Will Internet Data Caps Become Another Expense for Photographers?

Will Internet Data Caps Become Another Expense for Photographers?

Photographers and videographers push a lot of data around the Internet; that's just the nature of what we do. Unfortunately, that could soon be a problem, as Internet service providers are beginning to impose data caps with overage charges on customers. 

Our friends over at SLR Lounge recently posted an article detailing how Pye Jirsa discovered the data cap on his COX Internet service, which charges $10 for every 50 GB a customer uses over 1 TB every month. The company also offers additional 500 GB packages for $29 extra or unlimited services for $50 extra. COX isn't the only company to do this either. They did mention that the cap only affects the top two percent of users, but then again, image and video creators aren't standard customers. While 1 TB seems like a practically infinite barrier, I know I personally push about 200 GB a month simply in backups, and I just upgraded to a camera with twice the resolution. What happens when you switch from 1080p to 4K video? Do you think ISPs will move the bar to match and put that fee toward building better infrastructure to keep up? Call me cynical, but the moral purity of cable companies is not something I believe strongly in. 

So, I ask you: do you think such caps are fair or are they simply needless fees to further gouge consumers? Head over to SLR Lounge to read the full story on Jirsa's experience,

[via SLR Lounge]

Lead image from Pixabay user Martinelle, used under Creative Commons.

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Sean Molin's picture

This is an interesting topic because the climate of caps changes so frequently. One year a company won't have one. The next year there will be 250GB one. Then two years later they get rid of it.

I personally think in the long run caps won't exist (at least practically). In a decade I've had broadband from Bright House/Spectrum, Comcast/Xfinity, and now gigabit fiber via TDS... and I've never been subject to caps.

As far as Pye's situation goes, I sympathize with caps of any kind, but it's hard to be too mad about a 1TB cap. That's 2-4x higher than any cap I've personally ever heard of... and I know people in countries outside the USA with insane caps like 50GB a month.

Adam Milton's picture

What competition? The internet provider market is not all that free...I don't see these going away anytime soon. How many areas have more than one or two providers to choose from? New providers also face significant barriers of entry, local and state laws in many places make sure that the big boys don't have any competition.

Jeff McCollough's picture

You seem to be out of the loop. Almost all mobile phone providers offered unlimited data like 10 years ago then they started adding these stupid caps. Now several companies offer unlimited data again.

Ryan Cooper's picture

When the iPhone hit the market the existing infrastructure simply couldn't handle the sheer volume of higher bandwidth needed for smartphone users. Users who previously would only use a mb or two per month on their flip phones all of sudden were using up gbs of pipe per month. Caps were initially added to try to address this problem while infrastructure was updated to handle the increased demand.

Now that this problem has been addressed I suspect caps will eventually slowly go away due to competition in the market but its going to take time. There is no reason for a service provider to lower prices unless forced to in order to compete. In fact, they have a fiscal responsibility to the shareholders to NOT do that unless they can bring in more profits by removing them.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. That's why we can only wish that more companies will pop up offering more competitive rates. There are a couple of companies that are currently working on satellite internet services with very competitive rates compared to the current offerings from let's say Iridium.

Adam Milton's picture

I don't process and transfer files through my iPhone, so what mobile carriers are up to concerning data caps is not relevant to my photography business. I'm not sure why the smarmy lecture on how there used to be unlimited data for cell phones, I remember. My point is that there is very little competition in the broadband internet provider market. Some of which is ensured by municipal and state laws that give Comcast, Charter et, al. a virtual monopoly in the areas they serve. Because there is so little broadband competition, what motivation is there to remove the caps?

Jeff McCollough's picture

You don't get it then.

Anonymous's picture

Not sure why you're talking about mobile phone providers when the problem is clearly broadband ISP's (ie. cable, fiber, etc.). I don't know anyone who actually uses their mobile data plan as their primary connection to send and receive a large number of files for work.

As for ISP's, there's very little incentive for them to do anything beneficial to consumers because for the most part, there's very little competition for them in their respective regions. I'm fortunate not to be in an area where data caps are in effect, but for people who are in such areas, they're sort of SOL unless they have another option to switch to in their area.

In regard to costs associated with the internet in general, data caps are one problem, but net neutrality also comes to mind and frankly, there are a lot of concerning things going on in that realm that I don't think enough people are actually paying attention to despite the impact that the internet has on all of our lives. If things keep going down the route that they are now, I suspect that we're all going to start getting nickeled and dimed for more and more things going forward, be it in the form of data caps, bandwidth throttling, or something else.

Jeff McCollough's picture

You don't get it either.

I mention mobile data as it seems that caps come and go. I'm sorry you and Adam didn't understand the basic analogy. In the history of internet, it has changed quite a bit. They started implementing caps then they got rid of them.

Broadband isn't the only way to get internet BTW.

Sorry to disagree with you here Jeff, but the facts are not on your side. I see where you are trying to come at this from, because you are right that mobile carriers had datacaps until recently and have been moving rapidly towards unlimited data plans. But this is explicitly because true competition does exist for the most part in mobile internet service, but is very much not the case for the terrestrial wired service that is at the heart of this article.

The biggest difference between the two technologies comes down to the obvious last mile delivery of service between network and device: cellular signals for mobile, and copper/fiber optic cable for terrestrial. It is orders of magnitudes easier for a wireless carrier to rent spectrum from the FCC and then build one high powered cellular tower capable of covering a large georgraphic area and many users, than it is for a terrestrial carrier to literally hang cables that connect every single house in that same area. Furthermore, electrical poles are often owned and access is controlled by local governments, who provide access to licensed utility companies, and the actual cables themselves are privately owned by the ISP. As such, the required upfront investment costs for wired internet access creates significant hurdles for new companies to enter a market where all of their possible customers will already have consumer accounts with the incumbent ISP. A 2015 FCC report discovered that only 21% of Americans live in a region where more than 1 ISP offers a service tier of 25mbps or greater, with only 3% of that group having a choice between 3 or more providers (https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/08/us-broadband-stil...).

The real question that should be posed here is why datacaps even exist in the first place? Its not like internet bandwidth is a non-renewable resource, it is infinitely renewable because it is a measure of capacity at a specific given time. It only matters how many users are sending data at a specific time, not how much data was sent total. Your conclusions are based so heavily on the idea that terrestrial ISPs can just pop up in a given area, and that the "free market" will work its voodoo. The problem is just that this is just an area where the free market is a failure, because there is already market saturation. Terrestrial ISPs are clearly utilities like electricity/gas, who trade monopoly access for stable but limited profit margins. This infuriates ISPs because they got addicted to the profit gains they made rolling out internet access for the first time, and now that they are at market saturation the only way they can continue to increase their profits is by sitting back on the products they are already operating, while either increasing prices across the board or by severely diminishing the buying power of the consumer at established price points.

Josh Bryant's picture

Except that in the US at least, none of them are truly unlimited. AT&T limits your speed to 128Kbps after 10GB, Verizon limits you to 600Kbps after 15GB, etc.

Jeff McCollough's picture

When I lived in the US I never had caps :)

Josh Bryant's picture

There didn't used to be, but that's changed and this is the reality today. They went from truly unlimited a few years ago, to having data caps, and now back to "Unlimited" but with limits on speed after a certain amount of usage.

Leigh Miller's picture

I have unlimited here in Canada...and with good bandwith. Averaging 200 mbps over AC wifi. I'm sure my provider might try to cap at some point. However you just can't give customers something and then take it away without a fuss.

That said it's easy to go over 1TB....Apple TV's, Android boxes, Console Video Games, browsing etc.

Simply put, society today is engineered to take advantage of people who are too dumb to know what to do with their money, FAR more than it is actually going to force people to pay up for things they REALLY NEED.

