Are ISPs ripping customers off of their data?

Trycolyn Pikirayi Avatar
Man expressing surprise

We wrote an article last week on how TelOne has introduced a new feature which enables its clients to monitor their internet usage. I slightly described my own ordeal with a different ISP (Internet Service Provider) which I thought was just ‘one of those’ but it was quite interesting to note that quite a number can relate.

So it got me thinking: are we just bitter that our data ran out before we wanted it to or we’re actually onto something?

Firstly, it seems as though the data usage reports from the ISPs hardly match with what our data meters report. Forget about what we think we’ve used since eyeballing has never been much of reliable way of measuring, but could software and apps like GlassWire be deceiving us too?

Secondly, it appears the ISPs are giving people data usage reports that don’t really mean much to them. I’ll use my own experience as the first example. After using up my month’s subscription in a little over a week, I went to their offices so I could get a better understanding of how that had happened. I was quite disappointed when all they could show me were daily usage graphs with just the overall used internet per day; no IP addresses, time slots or anything to help me track anything really. It was literally a graph with a date on the x-axis and total data used on the y-axis.

Say you’re genuine and not being sceptical at all tell me from that information: how do you know which of your endeavours depleted your data the most? If not, how then do you know how to best save your data next time? How do you find out if your Wi-Fi is being used by only those you have authorised to? And most importantly how do you prove that the graphs are legit? How? Are you going to try and remember how you used the internet on the 7th of June, 16 days later?

Anyway, the second example is of an ISP that gives you the internet usage report in total gibberish form. Well, gibberish is relative but c’mon is being tech savvy a requirement for one to be an ISP’s customer?

Lastly, there’s one incident (that I know of so far) where one was ‘accused’ of uploading a 12gig file. According to the ‘accused’, no uploads were even performed, not on the reported days nor on any other day – to the best of their memory.

Had there been better transparency on the side of these ISPs, these allegations wouldn’t have stuck. I don’t know, maybe revealing more detailed, palatable internet usage reports has a negative effect on them, but is it worth the customer’s grief? Besides, if TelOne can do that (yet to hear how efficient it is from those who will use the service though) then why not?

Notice how I wasn’t specific on which ISP did/does what? That was on purpose. The ideal situation is for people who can relate to these injustices to comment the name of the ISP responsible and if necessary, go ahead and narrate the incident(s).


  1. Anonymous

    For a site that claims to be a tech site this is an incredibly shallow and ill-informed article. If you really want to be of assistance to your readers, tell us what tools, methods and questions we can ask our Internet Service PROVIDERS in order to get a better view of our utilisation. Needless to say that a lot of us lay people know by now that uploads can happen unknowingly particularly if you have certain kinds of Spyware or bots or even torrenting software on your machine. Please give us stuff that is more substantial rather than embarking on a rant that leaves us as clueless as when we started.

    1. Jay

      But then, the ISP was supposed to be able to track the IP addresses that were doing the uploads.

  2. Anonymous

    For privacy reasons (if such a thing exists), it’s a good thing for the ISP to only be able to plot an XY graph with date on the X axis and usage on the Y axis.

  3. Hactar

    Well I am disgruntled to the point of not using Fibroniks even after going through the pain of installing their equipment. I felt preyed upon because I was a new user (with them anyways, have been on telone ADSL for 2 years). My $29 data was exhausted by day 19, and I was advised to top up for the remaining period which I dutifully did, with $19 that was supposed to take me to the end of the month. To my surprise this was finished in the course of a weekend. When I inquired, I was given a detailed usage report showing sites I had connected to, and services I had used which was helpful. The data used on this report did not tally with my subscribed Gigs, and I had totally NOT used about half the services stated on the report (obvious ones like Skype PC to PC call..). I dont do skype, like at all…but there it was on my report, gobbling about 7Gig. So yeah felt completely ripped off, and my appetite for faster than a cheetah bla bla just vanished…

    1. Christerbel Erica Mujaranji

      I am so sorry i totally can relate hey,… most ISP in Zimbabwe are just on another level of cheating and ripping off their clientele’s hard earned money and with all the extras and hidden costs at the end of the day instead of enjoying their services one just suffers from cognitive dissonance !

