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How Internet Providers Cap Your Data

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Editor’s Note: This story comes from CableTV.com.

Data cap, data allowance, data usage — whatever you call it, the limit your internet service provider (ISP) puts on your internet usage can be a real pain and a big expense.

We’ve gathered internet data cap information for every major ISP in the US to arm you against potential overage charges.

Read on to discover which ISPs have unlimited high-speed internet and learn how to avoid fees from providers with data caps.

Summary of internet provider data caps

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Here are internet providers with data caps and overage charges.

  • Astound Broadband Powered by RCN: Unlimited, None
  • AT&T: 1,024 GB–unlimited, $10 per 50 GB block
  • CenturyLink: Unlimited, None
  • Cox: 1,280 GB–Unlimited, $10 per 50 GB block
  • Frontier: Unlimited, None
  • Google Fiber: Unlimited, None
  • Hughesnet: 100 GB–200 GB, None
  • Mediacom: 200 GB–3,000 GB, $10 per 50 GB block
  • Optimum: Unlimited, None
  • Sparklight: 100 GB–Unlimited, None
  • Spectrum: Unlimited, None
  • Verizon Fios: Unlimited, None
  • Viasat: 60 GB–Unlimited, None
  • Xfinity: 1.2 TB $10 per 50 GB block, None

Is 1 TB of data enough?

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Although we at CableTV.com tend to agree with internet providers that 1 TB (1,024 GB) of data is more than enough to last most customers for a month, that’s becoming less true by the day.

If you love online gaming, smart home tech, and streaming 4K Ultra HD movies, breaking the data limit is easier than you’d think.

The simplest solution to internet data caps is signing up with a provider that has unlimited data.

What are data caps on internet?

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Internet data caps are the limits your provider puts on how much you can use the internet each month.

Everything you do on the internet from streaming Netflix to scrolling through social media requires data — use your internet service too much, and you might hit the limit.

Other names for data caps include “fair use policy,” “monthly usage allowance,” and “bandwidth cap.” But “bandwidth cap” is a bit of a misnomer because most internet providers won’t slow — or throttle — your speeds if you surpass the limit.

Instead, your provider will usually send a warning when you’ve neared and passed your usage limit, and then you’ll receive overage charges on your next bill.

The exceptions to this rule are satellite internet providers like Hughesnet and Viasat, which offer plans based on data caps, not varying download speeds.

After you reach the data limit with these providers, you’ll still be able to use your internet service, but your ISP will throttle your speed.

What happens when you reach your data cap?

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Once you reach your internet data cap, look out for overage charges — internet providers regularly provide 50 GB chunks of additional data for $10 a pop.

But some providers may instead slow your internet speeds or cut your internet access off entirely until the next month.

Want to know how your specific internet provider handles data cap overages? We answer this question in depth in each of the following provider sections.

Why do providers use data caps?

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The short (and skeptical) reason why internet providers use data caps is because they can.

The longer explanation is that ISPs can only produce so much internet bandwidth and capacity. Because ISPs recognize their limits, they try to discourage users from using too much data, which might slow internet speeds for other users.

As a result, many providers call their data policies “fair use policies,” emphasizing that the aim is to provide better internet service for their customers across the board.

But some ISPs enforce unrealistically small data caps rather than updating their infrastructure to support modern internet usage. On a data cap plan below 600 GB, even watching a few hours of Netflix a day and scrolling through Instagram can blow through your allowance, and your ISP might slap you with a huge fine or even upgrade your plan without consulting you.

If that sounds scary, look for ISPs that offer “unlimited” plans. These plans often encourage users to stay below 1,024 GB of data, but they’ll reach out on a case-by-case basis to communicate with individual users who are causing issues for the rest of the network.

And that’s not something you should worry about unless you’re streaming 4K Ultra HD all day or torrenting huge files. (If you don’t know what torrenting is, don’t worry — that’s a guarantee you’re not doing it.)

What uses up the most data?

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Everything from email to online gaming takes up data, but unless you’re regularly downloading massive files, streaming TV probably puts the heaviest strain on your data usage.

Netflix claims streaming Full HD uses 3 GB per hour and 4K Ultra HD uses 7 GB per hour. With the common data cap of 1 TB (1,024 GB), you can stream about 333 hours in Full HD or 143 hours in 4K Ultra HD per month. That’s plenty of data if you don’t have a large household or if you’re not a legendary-level binge-watcher.

