Which Internet Service Providers Have Data Caps?

Imagine you’re happily streaming your favorite show when your phone buzzes—it’s an email from your internet service provider (ISP). You’re about to exceed your data cap. You didn’t even realize you had a data cap, and now you’re forced to make a choice: forego your weekend Game of Thrones bingeing for the rest of the month or pay to purchase more data. Or, even worse, you don’t find out until you get the bill and see the charge.

Many providers have data caps, but most tuck them away in the fine print. Wouldn’t it be nice to know this in advance? Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve got the caps for all the major providers right here. Read on to see what your provider’s data limit is.

Update (3/16/2020): AT&T, Xfinity, Sparklight, and other internet service providers (ISPs) have waived data caps to provide financial relief to Americans working from home to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus, which has quickly spread in what the World Health Organization has described as a global pandemic. 

These are the providers who have temporarily waived their data caps: 

  • AT&T
  • CenturyLink
  • Cox (until May 15)
  • Xfinity (until mid-May)
  • Mediacom (until May 15)
  • Sparklight (until mid-April)

Which providers have data caps?

ProviderType of serviceData capMonthly data capOverage fees
AT&TDSL, FiberYesUnlimitedNone
RCNFiberNoUnlimitedNone
XfinityCableYesUnlimited (through to mid-May)None
FrontierDSL, FiberNoUnlimitedNone
CenturyLinkDSL, FiberYesUnlimitedNone
WindstreamDSL, FiberNoUnlimitedNone
SpectrumCableNoUnlimitedNone
Cox CommunicationsCableYesUnlimited (through May 15)None
OptimumCableNoUnlimitedNone
SuddenlinkCableYes250 GB–Unlimited$10/50 GB
MediacomCableYesUnlimited (for now until May 15)$10/50 GB
HughesNetSatelliteYes10 GB–50 GB (followed by internet slowdown)None
ViasatSatelliteYes40 GB–150 GB (followed by internet slowdown)None
ProviderAT&T
Type of serviceDSL, Fiber
Data capYes
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderRCN
Type of serviceFiber
Data capNo
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderXfinity
Type of serviceCable
Data capYes
Monthly data capUnlimited (through to mid-May)
Overage feesNone
ProviderFrontier
Type of serviceDSL, Fiber
Data capNo
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderCenturyLink
Type of serviceDSL, Fiber
Data capYes
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderWindstream
Type of serviceDSL, Fiber
Data capNo
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderSpectrum
Type of serviceCable
Data capNo
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderCox Communications
Type of serviceCable
Data capYes
Monthly data capUnlimited (through May 15)
Overage feesNone
ProviderOptimum
Type of serviceCable
Data capNo
Monthly data capUnlimited
Overage feesNone
ProviderSuddenlink
Type of serviceCable
Data capYes
Monthly data cap250 GB–Unlimited
Overage fees$10/50 GB
ProviderMediacom
Type of serviceCable
Data capYes
Monthly data capUnlimited (for now until May 15)
Overage fees$10/50 GB
ProviderHughesNet
Type of serviceSatellite
Data capYes
Monthly data cap10 GB–50 GB (followed by internet slowdown)
Overage feesNone
ProviderViasat
Type of serviceSatellite
Data capYes
Monthly data cap40 GB–150 GB (followed by internet slowdown)
Overage feesNone

Data current as of 3/16/2020. Not all offers available in all areas.

Find the best internet providers in your area:

What is a data cap?

A data cap is the maximum amount of data you’ve been allotted in your monthly internet plan.

Everything you do on the internet uses data. Whether you’re checking a couple emails or binge-watching The Crown in 4K, you’re using megabytes or even gigabytes of data. And all of that counts toward your monthly limit.

Think of it like groceries. A professional chef who loves to make lavish dinners for his family will require more foodstuffs in his pantry than a bachelor who eats Top Ramen every night. But both of them need to eat to survive. And you’ll need data no matter what your appetite is for the internet.

Budgeting your internet usage won’t be an issue if you’re fortunate enough to have an unlimited data plan. But many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) impose a monthly limit—or “data cap”—on the amount of gigabytes you can burn through each month. Depending on your ISP and your plan, that limit could range anywhere from a generous 1 terabyte (equaling 1,000 gigabytes) to a paltry 40 gigabytes.

