The number of people who subscribe to a streaming media service increased in 2020, according to Deloittes' 14th edition (imagine that). Add to that the data from an OpenVault survey from the first quarter of 2022, which shows the average American household now has about 25 connected devices in the house. What does this mean? It means that people were using more and more broadband data every month.
Since the epidemic, the percentage of people who subscribed to a streaming media service has risen in predictable proportions.
Although it is fine, several internet providers, including well-known names like AT&T, Cox, Mediacom, and Comcast Xfinity, have data caps in place with at least some of their plans. If you browse, stream, or download too much, youll incur overage charges on your next bill. With some plans, breaking the cap means your connection will be throttled to a snails pace for the remainder of the month.
I do not intend to engage in a heated debate about data caps (and I do not intend to affirm the necessity for them), but many of us have no choice but to live with them. If thats the case for you, you will need a solid data cap strategy. Here are a few essential steps to get you off to the right start.
First things first: What are data caps?
Let's start with the basics. Data caps are recommendations made by your internet service provider on your monthly internet usage. The idea is that there is a limited amount of bandwidth on the providers network, therefore the data cap is designed to ensure that no customer or subscriber consumes more bandwidth than their fair share.
Bits measure the speed of the data as it is transferred 200 megabits per second, while bytes measure the datas weight (1 byte is 8 bits). Information is tracked in ascending order of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes, so youll see 1Mbps (1 megabit per second) but 1MB (1 megabyte).
The lower the data limit, the less youll be able to do on the internet before your ISP begins to either slow down your internet connection or charge you additional charges for exceeding your data limit. In some instances, it may even do both.
Why am I going over the basics? Because one of the easiest ways to understand a data cap on your home internet plan is to understand it better.
Which companies have imposed a data cap?
Here at CNET, we've examined every internet service that is available to at least 10 million people in the United States. Here are some of the providers that have imposed a data cap.
|AT&T||350GB for fixed wireless, 1TB for DSL plans, unlimited for fiber|
|Rise Broadband||250GB on some plans, unlimited on others|
|WideOpenWest||1.5-3TB for most markets|
Research ISPs and your own data usage.
If your internet provider is currently imposing a data cap, your first step should be to see if your address is suitable for another provider. It can save you a lot of money if you sign up with an ISP that does not impose data caps at all.
If that isnt an option, you want to start by understanding how much data your typical online activities consume. In CNETs internet speed guide, we include recommendations for the type of speed youll need for various online activities. Lets revisit that chart, but add the amount of data youll typically use for each activity.
|Activity||Speed required||Amount of data used per hour|
Admittedly, that's a lot of data. It can also be a bit jarring and hard to grasp.
According to the OpenVault broadband survey I mentioned earlier, the average US household uses around 514GB of data per month. That data usage figure is steadily increasing. At the peak of 2020, average usage increased to about 400GB per month. If you have a data provider like Cox or Xfinity with a data cap of roughly 1.2TB (1,200GB), you may not be bumping against your data allowance too often. Other ISPs, particularly those with cheaper, more introductory plans, would require some belt tight
So, once you have a better understanding of how much data your typical activities consume, you may begin to anticipate when your data consumption will increase.
Binge with caution: 4K TV and movies are one of the finest ways to use your data allowance.
Ill give you an example from my own experience: During the epidemic, my wife and I invested in a new 4K TV and Sonos system to make the most of our shelter-at-home experience. After all, I want to enjoy Dune or The Batman from my couch rather than at the movie theater; with crisp, bright images and superb surround sound.
We also had to upgrade our Netflix subscription to get the full benefits of The Crown and Sweet Tooth in Dolby Vision. However, according to Netflix, this move meant we doubled our data usage. Instead of using 3GB per hour with each program, we were now eating up data at a rate of 7GB per hour.
Do we regret it at all? Not at all. We went into it knowing how much data we would lose if we had not been aware. This leads me to my next point.
Download your internet providers' app and log in to track your data usage throughout the month.
Make sure you're not putting your phone down.
It's one thing to know how much data you're using up in a day. It's another thing to keep an eye on how much you're using. Just as we might be surprised by how many calories we consume in a day once we begin to pay attention, we might similarly be surprised by what's goingbbled up our data.
The easiest and most efficient way to monitor your data usage is to download and use your ISPs app. This will enable you to stay on top of things and keep yourself accountable for your billing cycle, which is vital because, in most cases, your data usage isn't tracked by the calendar month, but by a rolling 30-day cycle. Your ISPs app will assist you in keeping up with your data usage.
You can also track your usage by using the router's settings. This is primarily for those who may be using their own equipment rather than the modem/router rental from the provider. It's a good way of checking your usage against the providers app and helping you see if there are any deficiencies.
Plan ahead in order to maximize data usage.
Now that you have an idea of how much data you typically consume, you may begin to think several steps ahead about what you need to do to maximize your monthly data allowance.
Let's return to my streaming services splurge. While I intentionally increased my data usage to benefit from streaming in 4K, you can also go the other way to help minimize the amount of data you have available.
Let's say you want to watch Stranger Things on your tablet while your roommate is watching something else on the TV. You can go to Netflix settings and lower the video quality so youre streaming in standard definition rather than HD or 4K. This is done for Disney Plus, Facebook, Hulu, YouTube, and other services.
Most streaming services include options for limiting the amount of data they use, although that usually means passing on HD and 4K. Here's how to setup Apple TV Plus.
Also, take the time to research what options your provider may have to help you with your data cap. For example, HughesNet and Viasat offer windows where customers can get additional data for free.
HughesNet's Bonus Zone, which runs from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m., adds 50GB of monthly data. Viasat provides unmetered data for customers on specific plans during a similar window of 3 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Be disciplined but realistic when it comes to data caps.
We all have times when we must lay down on the couch and binge to our hearts content. No criticism here. However, after all, if youve taken advantage of various bonus times and opportunities to reduce some of your activities to use less data and still find yourself exceeding your data limit, it's time to pay for unlimited data.
The majority of ISPs will charge you $10 per 50GB you burn out over your data limit. In most cases, when there is an option for unlimited data, itll cost you an additional $30 to $40 per month, so it's time to look into paying up front.
If unlimited data isnt an option with your provider, youre in a better position. Start by looking into other providers to see if they are a better data fit, even if the speeds are slower. Maybe that means limiting your internet usage to essential functions such as staying connected with your family and paying bills.