line, and I keep reminding her that she can do what she wants. When the ISP explains that “big downloads are not allowed”, it doesn`t refer to the 600MB patch for her computer, or the 50MB update for a game. That disclaimer is for peer-to-peer downloads and the like. The “illegal” stuff; the same stuff that power users think should be included in the definition of uncapped.

For the average home user, though, there is a lot of content out there, waiting to be discovered. YouTube is more than just video blogs and redubbed music videos. There is good, free entertainment, and informative documentaries are not scarce, either.

Streaming services, such as Last.fm (which is available to local users for $3 a month) can easily replace the poor programming on local radio stations with customisable digital radio stations. An hour of streaming music can use between 25MB and 100MB. Let`s assume a 128Kbit/s stream. That is about 60MB per hour. Let`s listen for two hours a day (despite spending eight hours at a computer) and that works out to 120MB per day. For 20 days a month? 2.3GB. And that`s just casual music listening.

There are many other services that offer free, legal content. They make up the richer part of the Web browsing experience. But the current mindset of South African users is that bandwidth is a precious resource, not to be squandered. They daren`t explore the Web and find new content. Nobody dares spend more time than necessary on their computer, for fear of spending their quota.

With this attitude, we`re going to be left behind. While people abroad are gaming, shopping online, streaming movies and putting their fridges on the Internet, we`ll still be counting the bytes, grateful for the magical e-mail services our ISP overlords have granted us.

Christo van Gemert is the consumer technology editor of ITWeb.co.za. He has more than 10 years of experience playing with computers, phones, laptops, networking kit and... pretty much anything that has buttons or batteries. In his spare time he pretends to be good at photography, plays online games with Internet strangers and attempts to defy the laws of physics in whatever car he has on test. He tweets seriously at @ITWebGadgets and not so seriously at @hellospaceman.

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