AT&T Caps Monthly Downloads

Dennis Faas's picture

AT&T is imposing a maximum monthly download limit for its broadband customers. It's a move more reminiscent of smartphone data plans, where bandwidth is more restricted.

Under the new policy, which begins in May, DSL users will be allowed to download up to 150GB of data per month, a cap that's raised to 250GB for those on the U-Verse service which delivers fiber optic cable right to the customer's home. The company estimates that around 2 per cent of customers will be affected by the limit. (Source:

$10 for 50GB Overage Fee to Apply

Those who exceed the limits won't face a slowdown or loss of service. Instead, they'll become eligible to pay an "overage" fee if and when they exceed the monthly limit on three different occasions. The fee is $10 for every 50GB over the limit. Users will be informed when they have hit 65%, 90% and 100% of the monthly limit.

Most people won't consider the limits unreasonable. That said, somebody who streams a lot of high definition movies or TV shows could easily smash the limit.

Congestion Controversy Erupts

It's the explanation for the move and the suspected motivation that's causing more controversy.

The company is claiming there's a need to restrict the behavior of a few heavy users who are causing congestion problems for the entire network. Critics dispute whether that's really the case and argue that even if it is, the company should spend a little extra to improve networks rather than make users put up with an insufficient service. (Source:

The plans are significantly different from a broadband limits model that AT&T previously tested in a few cities. In that case, there was a range of different limits, each varying depending on which broadband package the customer had chosen.

New AT&T Bandwidth Cap and Net Neutrality

It's important to note that the AT&T policy does not inherently conflict with the much-debated net neutrality principle.

The net neutrality philosophy, which supporters say should be upheld by government regulations, is that all legal Internet traffic should be treated equally. A data cap doesn't discriminate against specific types of traffic, unlike Comcast's attempts to slow down data sent via BitTorrent filesharing services, which was the spark for the current political and legal debate.

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