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I have a satellite Internet connection (because I have no other choice, that's why :-) which has a quota of 200 MB per day (that is not a typo).

As you can imagine, we can very easily go through that quota and end up severely throttled for the next 24 hours (starting when the quota is exceeded, even if the quota was only minutes from 'rolling over').

I am trying to figure out ways to minimize usage.

My first thought was to use something like GlimmerBlocker on the iMac (which is our media server, so it is already on 24/7), and point all of the other devices to use it as the proxy.

But I am looking for other ideas as well. I do not know of many applications out there which might be of use for this.

Technical details of the network and devices

Our household has 3 Macs (iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook) and 3 iOS devices (iPad 2, iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch [current gen]).

All of the devices except the iMac connect to the network via Wi-Fi.

(There is no 3G coverage, so the iPhone or iPad must use the Wi-Fi network.)

The network is served by an AirPort Extreme 802.11n (3rd generation) which operates in 'bridge mode' connected to the satellite modem (because the modem has to be the router and DHCP server and I cannot access those controls at all).

What are my options?

I have already 'trained' myself and my family members to avoid downloading audio or video files, but even with simple web surfing it is easy to exceed 200 MB per day. A local proxy/filter like GlimmerBlocker can block ads and other cruft we can't afford to download, but that's all I can think of.

Most of the "bandwidth monitoring" apps out there will not help because they do not differentiate between local (LAN) traffic and Internet traffic.

Can anyone think of other solutions to help minimize the pain of this daily quota?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I hope you remember back to the days when 200MB/day was an incredible amount to have. :-)

There are some simple things and then some more complicated things.

Limit access by time of day

First of all, you can block times of day for connections by MAC address (advanced settings) on the Airport Extreme base station. This can keep machines from pulling down files, updates, etc., without your permission.

Cache data with a proxy server

Second, you can install a "caching" proxy server, such as Polipo http://www.pps.jussieu.fr/~jch/software/polipo/, which will allow multiple machines to access the same content, fed from your iMac instead of the Internet. You'll need to perform the same sort of proxy chaining as you currently do with GlimmerBlocker. You should look around for a caching proxy that offers plugins for ad blocking, etc.

Limit your bandwidth so you cannot exceed your daily transfer limit

Third, you could perform what is called "rate limiting", "traffic shaping," or "QoS" (Quality of Service) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_shaping). You can do this by installing software (http://intrarts.com/throttled.html is one I have Googled but have not used) or by purchasing a home router that offers this option and putting it between your AE base station and the satellite router. Here's a list from CNET: http://reviews.cnet.com/routers/?filter=500563_5554972_

With this option, you could do some rough math to figure out, given your peak usage, how much bandwidth to allow to your network. I don't think the software solution will work with your iMac proxy solution since people do not connect through the iMac (but the caching proxy will help) so you may have to spend $50 or so on a router and configure the allowed bandwidth.

This will basically cause you to treat your 200MB/day satellite connection as a 18kbps modem assuming 24 hours a day usage. If you really only use it eight hours a day, you could have the equivalent of a 56kbps modem. Fudge up or down based on your comfort level. It will stink but you won't have overages, and you can always "turn it off" if you need to make a big download.

It will also allow your entire family to download video or other media. It will be self-correcting, in that it will be so painful to download high definition video that it won't be worth doing.

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I do remember when 200mb/day was a lot… unfortunately I had my first cable modem in 1998. Thanks for the links, I will definitely check them out. –  TJ Luoma Sep 19 '11 at 9:25
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+1 Good points, especially with the self-correcting. I just moved home and I'm temporarily accessing the Internet through my iPhone's 3G connection. I was amazed how quickly one (my partner) can get through 1GB of data at "high" speeds. –  deizel Sep 19 '11 at 12:07

Most of the useful stuff is proxy side, but I'd recommend disabling Flash on every machine if you've not already done it, then disabling images in browser (to do it on Safari you need to enable the Developer settings). Not the best web experience but you'll stay under your bandwidth limit.

I'd also recommend disabling the Apple automatic software updates, they'll try slowly pull down the updates so they're ready to go. If there's a security one you need then download it on one from the Apple website and install it locally.

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Very, very good point–it's like the 'vampire current' everyone forgets about when trying to cut electricity usage. If you have uncapped Internet access elsewhere (work, coffee shop, etc.) you can always download the updates onto a USB stick and install them manually. You can download them from apple.com/downloads and avoid the satellite uplink limits. –  Art Taylor Sep 19 '11 at 16:54

I don't see why your modem has to be "the" DHCP server. You can simply run another NAT behind the router using your Airport Extreme. In that case the modem will have only one IP address to serve, namely your AE.

To solve this properly you need to control all internet traffic of your household by putting some server between your household and the modem. One way of doing that would be to use an extra USB ethernet dongle in the iMac (or if the cable modem has wifi, a separate wifi network). Then you can intercept all outbound traffic on your iMac and put a transparent proxy in place.

The Squid proxy for example allows you to configure it so it blocks HTTP transfers over a certain size.

It's not easy to set all this up under OS X, but you could run a Linux firewall distro in virtualbox on your iMac.

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I would also advise to use a MacOS X running squid and InternetSharing to control all the trafic of your network. You can easily block the Apple Software updates at this key level (acl Apple_swscan dstdom_regex ^swscan.apple.com + http_access deny Apple_swscan -> squid.conf). –  daniel Azuelos May 12 '12 at 8:42

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