Internet Tips: Download Too Much, Lose Your Broadband

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Cable and DSL offer blazing-fast Internet connections, but they're not unlimited founts of data. As more and more subscribers exploit the speedy throughput times that make downloads a snap and media streaming smooth, ISPs are placing limits on how much you can download and upload within a set time period.

These transmission-rate caps are intended to prevent bandwidth-hungry customers from gobbling more than their share of pipeline from the ISP's back-end connection to the Internet. If you keep your file-sharing programs, streaming media players, and media downloads pumping data to and fro 24 hours a day at your bandwidth limit, your cumulative bandwidth consumption can be staggering. As your monthly Internet traffic increases to 100GB, so do your chances of receiving a nasty letter from your ISP regarding your bandwidth consumption.

Judging from customer reports posted on's forums, usage caps run from 5GB to 50GB a month.

Broadband Internet is the ultimate PC comfort food: An always-on cable or DSL connection's speedy downloads and snappy response times seldom disappoint. But if bandwidth-use limitations burn you up, look for a broadband provider or subscription plan that doesn't restrict your downloads. Though Bell Canada's Bell Sympatico DSL Basic Internet service limits you to 2GB of combined upload and download traffic per month, the company also offers plans (at a higher price, naturally) with unlimited bandwidth.

If no other provider or plan looks better than the one you have already, you may be forced to moderate your Internet traffic to fit within your ISP's acceptable-use policy. Of course, few broadband providers explicitly publish what their acceptable monthly download limit is. Comcast's Acceptable Use Policy, for example, states that your online activity must not "represent (in the sole judgment of Comcast) an unusually large burden on the network." Cox Communications maintains a similar policy. To determine your ISP's bandwidth limitations--if any--contact the company's customer service department, or check the forums listed at to see what other people in your area have to say about the provider.

Track Your Downloads

Just because you're saddled with a bandwidth-usage cap doesn't mean that you have to give up your file-sharing and streaming programs completely, however. Most peer-to-peer applications have settings that let you throttle back uploads to more moderate levels to help keep you under any usage limits imposed by your ISP. Visit Salisbury University's Help Desk page, which offers a quick summary of the relevant settings you need to adjust in the leading peer-to-peer programs.

If you use Windows XP, you can monitor your own bandwidth hogging via Task Manager's Networking monitor tab. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to open Task Manager, and select the Networking tab. To introduce downloads to the display, choose View, Select Columns, check Bytes Received, and click OK (you may have to adjust the window and column size to see the new column). If you'd like to make the data cumulative, choose Options, Show Cumulative Data (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Keep tabs on your download totals by using Windows XP's Task Manager.
). Close Task Manager and go about your normal Internet activity (but don't shut down or restart Windows--that resets the counter). To see your total downloads a day, week, or month later (if you've left your PC on continuously and it hasn't crashed), just press Ctrl-Alt-Del again.

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