Internet Data Cap Survival Guide

Moving to a new place out in the sticks I was dismayed to find that not even Windstream, the internet provider that was set up EXCLUSIVELY to provide internet to the sticks, would set up internet at my shithole that time forgot new house. NO ISP IN THE AREA wants to be in this goddamn place. I’ve even had satellite providers go “holy shit no” and I’m at my wit’s end (Dish Network Satellite Service MIGHT, they tell me, install here, MAYBE, they’re gonna CHECK IT OUT and get back to me).

So I had to bite the bullet and get a hella expensive LTE data plan from AT&T. My iPhone IS my modem now. I can only get on the internet through putting it in personal hot-spot mode. I’m actually really pleased with the speed (it’s faster and more stable than my unlimited home internet back at my old house) but the data cap fucking blows. I’ve been living with it for over a month now, and in the interim I’ve done a lot of stuff to save data. I figure I might as well share this wealth of lore.

Here’s a short un-numbered list of things you can do to save data.

  • Moderation: Self-control is the most important part of capped internet use. You can do all the shit you like to do, but you can’t do it forever. Wanna watch youtube videos? Don’t watch them for five hours or you’ll blow up your cap. See a movie on Netflix? I’d advise you just go fetch a DVD or something, but you can do it online in SD, and only once in a while. You need to diversify what you’re doing with your time. Find some offline shit to fill in. Get your fix, and then log off.
  • Control your video habits: Video is the single greatest threat to your internet cap. A 30 minute youtube video at *360p* (yes, that shit resolution you’ve never heard about) is like 130 megabytes. You can imagine how much larger that video will be in glorious HD. You like HD? Get that movie on pay-per-view or a blu-ray or something, because fuck.
  • Video game installations: you might think it’s the act of playing the game’s online multiplayer that’ll hurt your cap. Actually, most online games barely go through 25 megabytes an hour of data. That’s because the big shit like assets is on your hard drive already. All the game is doing online is updating states: what assets are doing what, positional data, and that kind of thing. So you can still play WoW, and you can probably play for like 2-3 hours with raid audio chat going or something and only spend like 300 megabytes on that (I’ve done this with other games like Diablo 3 and Warframe and have been perfectly fine). What will murder your cap are game installations. Because video games are ridiculously huge now. There’s some games with 50 (FIFTY) GIGABYTE INSTALLS. You cannot install these games off the internet. If they don’t sell the thing in a store, then you better park yourself at the library.
  • Twitter’s your best friend now: the social media service that’s best for your data cap is twitter. Web twitter is not great, and tweetdeck is horrifying (it auto-updates and displays everything and fucks you up). What you want is preferably the twitter app on a phone, or mobile twitter (if you don’t have a phone, you can go to the mobile site directly but this is not really optimal). Mobile twitter (with the right settings, go to your settings tab and change some stuff) does not autoplay or even attempt to display videos without your consent, and it doesn’t auto-display images. It’s also much more text heavy.
  • Tumblr is bad: I’ve got some bad news for you. Tumblr is an awful website. Not only is it full of awful “features” that are routinely broken by its own staff in their mad dash to monetize every part of the site as much as possible, it is a huge data hog. Tumblr has NO data controls whatsoever. It autoplays every asinine vine you come across, every video (no matter how long) and displays every image. It will destroy your cap. I once had a tumblr pageload eat 200 megabytes of my cap because I scrolled down three videos (all autoplaying) and five vines (ditto). I nearly had a goddamn heart attack.
  • SMS and IMs are good: I’ve got unlimited SMS on my phone. I don’t iMessage, snapchat, whatsapp or whatever, because all that shit consumes data. Good old clunky SMS doesn’t use any of my data and I can send as many of those as I want. People can send me photos over SMS essentially for free. It is not free for me to send photos on any other service. Photos can be like a megabyte each. That shit is costing me money right now and I won’t have that. IRC and Skype IM and other forms of text chatting are a good way to keep in touch with people without consuming a lot of data.
  • Turn off all your Windows update shit: Unhook your shit from Windows’ cloud backup. Don’t make a Microsoft Account. Don’t update windows (it breaks more shit than it fixes anyway in my experience). Turn off all the data collection crap Microsoft’s stuck into whatever OS you’re using (usage data and etc is transmitted over the internet whenever Windows feels like it and that’s data you’re bleeding over time). Don’t have your anti-virus running at all times. Is this less secure than normal? Yes. It’s very insecure. But you’re not gonna go to shady russian torrent sites with your poky 20 gigabytes of data cap. Your likelihood of getting a virus is super low now since you’ll be AVOIDING a lot of bad activities.
  • Reuters mobile website is super super bare bones but offers you mainstream news (if you want some of that) for the price of a few kilobytes a pageload. You can’t beat that Web 0.5 style when it comes to efficient news websites. In fact, any website you like probably has a mobile version that uses a lot less data than the typical version of the site, so try it out (maybe with a user agent switcher if you need it) and see how it stacks up as far as your data usage.
  • Checking your data usage: If you’re using an iPhone, you can check your cellular settings and see how much data you’ve eaten this month, and reset it every month to keep better track. On Windows 8, you can also go to the internet pane, right-click a network, and click “show estimated data usage” which will keep track of that for you. I do both of these.

This is just stuff off the top of my head, but really, the most important thing is moderation. I’ve managed to have days where I only spend like 50 megabytes of data, because all I do is check twitter a few times, play Puzzle & Dragons, and leave an IRC chatroom running where I talk to my friends. In the meantime, I write or read a book or play an offline video game.

You don’t have to give up the internet completely, but you’ve got to give up some of it. If you’ve got any data cap tips, share ’em in the comments.


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Madiha is a creative writer and a lover of books, anime, manga, video games. You can contact her via email at wyattsalazar[at]gmail[dot]com.

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