Ask LH: Are Uploads The Reason I’m Being Shaped Every Month?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m on an ‘unlimited’ cap, which offers a set amount of download data before it slows down to unbearable speeds. But do they cap my uploads? It’s never mentioned at all. Thanks, Out Of Shape

Picture by John Trainor

Dear OOS,

The short answer is almost certainly “yes”. The slightly longer answer:

These days, the vast majority of Internet service providers (ISPs) include both downloads and uploads when calculating your monthly usage, especially for home plans. That wasn’t always the case a decade ago, but in parallel with overall download limits increasing, the rules applied by most ISPs have tightened up. There are some exceptions and occasional workarounds — Internode, for instance, lets you pay $10 a month to include uploads in your total — but it’s safe to assume that your plan does include both downloads and uploads unless it makes a specific point of telling you otherwise.

Home broadband services in Australia are invariably asymmetric, meaning that the upload speeds on offer are much lower than the download speeds. That means that the majority of your usage is still likely to be from downloads rather than uploads, simply because your capacity to consume data via downloads is much greater. However, if you are uploading significant volumes of data — most likely because of using BitTorrent, but also if you regularly upload large videos to YouTube or access large design files for work — that could be a factor in your monthly total.

If you are on a plan that includes shaping after you hit the limit, then you’ll typically see shaping applied to both your upload and download speed. For instance, a plan that offers 20Mbps downloads and 1Mbps for uploads might slow down to 256Kbps for downloads and 64kbps for uploads. Again, you’re more likely to notice the speed difference with downloads, but both will be affected. (I’d also argue that a plan with shaping is not an unlimited plan in the strict sense, but for most consumers it probably represents better value.)


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