In photography, what this means is: If you have tons of TB of photos to back up, do it yourself. Come up with an intelligent, safe workflow that allows you to back up and deliver your photos for a very low cost, using whatever backup solution is the most affordable at the time. Right now, that is simply off-site hard drive storage, NOT cloud-ing every single photo you take using something like Carbonite or CrashPlan.

Same thing with delivery: You don't need to smugmug / zenfolio etc. every last megapixel and every last half-decent photo to your clients. A better business model is to deliver fewer photos, at an acceptable resolution for a mid-sized print, say, 10-20 megapixels.

With all this in mind, 90-95-99% of photographers will not bump into an annual cap of internet data. They'll be fine. Only the most massive commercial operations / studios will need to worry.

The real reason that internet companies are freaking out about internet bandwidth is 4K streaming, and the general population's desire to use the cloud for everything else. iPhones now automatically upload all your high-res photos and only store low-res versions on your phone, for example. Right now I have my Android phone set to only auto-upload photos and videos to DropBox if I'm on my wifi, but eventually unlimited data plans will be so commonplace that we're uploading tons and tons of photos and 4K videos to the intnernet, non-stop, via 4G and at-home wifi ISP's.

And the day Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. all make 4K ubiquitous, (let alone, the TV-over-the-internet services that the likes of Hulu are debuting) ...that is the day we will see by far the biggest spike in sheer data consumption. But, going back to what I originally said- this is designed to take advantage of people who are too dumb to have a handle on their own personal finances, (including those who are broke and those who are rich) ...so they mindlessly pay a higher monthly fee because, well, everybody else is doing it!

-guy who still owns / watches "regular" DVD's, and also a VHS player.

Oh, of COURSE they're hypocritical. They want your $$$ monthly, just as bad as Adobe does. That's why they kept reassuring everyone "oh, this will NOT affect 98% of our users!" They obviously wouldn't do something if only 2% of their users were causing a problem. They know that in just a few years, that 98% number will plummet, and a massive chunk of their subscribers will be consuming well over 1TB of data each month. Especially when not just the streaming services, but all of television itself, starts being consumed via the internet.

This is the internet + television companies being desperate to not lose profit margins due to a dramatic shift in content consumption. They've been trying to figure this out since the day Netflix was invented, and they saw the writing on the wall.

The good news is, eventually we'll be able to pay just one or two simple, straightforward monthly bill(s) for our home television, home internet, and cell phone internet.

The bad news is, it'll all be directly related to data consumption, and those of us who like to just leave a TV on 24/7 will be in for a rude awakening.

Which is why I still watch VHS's and DVD's. Because I already own them, and a player, and I don't have the time or the interest in bothering to "upgrade" the entire catalog. I do buy new movies in Blu-Ray, obviously, unless DVD is available and cheaper and the movie isn't something I care to enjoy in UHD. I have no reason to see a random TV show or comedy special in anything higher than DVD resolution, I barely even watch it, I mostly just listen. It's not freaking LOTR.

I'd love to have the spare time to just digitize everything and not even own a physical copy of stuff anymore, even if the source is something as horrible as VHS. But again, who has the time for that? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And I don't foresee DVD's being unable to play in a Blu-Ray player, ever, and I don't foresee VHS players ever vanishing from the local Goodwill store or eBay, so...

You have a point; we may soon find ourselves paying a Netflix bill, a Hulu bill, an Amazon bill, a Disney bill...

I'll solve that problem by....not signing up for the service, period. I've *never* paid for TV programming. I've got a Netflix streaming + DVD account that I barely justify paying $19 a month for, and that's got more content than I could ever consume.

I still have very little reason to "upgrade" most of my movie / TV show collection to blu-ray, though. If it's an epic film that I want to get wholly immersed in, I probably already own it in Blu-Ray. The rest of the collection are just movies / shows I put on in the background of something else. I did see the remastered version of Sound Of Music, though, at 240 FPS too. That opening scene was jaw-dropping.

I don't even own an optical drive computer now, though, to do any sort of digitizing of media. Again like I said, maybe some day, but not today.