Going over your monthly data limit can lead to costly overage charges—many providers tack on $10 for every 50 GB you go over per month. Those 50 gigs aren’t prorated either. So even if you go just one gigabyte over your limit, you’ll still be paying for all 50 of those gigs.

Other providers don’t impose these penalties. Instead, they’ll throttle your internet speed to a fraction of its usual speed. This will leave you feeling like a famished Oliver Twist, begging for more gruel at the orphanage.

How much data do you need?

You’ll need enough data each month for you to do all the activities you usually do online without worrying about overage charges or network slowdowns. That could include anything from firing off tweets to downloading video games to shopping for vintage umbrellas (or whatever you like to shop for) on Amazon.

If you don’t want to end up like our poor friend Oliver, then you’ll have to budget out your average data usage for the month. One way to do that is to use an online data calculator—like this one from the internet provider Armstrong—which gives you a quick readout of how much data it takes to do particular tasks.

Doing regular stuff like browsing the web and checking email won’t take up much data at all. Streaming music or playing games online also goes easy on your monthly allowance.

Here’s how much you’ll use on everyday online stuff:

  • Sending/receiving 25 emails: .01 GB
  • Streaming an album: .06 GB
  • Gaming online for 5 hours: .60 GB
  • Streaming a 2-hour movie: 1 GB in SD, 4 GB in HD, 16 GB in 4K

You’ll use up a lot more data by watching movies or TV on a streaming service like Netflix. Streaming in 4K uses up four times as much data as HD, so consider limiting your 4K viewing to special occasions. (A Hobbit trilogy movie marathon, perhaps?)

Downloading files is where you really gotta watch out. The richer and more high-tech the file, the more gigs you’ll use—that means you’ll spend a lot more data downloading prestige video games than you would a handful of MP3s.

This is about how much data it takes to download files:

  • An MP3: 5 MB
  • An HD movie: 4 GB
  • The most recent update of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: 60 GB (Not the full game, mind you—just the update.)

If you have smart home devices around the house, that may end up taking the lion’s share of your data usage. Thankfully, as Viasat points out, you can cut corners by adjusting the resolution of your home security cameras and being choosy about how you use your smart home assistant.

This is the approximate data used each month by the following smart home devices:

  • A smart thermostat: 50 MB
  • A voice assistant: 22 GB
  • A motion-activated HD security camera: 150 GB
 

AT&T

  • Data Cap: 1 TB–Unlimited
  • Overage Fees: $10 per 50 GB

Does AT&T have data caps?

Update: AT&T is currently offering unlimited internet data to help internet customers who are working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak.

AT&T has a data cap of 1 TB—meaning 1,000 gigabytes—for most plans, with an overage fee of $10.00 per each additional 50 GB. That’s par for the course with ISPs, and 1 TB is plenty for most people, though we always prefer unlimited where possible. AT&T will give you two warnings before you’re charged monthly overage fees, so you get a chance to figure out what’s using all your data if you’re going over unintentionally.

The exception is the AT&T Internet 1000 plan, which has unlimited data. That makes sense—this plan has speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, so you’ll want to use that as much as possible. You can also avoid data caps by paying $30.00 a month for an unlimited data allowance. Or you can bundle AT&T Internet with DIRECTV or AT&T TV, which will get you an automatic unlimited data usage allowance—essentially a built-in $30 discount.

 

RCN

  • No data caps

Does RCN have data caps?

No, RCN doesn’t have data caps for any of its plans. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

 

Xfinity

  • Data Cap: 1 TB
  • Overage fees: $10 per 50 GB

Does Xfinity have data caps?

Update: Starting March 13, 2020, Comcast is providing all Xfinity customers with free unlimited data for 60 days. The ISP has been responding to internet users directly on Twitter to share the news.

Xfinity has a data cap of 1 TB per month, with an overage fee of $10.00 per each additional 50 GB. However, Xfinity will give you two months of overages before it starts charging fees. In other words, you can use over 1 TB of data in two separate billing periods with just a warning, but you’ll be charged on the third time. Xfinity also offers a handy usage meter for checking how close you are to your cap.

If you want the Unlimited Data Option, you can get it for an extra $50.00 per month. If you’re using more than 250 GB of extra data consistently, this option works out to be cheaper than paying the overages, so spending those 50 clams might be worth it.

 

Frontier

  • No data caps

Does Frontier have data caps?

Nope, Frontier doesn’t have any data caps. Customers are free to download as many 40 GB video games they want without worrying about going over a limit—no strings attached.

CenturyLink

  • Data Cap: 1 TB–Unlimited
  • No overage fees

Does CenturyLink have data caps?

Update: CenturyLink is lifting its data caps to help customers amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to tech news site Motherboard. 

CenturyLink has a 1 TB data cap in place for most plans. Business customers, customers on the 1 Gbps Fiber Internet plan, and CenturyLink Prism customers are not subject to this limit. So, if you fall in any of those categories, you’ll enjoy unlimited data.

What happens if you exceed CenturyLink’s 1 TB data cap? Well, for starters, the provider doesn’t currently charge overage fees. Instead, you’ll get a notice that you went over the limit along with suggestions on how to reduce usage, including alternate plans that might better accommodate your usage habits.

Although these warnings don’t come with fees, you should still take them seriously. If you exceed your data cap too many times, then CenturyLink may resort to extreme measures like downgrading your internet service—or disconnecting it entirely.

 

Windstream

  • No data caps

Does Windstream have data caps?

Windstream doesn’t have any data caps or usage limits in place. This is a refreshing stance in an industry that usually has fine print and hidden clauses.

 

Spectrum

  • No data caps

Does Spectrum have data caps?

Spectrum does not enforce any data caps. When the FCC approved the merger of Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House into the single brand of Spectrum, it ruled that the new provider couldn’t charge overages or impose data caps for at least seven years. Although it may not last forever, that’s great news for consumers now.

 

Cox

  • Data cap: 1 TB–Unlimited
  • Overage fees: $10 per 50 GB

Does Cox have data caps?

Update: Cox has joined with other ISPs to eliminate data caps, offering unlimited data until May 15. Customers who purchased unlimited data or 500 GB add-ons will be credited for the cost.

Cox has a 1 TB data cap for all internet plans. 1 TB is fairly generous, although it’s still possible for heavy streamers to exceed this. If you do, you’ll pay the industry standard of $10.00 for each 50 GB of extra data you use.

If you think you’ll regularly use more than the 1 TB of data provided, Cox has a couple of bonus data plans you can subscribe to. You can get an extra 500 GB for $29.99 per month or go unlimited for an additional $49.99 per month. Those extra fees could really add up, but if you’re constantly racking up additional charges from exceeding your data limit, you might actually end up saving money going this route.

 

Optimum

  • No data caps

Does Optimum have data caps?

Optimum does not have data caps. The New York–based provider is part of a growing breed that doesn’t limit your data usage. The company does reserve the right to limit use that it considers “excessive,” which could include downloading unusually large numbers of files or other activities that might impact network performance in a negative way. For most users, though, it’s unlimited all the way.

Suddenlink

  • Data cap: 250 GB–Unlimited
  • Overage fees: $10 per 50 GB

Does Suddenlink have data caps?

Suddenlink has one of the lowest data caps of any provider these days—a mere 250 GB for many plans. There was a time when 250 GB sounded like a lot, but with streaming and binge-watching becoming more popular than ever, it’s possible to burn through a 250 GB cap in no time. However, some of Suddenlink’s faster packages, like the company’s 400 Mbps service, include unlimited data. The lack of a data cap ensures you can make the most of the faster speeds you’re paying for.

As with most providers with data caps, Suddenlink charges $10.00 per 50 GB over the cap.

 

Mediacom

  • Internet 60: 400 GB
  • Internet 100: 1,000 GB
  • Internet 200: 2,000 GB
  • Internet 500: 4,000 GB
  • 1Gig: 6,000 GB
  • Overage fees: $10 per 50 GB

Does Mediacom have data caps?

Update: Mediacom announced that it is temporarily pausing monthly data caps on all of its plans due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The pause on data caps will be in place through May 15. 

