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Here’s a question that may be increasingly relevant for some of you: If you don’t pay for cable, and you get all your video from the Internet instead, how much bandwidth do you eat up each month?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Much more than everyone else.

Sandvine, the broadband networking company that provides periodic reports on Web usage, says that the top 15 percent of streaming video users go through 212 gigabytes of data month. That’s more than seven times the average broadband user, who uses 29 gigabytes.

Here are Sandvine’s numbers. The first column represents the top 15th percentile of video and audio streamers in North America, the next column represents the 15th-to-80th percentile, and the last column is the bottom 15th. (Click to enlarge):

The main caveat to consider here is that Sandvine doesn’t know that this group of broadband users are actually relying on the Web for all their video, instead of using TV. It just thinks they are, based on their outsized consumption. It figures they are streaming something like 100 hours of video a month.

But if you’re okay using that as a starting point, the data can lead you off to some interesting roads.

For instance: What happens as those maybe-cord-cutters increase their data usage? Even if they continue to stream the same number of hours of video, they are likely to consume more bandwidth, simply because there will be more high-quality video coming down the pike.

And if that happens, what happens as that contingent runs into monthly data usage caps that broadband providers have installed, or are contemplating installing?

AT&T, for instance, charges its broadband users extra fees once they exceed 250GB a month. Comcast*, which used to have a 250GB cap, has scrapped that and is experimenting with a 300GB limit, among other options.

And as heavy broadband users start bumping up against data caps, it will also highlight the way that some broadband providers differentiate between digital video they send through their own “managed service” pipes — which doesn’t count against usage caps — versus digital video served up by the likes of Netflix, which does count against caps.

That’s what Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was talking about a couple of years ago, when he took to Facebook to complain about Comcast’s video policies, and pointed out that video served up via its Xfinity app didn’t count against caps. That means that if you watched an episode of “Game of Thrones” via an HBO Go app, that hour would count against your limit. But if you watched via Xfinity, it would be free, data-wise.

Back then, this was primarily a theoretical argument. Now it is getting closer to a real-world issue, which is why it’s interesting to think about this in the context of the current net neutrality debate.

Speaking of Netflix: Sandvine’s semi-annual report continues to show that Netflix generates about a third of the Web’s traffic during prime-time hours. In fact, it has increased: Sandvine says Netflix streams accounted for 34.2 percent of “downstream” traffic in March. That’s up from 31.6 percent in last fall’s report.

Netflix has continued to add subscribers since fall, but Sandvine’s analysts figure that the leap has more to do with the kind of video Netflix is streaming, since more of its video is now available in a higher-bitrate “Super HD” format.

Meanwhile Amazon, and other streaming competitors like Hulu, have also increased. But they remain far behind, with each accounting for less than two percent of the Web’s traffic.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Revere Digital, the parent company of Re/code.

Benny C
Benny C

Weights and measures should be honest, monitored, and enforced, at the gas pump or grocery store, and any place the customer is being charged by measure. We've all seen the certification labels on these devices indicating they have been tested and are accurate, consistent, and charging accordingly. 

Global media companies bill us for unverifiable data measurements. On a daily basis they demonstrate they are NOT trust worthy by their deceptive advertising and manipulative business practices.

The media giants construct the image of competing and allowing customers choices.

BUT...there is a simple truth that they do NOT would us to believe, there are always OPTIONS. Even if you chose to believe this, they still want to define the options. 

Corporations are like chain saws, they are devices designed for a purpose, they are not living beings, have no heart, the purpose of the chain saw is to cut and that is what is does. A corporation's purpose is to create profit, morals or right and wrong do not enter in to the purpose. If being honest increases profits, they will be honest, if deception and manipulation increases profits, then...

People are creative beings, we can come up with options, they will not be perfect, and may not be your first choice, but we can choose.

My purpose is to improve the quality, value, and choices of the digital information and entertainment that my family PAYS for. We are searching for legal options.