Consider what one month might look like with a household of four TV lovers:

  1. One unwinds some evenings with “Stumptown.” (7 hours)
  2. Another is re-watching all of “Game of Thrones.” (74 hours)
  3. A third watches a couple of hours of anime every night. (60 hours)
  4. A fourth keeps up on the newest Netflix series every weekend. (40 hours)

That puts the household at a total of 181 hours. Assuming they’re watching in Full HD, that’s just over half a 1,024 GB limit. Even with adding on some video chats, game downloads, and browsing, these TV lovers will likely finish the month well under their data cap.

But if your household has more people, watches 4K content, or binges more TV than this, you should seriously consider a high-speed internet plan with unlimited data.

Do all brands have data caps?

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Many ISPs limit data usage, but not all of them do. With internet technology advancing, some providers are raising their data ceilings, offering unlimited high-speed internet plans, or eliminating caps altogether.

Before you decide on an internet provider, double-check that it’s available in your area.

Data caps by internet provider

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  • Astound Broadband—unlimited
  • AT&T—1,024 GB–unlimited
  • CenturyLink—Unlimited
  • Cox—1,280 GB–unlimited
  • Frontier—unlimited
  • Optimum—unlimited
  • Spectrum—unlimited
  • Verizon Fios—unlimited
  • Xfinity—1.2 TB

Astound Broadband data caps

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  • All plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Astound Broadband have data caps?

Astound Broadband powered by RCN doesn’t have data caps. All of its plans come with unlimited data.

We gave Astound Broadband our Editor’s Choice award for best cheap internet. If you live in and around New York City, Astound Broadband is a great provider.

AT&T data caps

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  • AT&T Internet: 1,024 GB
  • AT&T Fiber: unlimited
  • $30/mo. add-on: unlimited
  • Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data
  • Does AT&T have data caps?

AT&T Internet plans have a data cap of 1,024 GB, but you can get unlimited data with a $30-per-month unlimited usage add-on. AT&T Fiber plans, which offer internet through AT&T’s fiber-optic network, all come with unlimited data.

And if you happen to have AT&T’s rare DSL plans, those ones can have smaller caps.

What happens if I exceed my AT&T data allowance?

For the first two bill periods you go over, you’ll receive notices but no charge. In the third period, you’ll receive three warning notices, and then you’ll receive additional 50 GB allowances — for $10 a pop.

Each month thereafter, AT&T can fine you a maximum of $100 in overage charges if you’re on a normal AT&T Internet plan. DSL internet customers can rack up as much as $200 in overages.

How do I track my AT&T data usage?

AT&T provides an estimate of how much data you’ve used when you log into your account. After the first bill period you go over your data limit, AT&T will send you email notices when you use 65%, 90%, and 100% of your data.

CenturyLink data caps

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  • All plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does CenturyLink have data caps?

Users of CenturyLink’s Fiber and Simply Unlimited Internet get unlimited data — and so do folks in CenturyLink’s low-income household programs.

Cox data caps

Cox Cable and Internet company
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  • All plans: 1,280 GB
  • $29.99/mo. add-on: additional 500 GB
  • $49.99/mo. add-on: unlimited
  • Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does Cox internet have data caps?

All of Cox’s internet plans come with a 1,280 GB data cap. However, you can purchase an additional 500 GB for $29.99 per month or unlimited data for $49.99 per month.

What happens if I exceed my Cox data allowance?

If you go over your data cap, Cox will supply you with additional 50 GB data blocks, which will cost you $10 apiece.

How do I track my Cox data usage?

Sign into your account or use your Cox Connect App to access your data usage meter. At 85%, 100%, and 125% usage, Cox will send you text messages and email alerts to let you know.

Frontier data caps

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  • Most plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Frontier have data caps?

Frontier Fiber doesn’t cap data on the majority of its internet plans. However, if you have access to only Frontier’s satellite internet plans, you’ll have an assigned data allowance. You can find it by following the link and checking under “Frontier Broadband Fair Access Policy – Satellite.”

What happens if I exceed my Frontier data allowance?

If you have Frontier satellite internet and go over your assigned data allowance, your speeds will be reduced. You can purchase and assign Restore Tokens to remove speed restrictions by calling a Frontier customer service agent at 877-451-1801.

Google Fiber data caps

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  • All plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Google Fiber have data caps?

No, Google Fiber doesn’t have data caps.

Hughesnet data cap

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  • Select (50 Mbps): slows after 100 GB
  • Elite (100 Mbps): slows after 200 GB
  • Fusion (100 Mbps): slows after 200 GB
  • Overage charge: none

Does Hughesnet have data caps?

While Hughesnet has no hard data limits, each package is based on a distinct data cap. Within your data allowance, your internet speeds can reach as high as 100 Mbps. But after you reach the data cap, your speeds will slow to around 1 Mbps–3 Mbps.

What happens if I exceed my Hughesnet data allowance?