    2. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

      Were you the only using the data connection? You need to be sure before blaming the ISP entirely. I had a query with ZOL and requested a Fibroniks usage report. The customer care individual kindly requested that I ask others that also use the connection of their habits before claiming the the report was wrong. After quizzing the other “residents” at home, I found the data usage report to be quite on point. I wasn’t using those services, but someone else was quitely streaming videos from YouTube everyday 🙁

  4. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    Your main gripe seems to be that your ISP cannot provide you with a report on your data usage in a form that’s acceptable to you. Personal data management isn’t their business. It’s up to you to manage that. It’s up to you to make sure there is no unauthorised use of your Wifi connection, even a detailed report won’t spare you from that. When you give your Wifi password to anyone and everyone who asks, that’s your fault. We once had a case of a co-workers friend who would park outside the office surfing the Internet, yet he was given the wifi password on what we thought was a once-off agreement. That was our fault, not the ISPs. And there’s no report in the world that would have picked that up.

    Accountability is on the individual, why don’t you go to Zesa when your prepaid power seems to finish faster than usual? It’s because you know that somewhere in that house, someone did something that consumed power more than usual. The same thing happens with Internet connections. Our failures to be disciplined/accountable with data or mobile are more often than not pinned on the service provider, because those to blame won’t admit to their actions.

  5. Tadza

    We use ZOL Fibroniks for business on a supposedly uncapped line for $175 a month and the fair usage policy is really bad. Basically we are throttled to about 50 Kbps due to “too much data usage” on an UNCAPPED line? So we have been given the run around a few times about this policy and we complained that the line cannot be considered uncapped if they throttle based on usage. We even tried to get them to give us a capped line with no throttling but they refused. Since the telone ADSL (the only other provider that services the area) is even more useless we end up paying $175 a month for a little more than a dialup 56k line.

    1. Ndini Wenyu

      Most ISPs can give you dedicated capacity, its just really expensive

  6. Sagitarr

    I use TelOne ADSL and occasionally EW dongle. From the onset, I found that software tools from Networx monitors data usage for me very efficiently – you can customize the reports etc and the software is loaded upon device start up. Some people may forget that data usage is two way – uploads and downloads and the sum of both chews away your data package..
    I think the ISP’s can provide you with blow-by-blow internet activity but simply are reluctant to do so.

  7. Anthony Somerset

    I should note that no ISP will be able to see the individual IP’s inside your home network in any tracking because of the NAT router that gives you access to the internet – the only way they could do that is if they installed with your consent a suitable router/UTM device to track that, however the costs of such devices are rather high – i don’t see telone or ZOL or any other ISP doing that for free especially on the lower end packages

  8. Ndini Wenyu

    Comments from a former ISP engineer:
    1. There is no genuine need / reason for service providers to steal data from you. That does not take away incompetence or lack of interest on the part of the ISP.
    2. Detailed reports are complicated to produce, they need serious computing power, usually way over the budgets of most ISPs. providing them will eventually cost the end user. MOST importantly do you really want you ISP to track everything you do online?
    3. Most ordinary users are not interested in technical audits of their internet usage, they are much happier with understanding their usage levels. In my house hold I use 300GB a month, only if I go over that do I start digging.
    4. Its really hard for a tech head to account for every little bit of GB used by a device on their connection, let alone all the smart devices that we happily attach to our networks. In my case I have connect a DPI capable router behind my adsl link (Ubiquity Edgerouter X, in case you are interested) I have identified 19 different devices on my network, with no one home my home link is tugging along at 20kbps!! thats data ticking away.

    I am now an ordinary user, I have invested so much time in understanding my home network, now if I put myself in the shoes on an ordinary user.. there is noway they could build a case with evidence on their usage behavior. Lets not mislead readers to say this is an area that can be easily tackled, its not!!