Why You Should Pay Attention to Data Caps

The party’s over

Key Takeaways

  • A growing number of cable companies have resumed so-called "data caps" on their home internet service. 
  • While a limit of a terabyte or more is sufficient data for many people, some users could exceed these amounts and have to pay a penalty. 
  • At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many internet companies promised to waive their data caps and increase internet speeds.
A laptop computer with light streams leading into ports to illustrate fiber optic broadband.
John Lamb / Getty Images

Power Internet users should examine their broadband usage to avoid paying fees now that a growing number of cable companies have resumed so-called "data caps" on their home internet service, experts say. 

For example, beginning on January 1, Comcast began limiting households to 1.2 terabytes of data per month. Other broadband companies also are turning the data taps down for their customers. While a terabyte or more is sufficient data for many people, some users could exceed these amounts and have to pay a penalty. 

"Americans are paying for the lack of investment by the cable companies," Mark Chen, the owner of Bill Smart, a company that negotiates between customers and internet providers, said in an email interview.

"With more people working from home and streaming, the systems of the cable companies have been under heavy load. They're overcharging power users (which we all are now) to either get them to use less data or give them more money."

Zoom Is a Data Suck

Many users who don’t use much data won’t notice the data caps. But "those that frequently stream on multiple devices or rely on bandwidth-intensive applications like Zoom on a daily basis may be disproportionately impacted," Tyler Cooper of internet provider comparison site BroadbandNow said in an email interview.

"This is especially true for large families who have a wide variety of devices connected in the home."

A conceptual image of a wireless transmission to or from a laptop computer.
Qi Yang / Getty Images

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many internet companies promised to waive their data caps and increase internet speeds. The gesture was meant to help people working from home and children going to school remotely. But those generous days may be over. 

Cox is capping data at 1.25TB, with the option to upgrade to an unlimited plan. For users who go over the limit, it will cost $10 per additional 50GB. Other companies also are limiting their data allowances, but there are ways around these restrictions. 

For Comcast/Xfinity, users get a pass every year the first time you exceed 1.2TB, Chen said. 

After that pass, you'll be charged $10 for each 50GB you go over the 1.2TB limit. The overages are capped at $100 a month. 

Negotiating Tactics

"However, if you've been with Comcast for over a year and have gone over, you can generally get the overage fees waived by calling or chatting with them online," Cooper added.

"They're overcharging power users (which we all are now) to either get them to use less data or give them more money."

"If you have a choice of multiple cable providers, you may want to switch to Spectrum and CenturyLink. They have no overage fees, although you'll find your internet throttled if there's network congestion."

Some companies are getting pushback on the data caps. Comcast recently told The Streamable that they have now delayed their data cap in their Northeast region until June. Massachusetts lawmakers had complained that the data caps would hurt low-income families. 

"Network capacity is not an issue for Comcast or a valid excuse to charge customers more," lawmakers wrote in a recent letter. "Comcast itself claims it has plenty of capacity across its network, including areas where no caps are currently imposed."

Even if some broadband providers are backing down from the data caps, you might want to consider cutting down on your data usage if you are concerned about extra fees, Cooper said. Also, make sure automatic updates are turned off on all cell phones, laptops, and other connected devices, he advised. 

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