Surviving Data Caps 101

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Many of us would still only ask about the download speeds that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers without even thinking about the data caps. I know people who believe that data caps are only imposed on your mobile data and never on your home internet. Little do they know that they are the lucky ones who have been blessed with an internet provider that provides them unlimited monthly data. There are still many struggling with frequent data checks and overage fees. Now, I’m not saying data caps have been a problem always, of course not. Back in the days when we had little to do over the internet, it didn’t matter because even a few Gigs would have done. However, now with the advancement in technology and the change in our work and personal lives, data caps have become a nuisance. Many of us have been working from home for long and some have been forced to do so recently due to the global situation. Whatever the reason, we are making more use of the internet and the data caps that seemed too much to consume in a month are falling short easily with regular streaming, gaming, video calls, and people working from home. Now, some of you may be a little confused about my ranting so let me get into the details of all this and then explain how you can deal with it if you’re stuck with a provider imposing a data cap.

What is a data cap?

There are many different names that providers use for data cap, like “bandwidth cap”, “fair use policy” or “monthly usage allowance”. However, they are essentially the same thing, a limit on your usage. In simple words, a data cap is the maximum amount of data your ISP allows you to send and receive in a month over your internet connection. Your internet provider will monitor your monthly usage, and will either charge you a certain amount for the extra data used or they would throttle your speed until you buy more data.

Why do ISPs impose data caps?

Every ISP has a certain capacity of producing internet bandwidth, so they impose data limits on their users to ensure that speeds remain fast enough for everyone to conduct their online activities peacefully. Hence the name “fair use policy” is used by some providers. They argue that the data limit allows them to provide equally good service to all their users.

What are the data caps mostly imposed by ISPs?

Every provider imposes a different data cap. They can range from 10 GB per month to 1 TB per month. It is important to know what data cap the ISP under your consideration is imposing so that you can consider it according to your usage. If you’re a heavy internet user who likes to stream and play video games, work from home, etc. then a data cap closer to 1TB should be fine, but anything below 600 GB means you’ll be paying quite some extra fees every month. Light users who only use the internet for emails and social media may even do fine with 10 GB.

Do all ISPs impose data caps?

No, not all ISPs impose data caps. Like I said earlier, data caps are imposed by ISPs according to their internet bandwidth capacity. This capacity is dependent upon the infrastructure the ISP uses to provide its service. An ISP that regularly updates its infrastructure according to the usage of its subscribers would not need to impose data caps since they can handle modern-day usage. Spectrum is a great example of one such ISP. They are the second-largest cable internet provider in the U.S. and no matter which one of the Spectrum bundles you subscribe to, you will never have to worry about data caps or extra fees.

Which activities use up the most data?

Among the array of activities you conduct online, some would use up very little data whereas some might suck up the life out of your internet connection. For example, e-mails, video chats, games, and browsing don’t use up as much data as watching a movie online does. Streaming an hour of Full HD content on Netflix uses up approximately 3 GB of your data and 4K Ultra HD streaming can use up to 7 GB in an hour.

How to make sure you don’t exceed your data cap?

Now that you know what data caps are, why they’re imposed, and how they affect your monthly bill, you must find out if your internet provider imposes a data cap and what it is. Knowing what the data cap is, makes managing your activities much easier. Once you’ve inquired about the data cap from your ISP, follow the below-mentioned steps to keep your bill and your wits under control.

  1. Find out your exact monthly internet usage. Every ISP keeps a tab on your usage, data cap, or no data cap so it shouldn’t be a problem. However, the way you can find this out varies between ISPs. For some, you may be able to sign in to your account and check the usage meter by yourself whereas for others you may need to call up customer service or tech support.
  2. If you find out that you’re using too much data to stay under the data cap try to make changes to your online activity. For example, if you stream movies in 4K Ultra HD then start watching them in HD or SD or cut down on streaming for even lower usage. You can also schedule large downloads like games for the start of the month when you have enough data.
  3. If even after taking the possible measures you find that you’re exceeding your data cap you may want to upgrade to a plan with more data allowance. However, the best solution to this would be to switch to an ISP that allows unlimited data usage, but I understand many users don’t have more than one ISP covering their area.


In an ideal situation where you have a few ISPs available in your area providing high-speed internet to suffice your needs, you must subscribe to the one that does not impose a data cap on their internet service. However, in reality, many of us will be living in areas where there are just one or two providers and we have no choice but to sign up with them. If they impose a data cap then the only option is to deal with it. I feel for you all out there in such a situation and the above information will come in quite handy for you.