Data Caps and Your Internet PlanAlthough the number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that maintain data caps is smaller than it used to be, there’s still a chance the plan that’s right for you may limit the amount of data you can use. If an available plan has the price and speed you want, a data cap might not be a deal breaker. It all depends on how you plan to use your service. The first step is to know which ISPs have data caps and what those caps are. AT&T DSL customers, for example, get 150 gigs of data each month, and every 50 gigs after that is an additional $10. But what do those numbers really mean? Is that a lot? How do you know how much data you need, and how do you keep track of what you’re using? Putting Data in Perspective Fortunately, many ISPs offer tools that makes it easier to figure out the answers to these questions. According to AT&T, 150 gigs represents sending or receiving 10,000 emails, uploading or downloading 2,000 medium-resolution photos, downloading 1,000 MP3s, streaming 1,000 minutes of YouTube video, watching 75 hour-long TV programs, and streaming 25 full-length HD movies. And to be clear, 150 gigs includes all those options together, not just one of them. For the most part, sending emails, looking at photos, and browsing websites uses only a small amount of data. You really start to use data fast when you stream video, especially HD video, and play online games. All the rest isn’t really worth worrying about. Can you watch 25 HD movies in a month? Maybe not on your own, but a family of movie buffs may be capable of doing so. AT&T says most users use only 35 gigs a month, and only 4 percent of DSL users go above 150 gigs. AT&T offers a data calculator to determine how likely you are to break through that 150 gig cap and risk extra charges; Cox offers a similar calculator. Even those who don’t subscribe to either of these ISPs can use these tools in their decision-making process. Track Your Usage Once you’ve found a plan you like and have signed up for it, you might be a bit paranoid for the first month or two about going over your limit. The good news is that numerous ISPs, including AT&T, Cox, and CenturyLink, offer lenient grace periods for new customers and don’t charge subscribers who go over in their first months of service. Another piece of good news is that most ISPs offer tools to monitor your data usage. For example, Cox customers can view their actual data usage online. That way, if you or your family uses up data faster than you imagined, you can reduce your usage or sign up for a plan that offers more data. If the Data Cap Fits, Wear It For most users, data caps are nothing to worry about. A little bit of planning and a little bit of monitoring can save you from potentially going above your data limit. So if the plan with the right price and right speed for you has a cap, there’s likely no need to look elsewhere.
Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.