Turning the TV off is an option but...NOT paying for trash is a more effective option. 

"315 channels of nothing but bad news on", bad news, deception, misinformation, controlled by unelected corporations, not accountable, best option is to stop subscribing and paying. The world is real NOT virtual. Have a wonderful day everyone. :-)


I'm not a "cord cutter" per-say, but I do stream TV often.  I use every bit of the 300 Gbit my ISP allows a month.  I think this is VERY anti-competitive on their part, since I also get TV from them.  I hope net neutrality answers this soon, or that some laws are passed to stop this madness of limits in data.  I do think a fair price for a fair use is a good idea, but very few ISPs are going that route.  Instead they are sending threatening letters and cutting you off.  NOT FAIR!!!  To me the consumer or the media provider on the net.  The 1%'ers greed is getting out of control!!!!!


Its long been said "content is king". Are we witnessing a pivot to "access is king"? Netflix is paying for access to consumers. Contrast this with Comcast paying CBS retransmission fees.

When does Comcast turn around and ask CBS to pay up for streaming shows to their CBS app? With the market power Comcast will have after the merger it can't be long.

Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett

Take it a step farther and think about the technical reasons for data caps. The Internet is a statistical system, not a deterministic one like the telephone network. The broadband networks that comprise the Internet are engineered for enough usable bandwidth to support the applications that people are actually using. Historically, that's been a lot of web surfing, a little video streaming, even less video calling, and some email. Video streaming takes 25 times more bandwidth than web surfing does, and nobody upgrades a network by 2500% unless they really, really have to. 

The best way to upgrade is to replace existing equipment with more efficient gear, on the normal replacement cycle; more radical upgrades mean new wires, and that's very expensive. 

Streaming video from Netflix is also millions of times less efficient than capturing a broadcast from cable to your DVR. So any way you cut it, shifting from the cable model to the Netflix model has significant costs for the network service provider, raising questions about the pace of the upgrades and who pays for them.

Obviously, firms like Netflix want someone else to pay the bill for the resources they use, and the public interest lobby believes in unicorns and wants upgrades to commercial networks to happen as if by magic, even though the public utilities they love so much never upgrade.

Broadband network capacity in the US ("speed", to most non-technical people) doubled in the past three years, and doubled in the three before that. Is this upgrade rate good enough, and do we need to pay more for a faster upgrade rate? That's really the question.


 I've been saying data caps are the biggest roadblock to a streaming future with anything that comes close to competing with Blu-ray. And now we're seeing 4K video. Imagine how fast a 300 gig cap would be hit after watching a few 4K movies?

As long as the deliverer of data is also the deliverer of content, this is going to be a problem that will prevent a true streaming future.

Also, they have to take into account that there are a lot of people watching HD television over the airwaves. Some TV stations in Southern California are actually 1080p. Better than cable! Get a good antenna, and Internet at this point is a good deal. But watch as the controllers of media put OTA broadcast to death. Because they see people watching TV over the air as freeloaders. (They forget about the inane advertising people suffer through to watch OTA TV.)


Similar to other usage changes on live TV and VOD, the cable companies need to seriously scale up their networks, that in the past they have promised and not delivered while raising rate and adding data limits. This is on contrast with Europe and the Far East where there is more capacity and it's cheaper. To add insult to injury, the cable companies are beginning to charge providers, so much for net neutrality.


@Richard Bennett B.S., there is still even today dark fiber in the ground that's yet to be used.  There is no need for limiting data like they have.  Data as charged by the "backbone" fiber companies is less than $0.001 per Gigabit.  1/1000th of the charge most ISPs want to extend to the consumer.

Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett

@gprovida Europe doesn't have more capacity than the US does, and Asia has scrimped on backhaul. Per Akamai, actual download speeds in five of the top 10 countries are declining, and the US is one of the other five where they're increasing. Large content providers are charged heavily in Europe and Asia, and much less in the US.


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