Does Your ISP Have a Data Cap?
A reader named Ray writes, 'My ISP (Cox Communications) recently announced a monthly data usage limit of 1TB, with a surcharge of $10 for every 50 GB above the limit. I checked my data usage and found that at my present rate this will cost an extra $100 per month.' Does YOUR internet provider have a data cap? Find out now, and get some tips on reducing your data usage…
There's No Such Thing as Unlimited
Ray is retired, so he and his wife watch a lot of TV. To save money, he cancelled his cable TV subscription and went with an Internet-only approach, referred to as "cord-cutting." Folks who do this get their TV shows and movies via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other video streaming services.
Ray told me that sometimes they have two TVs on simultaneously, streaming video in high definition (1080p). He did the math, and found that Cox's data cap would raise his monthly bill from $63 to $163 -- ouch!
First, I commend Ray and his wife for fully embracing cord-cutting. However, they’re definitely outliers in their terabyte-plus data usage. The average U.S. household was consuming 190 GB of data per month, research firm IGR reported in September, 2016. Comcast says that less than 1% of its customers use more than 1 TB per month, and the median household data consumption is around 75 GB. It’s clear that the vast majority of Americans have a long way to go before they need to worry about data caps.
Nonetheless, Cox is hardly the first ISP to impose a data cap and overage fees. Here is a list of 196 ISPs who do so. That’s out of a total of 2,500 ISPs known to the U.S. government. The caps range from a ludicrously restrictive 3 GB to a practically unachievable 3 TB per month.
Large ISPs who have data caps include AT&T, Comcast, Cox, CenturyLink, Mediacom, Suddenlink, Exede, and HughesNet. (The last two are satellite ISPs). Most of them echo Cox’s plan: 1 TB per month and $10 per 50 GB over that cap.
Ray took some smart steps to reduce his household’s data consumption. Even if your household is nowhere near its cap, it’s good to be familiar with these conservation methods, and to monitor your monthly data usage when your consumption habits change.
Video Killed the Radio Star (and maybe your data cap)
Streaming video has the biggest impact upon data usage for most households. Ray found that he could reduce the resolution of videos from 1080p to 720p without losing too much quality. Unfortunately, there is no global setting for video quality. Netflix streams in full HD (1080p) by default, and consumes up to 3 GB per viewing hour; standard definition (720p) uses about 1 GB per hour.. Netflix provides instructions for limiting video resolution to standard definition (720p) on its support site. But Amazon Video makes you select HD or standard definition each time you choose a video to watch. Other streaming channels (Hulu, Youtube, etc.) will have other conservation options.
If you use Netflix in full HD mode, you'd have to watch 11 hours a day, every day of the month, to consume a terabyte of streaming video. But in a household with multiple people using multiple screens (televisions, tablets and smartphones) that threshold could be reached much more easily.
Don’t worry too much about streaming music services, such as Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, and Apple Music. They typically consume only 1 GB every 8 hours. You could leave your music on all day, and only chew through 90 GB in a month.
Another thing to cross off your data worry list is “Internet of Things” devices such as smart lighting or refrigerators. They communicate in short bursts of data whose impact on total usage is negligible. But like Ray, you may hesitate before buying a 4K TV set (or two). Watching a video in 4K definition burns up four times as much data per hour as 1080p definition.
Monitoring Your Broadband Data Usage
To monitor your home data usage, you need to monitor all traffic passing through the home’s router. Major ISPs provide a Web page that shows your month-to-date data usage. Cox, for example, has a Data Usage Meter which lets you see your current and historical data usage. Comcast Xfinity has a Usage Meter page. AT&T customers can check their Home Internet usage page.
If your ISP doesn't provide data usage stats, you can install software to get those answers. Glasswire is a consumer-friendly firewall and network monitoring app that can show you total data usage since it was launched, and even lets you drill down into individual apps to see which one(s) are using the most data. Networx is a monitoring program without the firewall and other security features of Glasswire.
Does your ISP have a data cap? Do you know how much data your household consumes? Let me know in the comments below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 10 Aug 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Does Your ISP Have a Data Cap? (Posted: 10 Aug 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved