It is a good practice to track Internet usage for personal records, given the fact that most ISP’s use a cap on the amount of data use (like say 2 Mbps upto 25 GB, then 256 Kbps; this is marketed as an “Unlimited” plan). In my experience (and of several others, as I found from some forums), just putting this unfair cap is not all; the ISP also falsifies the amount of usage by about 30-40%, such that the cap is reported to be over before it is actually so. Interestingly, just when the cap is about to expire (according to the ISP’s calculation, not the actual usage), the ISP would send marketing emails about increasing the cap for a premium.
So if we could have a record of how much we downloaded or uploaded everyday, we could be in a position to at least put some evidence in our argument while reporting their calculations as wrong. I found the utility BitMeter OS to serve this purpose. It tracks all usage (download/ upload), has the facility to create alerts and show reports over a duration. It runs on all OS, as a standalone Python application in Chrome. The only downside is that it takes some memory (in my case ~150 MB), but I guess that we can afford with hardware not older than 5 years.
The utility can be used to obtain an idea of how the personal surfing patterns translate to values in GBs. For example, most videos in Youtube are about 10 MB/ min, which is not obvious if the video quality is 240p/ 320p. It is higher by about a factor of 4-5, for 1080p (full HD). Monitoring the usage values before and after a Youtube video can also teach one about how to avoid unnecessary clicks. Although these tactics sound like 2001 when we had dial-up connections @ 56.6 Kbps, it is a reality even today, considering the 256 Kbps speed (that we get after cap).
BitMeter OS is of course a software level tracking. There exists hardware level solutions also, where one rigs the modem to get info for all packets passing through it (ex. Tomato, DD WRT, etc.). Such info would be theoretically more accurate, but require more time than I am willing to put for it.
There cannot exist any foolproof solution other than market competition among the ISPs (i.e. if one is unfair, switch to other; unfortunately as of now not all ISPs have the infrastructure to compete with each other in India). It is not disclosed exactly what is calculated by the ISP to arrive at their values of data usage. Because that would mean exactly the information that is bad for their business. However, there is some hope for better: in this year’s Telecom Act, the Parliament has approved a minimum speed of 2 Mbps for Broadband. Once that is implemented, such cheap exploits of the ISPs would no longer work. It is 2012 after all, and internet is the new telephone.