Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Bandwidth is a vague term that has at least two different definitions. I'll look at those as well as how uploading and downloading relate to bandwidth.
Not being too knowledgeable about bandwidths etc, I thought that all the massive movie streaming, TV catch-ups etc. that we're being urged to watch (and my wife does due to the hours she works) would use more bandwidth than just downloading file-sharing material or am I wrong? I have music playing on the internet all day, am I being greedy? What's an acceptable limit for daily use? Why don't ISPs give us programs and guides to let us monitor our usage? Why don't ISPs limit the amount of customers they take on if there's not enough to go around?? Getting back to the original question, I think I read somewhere that they can only track what we upload and not download, or am I wrong. It's all so confusing.
I agree it is confusing.
Fortunately bandwidth itself is pretty simple.
But the different ways that bandwidth can be used, and how it all adds up and how our ISPs limit and possibly monitor it is anything but.
I'll see if I can clarify a few things.
We need to clear a couple of things up.
First, bandwidth can mean either of two things:
The speed at which data can transfer to and from your computer.
The amount of data transferred to and from your computer.
While the former will have an impact on how long things take, it's really the latter that we're talking about. ISPs tend to look at the amount of data that you transfer in a given time, and if there are restrictions in place called "bandwidth limits" or "caps", it's that they're referring to.
Second, data transferred is data transferred.
An "upload" is simply data transferred from your computer to a computer on the internet, and a "download" is simply data transferred from the internet to your computer.
It doesn't matter how the data was transferred - data transferred is data transferred.
Time to clear something else up: "download" can mean two different things (no wonder it's confusing):
as described above all the data transferred from the internet to your computer
the process of transferring a file from some remote server to your computer
It's the first definition that matters when you're talking to your ISP about bandwidth caps and limits. All the data that gets transferred to and from your machine counts - it's all the same. It doesn't matter if you were streaming a video or downloading (second definition) that movie as a file, it all counts.
Which brings us to what I think is at least the first part of your question: streaming to view a movie once and downloading that same movie should count about the same against your bandwidth. In each case, the data that represents the movie is transferred from a server on the internet to your computer: in one case to be played immediately by a movie player, and in the other to be stored as a file on you computer's hard drive.
Now, there are naturally caveats since life couldn't be that simple.
You'll note I emphasized streaming the movie "once". If you watch it twice it will be streamed twice which means that the data that is the movie will be transferred to your computer twice, thus counting against your bandwidth limits twice. If you download that same movie to a file, you can watch it by playing that file as many times as you like without downloading it again.
One thing that could make a difference is that the quality of a video may be reduced when streaming, resulting in less data needing to be transferred to actually view it. Based on your connection speed, if it takes more than one second to download one second's worth of video then you'll experience hesitations and "buffering" as the player tries to catch up. One way streaming services deal with this is to reduce the visual quality so as to require less data which can transfer more quickly.
A downloaded file has no such restriction since you won't watch it until it's done. If it takes 5 seconds to download 1 second's worth of video you don't care, except that it takes 2.5 hours to download a 1/2 hour show. As a result, the quality of downloaded videos can be better. It's not always; it depends on where you're getting your video, but it's possible.
Don't feel guilty.
Streaming music involves the transfer of data from the internet to your computer where it's played by a music player, so of course it "counts" against the bandwidth limits imposed by your ISP. The good news here is that it's typically much less data than video uses.
And if you're not running into overall bandwidth caps, I see no reason not to do it. You're not significantly impacting anyone else (unless you have a very poor ISP), and let's face it: you paid for that bandwidth, so there's no reason to be afraid to use it.
Indeed, why don't they?
I can make a few guesses.
Many ISPs that impose bandwidth limits do provide you ways to monitor your usage. The best example are cellular providers who frequently provide account usage information in some sort of "My Account" web page. I know that both of the cellular providers I've dealt with recently do so as.
Similarly I'd expect a "traditional" ISP to do the same. If they're going to slap you for your bandwidth usage they should provide you with a way to check it. Programs on your computer are too unreliable, but web access to the information seems like a requirement.
Besides as another way to make money why are there caps at all? In part to control and predict the size of the infrastructure the ISP needs to service its customers. However ... it's no secret that if absolutely everyone connected to your ISP started using the internet heavily at exactly the same time, none of them would work. The phone company's the same way - if you've ever picked up your land-line phone in the middle of a local emergency you may find there's no dial tone - the phone system was never designed to have everyone talking at once.
And so it is with the internet. It's designed around a model that says "on average people use this much", and then the ISPs and other internet providers design their systems to handle 2 times that, or 4 time, or 10 times - whatever makes sense for their business model. Bandwidth caps are one way to reign in your usage to fit into whatever capacity they have.
You read wrong. Your ISP can see everything; uploads, downloads - it doesn't matter. The bits all flow through the equipment operated by the ISP, and as a side effect it's very possible - easy even - for them to examine the data in various ways.
For the most part ISPs don't really care about what you up and download.
But clearly they care about how much.
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