Hughesnet will throttle your speeds for the rest of the month if you exceed your data allowance. However, all plans come with an additional 50 GB of full-speed data you can use only during 2 a.m.–8 a.m., so your Netflix watching might have to wait for a late-night marathon.

How do I track my Hughesnet data usage?

Log into your Hughesnet account to track your data usage.

Mediacom data caps

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  • Prime Internet 100: 200 GB
  • Prime Internet 300: 1,000 GB
  • Prime 1 Gig Internet: 3,000 GB
  • Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does Mediacom have data caps?

Mediacom has five different data caps, starting at 200 GB. Each of its plans has a significantly higher data cap than the one before, so if you’re running into overage problems, upgrading your plan may be your best solution.

What happens if I go over my Mediacom data allowance?

Mediacom charges $10 for each additional block of 50 GB data.

How do I track my Mediacom data usage?

There will be an internet usage meter when you log into your Mediacom account.

Optimum data caps

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  • Unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Optimum have data caps?

Optimum doesn’t have data caps. If any customer uses excessive amounts of data, posing a threat to the internet experience of others, Optimum deals with it on a case-by-case basis.

FYI: We gave Optimum our Editor’s Choice award for best no-contract internet.

Sparklight data caps

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  • Internet 50: 1,000 GB
  • Internet 200: 700 GB
  • Internet 300: 1,200 GB
  • Internet 400: 1,200 GB
  • Internet 500: 1,500 GB
  • Internet Gig: unlimited
  • Overage charge: Sparklight will provide you up to 4 blocks of 100 GB per month for free, but may make you upgrade to a larger data plan if you keep going over.

Does Sparklight (formerly CableOne) have data caps?

Sparklight’s data caps are restrictively small. Its first plan has a limits of 100 GB, which doesn’t even come close to offering enough data to support modern internet usage.

What happens if I exceed my Sparklight data allowance?

If you go over your tiny Sparklight data cap, Sparklight will provide you another 100 GB up to 4 times a month — no charge. But after that, Sparklight will throttle your speed.

Even if you have unlimited data with Sparklight, you’ll get the same speed-throttled treatment if you go over 5 TB of data for the month.

If you exceed your data cap too often, Sparklight will automatically move you to a higher plan. And yes, that’s without your go-ahead, since you “agree” to it when you sign up. No, we don’t like it either.

How do I track my Sparklight data usage?

Sparklight offers a usage meter through your customer portal.

Spectrum data caps

Spectrum cable company
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  • All plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Spectrum have data caps?

All Spectrum internet plans come with unlimited data.

Spectrum internet is pretty solid, but where Spectrum excels is TV service. In fact, we gave Spectrum TV our Editor’s Choice award for best value.

Verizon Fios data caps

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  • All plans: unlimited
  • Overage charge: none

Does Verizon Fios have data caps?

You won’t see any Verizon data caps here — Verizon’s internet plans come with unlimited data, although there have been reports of Verizon contacting individual users when they go through an excessive amount of data (think multiple thousands of GB).

That said, we think Verizon is the best overall ISP.

Viasat data caps

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  • Choice 25: slow after 60 GB
  • Choice 75: slow after 150
  • Choice 50 Mbps/100GB: Unlimited
  • Choice 100/300 GB: slow after 300 GB
  • Choice 100/500 GB: slow after 500 GB
  • Overage charge: none

Does Viasat have data caps?

Viasat (formerly Exede) data caps vary not only by plan but also by area. Your Viasat data cap could run anywhere from 60 GB to Unlimited.

What happens if I go over my Viasat data allowance?

Viasat won’t charge you overage fees, but depending on your plan, it may throttle your speeds, restrict your service, or ask you to transition to another service plan.

How do I track my Viasat data usage?

You can track your usage through your online Viasat account.

Xfinity data caps

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  • Most plans:2 TB
  • Gigabit Pro:2 TB
  • $30 add-on: unlimited
  • Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does Xfinity have data caps?

Xfinity’s data caps for most plans are 1.2 TB. However, you can purchase an unlimited data option for an additional $30.00 per month.

What happens if I go over my Xfinity data allowance?

You won’t be billed for the first two months you exceed 1.2 TB, but after that, Xfinity will charge you $10 for every additional 50 GB of data, up to a total of $100 each month.

How do I track my Xfinity data usage?

To monitor your usage, log into your Xfinity account or mobile app. You’ll also receive in-browser notices and emails when you’re nearing your data limit.

Our final take

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Most users don’t go through enough data to notice their internet data cap at all, but if you have a lot of people in your home who all stream HD shows for hundreds of hours each month, you’ll want a big data allowance.

Quite a few of the major internet providers listed offer unlimited data, so check your options.

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