Learning your Bits and Bytes by Comparing GCI’s Internet Plans

If you live in one of Alaska’s large towns (or your small town happens to have a GCI fiber landing), you have access to some of the best residential Internet bandwidth available in the world today.

Depending on your plan, you’re allowed to transfer a certain quantity of data over your Internet connection per month. If you add up the size of all the emails, websites, streamed movies, downloaded games, and emoticons seen on the various screens in your house in one month, that all adds up towards your limit.

GCI measures your transfer in GB. Important: a GB is not to be confused with Gb. The big “B” is for bytes, and the little “b” is for bits. A byte is *eight times* bigger than a bit so it’s important to keep them straight. The reason there are two different sizes of b’s is because things just can’t be simple now can they? Traditionally bits are used to measure data traffic while bytes are used to measure data stored. It’s a silly, easily confused, and important to understand distinction.

At this point you should also understand that bits and bytes use the metric system, where names change sensibly every 1000 units. So a Byte is 1; a KiloByte is 1,000; a MegaByte is 1,000,000; and a GigaByte is 1,000,000,000. When you’ve transferred one GB over your Internet connection, that’s the same as saying you’ve transferred one billion bytes.

If you use up all the bytes GCI allots your plan, then you’re given two options. One option is you can pay for more bytes. The other option costs you nothing but your bandwidth is throttled back into the dark ages. If you remember browsing the web using a 9600 baud modem then you know what it feels like when you go over your GCI cap. GCI dubs this torturous web browsing experience as “no worries.”

Here are two of GCI’s plans (from Juneau) compared:

If you noticed that the Download and Upload speeds are measured in bits not bytes, then you get a cookie!

The “Data” number is the amount of transfer included in your plan. This is measured in GigaBytes. Note the plan on the left caps you at 300 GB while the plan on the right is twice that amount (600 GB).

That means in one month you could transfer twice as much stuff. For only $40 more. But here’s the rub.

The “Download” number is the width of your Internet pipe. This is measured in Megabits. The wider the pipe, the more water can fit through it at one time. Notice how the plan on the left has a 100 Mbps wide pipe, while the one on the right is five times wider at 500 Mbps.

So, while you’re allowed to transfer twice as much stuff in one month, you’re able to transfer five times as much.

If you’ve ever fallen asleep watching Episode Two of your favorite series on Netflix or Hulu in HD, and you wake up with Episode Nine playing, you’ve just transferred about 16 GB. This is the modern equivalent to leaving the hot water running.

2 thoughts on “Learning your Bits and Bytes by Comparing GCI’s Internet Plans

  1. Good observations Ryan.

    I will add that today (January 2016) most consumers won’t notice the difference between 100 Mbps, 500 Mbps and 1 Gbps. We simply don’t have the capacity to download that much information into our homes that quickly. A HD video stream might take as much as 6 Mbps. A family of consumers could be simultaneously streaming more than 10 HD shows and still not tax their 100 Mbps connection.

    I evaluate my options based on quantity of data to be consumed, not the speed (with a minimum speed of 25 Mbps). Amazingly my family of 3-4 (with two teens) is able to download more than 300 GB per month. =-o


    (Full disclosure, I work for GCI. Ryan knows that. It’s for everyone else.)

  2. I wonder if many GCI customers are using Netflix option to stream 4K. They probably hit their cap in the first week of the billing cycle. GCI did a good thing by stopping the practice of auto-charging when folks go over, but they’re going to need to do something else because more-and-more I hear folks going with ACS or other “unmeasured” services. Sure, they can’t provide as much throughput, but like you say, no one really uses that much anyway.

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