"But it's not unlimited..."

There seems to be something about an ISP selling an Internet access service with a clearly-defined cap/quota that annoys people.

I don't get it.

For a start, there is no shortage of providers which will sell an unlimited service. If that is the defining criterion for someone, there is plenty of choice.

And, frankly, if you've got an unlimited service which works for you, why would you care whether others are happy with a capped service? It doesn't impact you, and more choice in the marketplace is, I'd have thought, to be welcomed.

But, personally - and, of course, I can only speak for myself - I simply struggle to see what makes an unlimited service so attractive.

There are so many things I value more, including:

  • plenty of IPv4 addresses. And, yes, I realise how lucky I am to have this. (Although I'd still happily buy some IPv4 space, for the right price!)
  • IPv6 (which is, thankfully, becoming increasingly common)
  • automatic re-routing of IP addresses down a backup line
  • no issue running all manner of servers (including email and DNS)
  • no CGNAT (which helps with the point above)
  • no filtering / interfering with my traffic
  • great support, when I need it

As long as a cap is sufficiently sized that I can use my connection as I wish, with overhead for an unexpected event, without having to worry if I'm going to hit it, then that is fine by me.

Of course, what you value could be completely different. These things might not be worth a penny to you.

For years, I had a capped connection where the cap was so much higher than my monthly usage that I gave up keeping an eye on my usage: it was effectively unlimited, because I never came close to reaching it. I simply used it how I wanted, without worrying.

Eschewing a better service simply for an unlimited service makes no sense to me at all. In a similar vein, I'd rather go to a good restaurant and order from a menu, than go to a cheap and cheerful buffet simply because it was unlimited. In practice, even if the buffet does not have limits, my stomach does.

If everything else was equal, then, sure, why not pick the unlimited service - after all, even if a cap is so much more than you could ever use, if the service is genuinely unlimited, then you have nothing to worry about, even with the most unexpectedly large increase in usage. "Unlimited" may bring a tiny amount more peace of mind.

But if the presence of unlimited services means that some users are going to put such a strain on the finite resources of a network that everyone's experience is degraded, then everything else is not equal. (Perhaps this isn't a big deal any more?) And let's not start on whether a throttled connection is "unlimited".

If the cap was less than I'd use, such that I had to limit my usage, then I'd find it difficult (although clearly there are lots of people who are in that boat), but I don't need an "unlimited" service to fix that.

(I can understand if someone had no choice and had to use a capped connection, and had no simple means of monitoring usage. That would suck. I don't know if that is common? For both fixed line and cellular services, my experience has been that seeing usage is pretty straightforward.)

Update: an interesting comment on Twitter that, while someone on a capped connection might have means to monitor their usage, someone moving from an unlimited connection might not. That's probably fair - I don't know if ISPs on unlimited connections show usage information, or make it available on-demand.


Author: neil

I'm Neil. By day, I run a law firm, decoded.legal, giving advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law. This is my personal blog, so will be mostly about tech stuff, cycling, and other hobbies.

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