Pye is running a business and maybe if he needs more data, he should switch over to a business plan and not use a personal plan.

That is not what separates business from personal plans. Business plans traditionally come with much faster bandwidth speeds and static IP addresses that enable the user to establish a server for things like hosting a website. Th amount of data a person uses is technologically irrelevant because the internet is measured in bandwidth, which is the number of bits transferring per second. If a network is able to support X bits/sec at 4:30pm, it will be able to support that same X b/s at 2:30am. The problem is how many people are sending data at one time. It is like traffic on a highway, the highway can only support a maximum amount of cars before traffic starts to slow or stop, but that doesn't mean that the road will always be at maximum capacity.

Rather than charging this customer more for passing an arbitrary and technologically irrelevant number of bits, the company should be creating ways for the customer to prioritize their larger data needs to periods of the day where network wide bandwidth demands are very low, such as overnight.

I generally disagree with data caps, but primarily due to how they are used.

For the most part ISPs with data caps put all usage towards the cap, which doesn’t really solve much of any problems.

If they implemented the data caps similar to how some electric plans are, based on time of use due to load on the system, people would understand it better, and it could possibly cause people to shift usage for certain types of traffic.

The big problems with that however is that the data caps mostly are used on consumers, and most consumers want bandwidth “now”. They are doing things that are interactive (gaming, video streaming, downloading something to use immediately, etc), so it is difficult or impossible to get them to shift that to other times, or even to provide them tools to assist with that.

Businesses frequently do this already. They purchase X amount of bandwidth, use it during business hours for the load their employees generate or that their customers use during business hours, then run batch and schedules jobs after hours so they don’t have to compete with users for the bandwidth. Backups and file uploads are perfect examples here of things that this can frequently be done with.

One of the arguments for data caps and overage charges is that it makes the heavy users pay more, so they are funding the infrastructure upgrades that they drive the needs for. I think the better model though is simply charging based on reserved bandwidth, and allowing higher speeds IF the bandwidth is available. The problem is that they can’t oversubscribe as much, and they have to increase costs to make up for that.

On your comment about the network always having the same bandwidth, that is true in some senses, but there are things that can cause that to fluctuate, expecially when it comes to wireless connections.

marknie's picture

Its very un friendly For these companies to get so tyrannical towards their customers in the name of profits! Horrible.

Linh Nikon's picture

interesting !

I don't have a data cap on my service however I am hopeful that as technology advances, competitors will emerge that offer easily accessible broadband for very aggressive pricing.

Wow you people outside Australia have it good! My very-average-by-local-standards internet connection only uploads at 50kb or so a second making backing up online absolutely impossible and the idea of breaching a 1TB cap at that speed inconceivable. I would kill to have your problems.

Lance-Ashley Joseph's picture

You guys are worry about caps being imposed, in South Africa we still try to get the extremely high data prices to come down, here our uncapped is limited to 300-400GB and less before you are throttled to slow download and upload speeds

Josh Bryant's picture

Here's a secret I found out years ago when Comcast at the time had a 250GB per month cap. Switch to Business Class service. Every ISP in the US that I've seen has it. No limits at all, and the price is usually about the same. Sometimes they may not offer the same speeds, but the bandwidth is guaranteed, and you get a great SLA, so you're better off.

The tricky part that I recently found after moving to an area serviced only by a smaller ISP, is that some have stricter requirements for their Business Class service. My current ISP wants a business registered to my address (LLC, S-Corp, etc.) with a Federal Tax ID before they will give me Business Class service. Me working from home for another company isn't good enough. So right now I'm stuck with a 350GB/month cap on their residential service. :(

Have you checked to see if a DBA with an EIN will meet their requirement? That is an extremely common setup for small business, so I would be surprised if they wouldn’t accept that.

If they would, it costs next to nothing to register a DBA, and there is no cost for the EIN to go with it.

Well thx god we do not have ...yet...caps in france