NFL fans, it is time to choose – playoffs or email? Verizon and the NFL announced last month that fans could stream NBC’s wildcard games (Cincinnati/Houston and Detroit/New Orleans), the Pro Bowl, and the Super Bowl on their mobile phones. What they failed to mention was that taking them up on their offer would probably blow through your entire monthly data limit. What they really failed to mention was that once you hit your cap, your next email will cost you $10 in overage fees.
One of the reasons that data caps like Verizon’s persist is that consumers have not pushed the FCC to demand that carriers and ISPs justify the caps. That is why Public Knowledge, in partnership with The Mozilla Foundation and the Open Source Democracy Foundation, is proud to announce WhatIsMyCap.org. This new site allows consumers to understand what their caps really mean and urge the FCC to ask hard questions about why the caps exist.
As we detailed last year in 4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans, data caps can make mobile video dangerous for consumers. At top advertised speeds, consumers can use up an entire month’s worth of data in well under an hour. It also means that using your device in ways your carrier touts in advertising will quickly drive you into expensive overcharge territory.
The Verizon/NFL deal illustrates this nicely. According to Verizon, 4G streaming video consumes about 350 MB/hr. At that rate, a user would hit her 2 GB cap in about 6 hours – less than two football games. But even Verizon’s 4G video quality may be on the poor side. Netflix reported streaming video over another 4G network at about 650 MB/hr. At that rate, a consumer could use up her entire cap watching one game!
In order to avoid rapidly depleting the cap, Verizon uses a 3G-quality feed for all NFL mobile streaming (125 MB/hr) even if the consumer is using a 4G connection. At this lower quality, a user can stream about 16 hours of video. That’s probably just about the length of the two playoff games, the Pro Bowl, and the Super Bowl combined.
Of course, running out of data does not just mean running out of video. Running out of data means no sending or receiving emails, no looking things up online, and no getting directions – unless you pay up. Once you hit your cap on Verizon, that next email will cost you $10 in overage fees. Streaming another movie from Netflix could cost you another $20.
In addition to illustrating the real consequences of data caps, WhatIsMyCap.org users can join with Public Knowledge, The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, and the Future of Music Coalition to urge the FCC to investigate the anticompetitive impact of data caps.
WhatIsMyCap.org is all about making it easier to understand how data caps actually work. We think that we have taken a big step towards making this clearer, but we also know that you may be able to do better. All of the data that powers WhatIsMyCap.org is available through our open API. We encourage you to use it to build your own visualizations. We will feature a gallery of some of the best, and links to allow you dive a bit deeper.
We have been calling on the FCC to investigate the anticompetitive and counterproductive aspects of data caps since May. WhatIsMyCap.org makes it easier to understand the unnecessary restrictions imposed by data caps, and gives the public a convenient way to call on the FCC to act.