Yes, Mediacom has data caps. They vary widely from package to package, but are generous overall. For some plans, the cap is so high it might as well be unlimited. Just as a reference for comparing these data caps to other providers, 1,000 GB is equal to 1 TB. Mediacom charges $10.00 per 50 GB of data over the cap. While we at HighSpeedInternet.com prefer no caps, this is one we could live with.

 

HughesNet

  • Data cap: 10 GB–50 GB
  • No overage fees

Does HughesNet have data caps?

Yes, HughesNet has data caps. However, it works a bit differently than other providers. No matter what plan you get with HughesNet, your speed remains the same (25 Mbps). What does change from plan to plan is the amount of monthly data you get, starting at 10 GB and going up to 50 GB.

Another unique thing about HughesNet is that you won’t be charged an overage fee for exceeding your limit. Instead, the provider throttles your connection speed down to 1–3 Mbps. Whether this is better than paying a fee for more data at full speed is a matter of opinion, but 3 Mbps is pretty slow.

 

Viasat

  • Data cap: 40 GB–150 GB
  • No overage fees

Does Viasat have data caps?

Viasat says it has unlimited data, but it still has limits on data usage. But you don’t get punished with overage charges like you would with a cable or DSL provider. Instead you’ll just have to deal with a really slow connection.

The amount of GB you get from Viasat depends on your plan. If you go over, Viasat will lay down the law by “deprioritizing” your traffic. That means when you click on a video or email, it will send a request to Viasat’s network. Viasat will then push you to the bottom of the list to make way for internet users who haven’t yet used up their allotted GB for the month.

It’s basically the satellite internet equivalent of the doorman at a fancy nightclub making you wait in line as he opens the velvet rope for dozens of well-dressed VIPs. Technically you’re getting “unlimited” internet, but in practice you’ll be the scrub standing outside in the rain.

If you find this happening on the regular, consider investing in a plan with a higher data cap.

 

Buckeye Broadband

  • Data cap: 100 GB–Unlimited
  • Overage fees: $10 per 100 GB

Does Buckeye Broadband have data caps?

Yes, but the complete answer to this is a little more complicated. Each of the Buckeye Broadband plans has a different data cap, starting at 100 GB for the lowest-end BEXCONNECT package. The cap increases with speed, with the faster plans like BEX100 (100 Mbps) having a 1 TB data cap.

Buckeye also offers customers the option to purchase unlimited data for an additional $30.00 per month, regardless of your plan. Whether that’s worth it or not depends heavily on your usage.

Exceeding the data limit on your plan will cost you $10.00 per 100 GB. That’s half the price of nearly every other provider.

 

FAQ

Which providers have data caps?

The following providers offer data caps of differing amounts along with overage fees of varying degrees.

  • Suddenlink
  • HughesNet
  • Buckeye Broadband

Which providers don’t have data caps?

The following providers currently have no data caps on any of their plans:

  • RCN
  • Frontier
  • Windstream
  • Spectrum
  • Optimum
  • AT&T
  • CenturyLink
  • T-Mobile
  • Cox (ends May 15)
  • Xfinity (through mid-May)
  • Mediacom (through May 15)
  • Sparklight (through mid-April)

These providers have some packages with unlimited data or offer it at an additional monthly charge:

  • Suddenlink
  • Buckeye Broadband

Find the best internet plans available in your area:

What are data caps and how do they work?

A data cap is basically a limit on how much data you can use through your internet connection in a month. Every time you visit a website, upload a photo, or stream your favorite movie, you’re using data. Your internet provider monitors your usage, and when you exceed the cap for your plan, they may send you a warning, charge an overage fee (similar to cellular providers), throttle your internet connection to lower your speed, or (in extreme cases) disconnect your service.

Typically, providers send warnings via email when you’re approaching your data limit, and again each time you incur a charge, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises. Some providers also allow you to set up data alerts via mobile apps or text messaging if you don’t check email regularly. Additionally, most ISPs provide a way for customers to monitor their own usage, either via an app or a web tool

What is bandwidth throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is the practice of lowering internet speed (often significantly) for certain users or certain types of traffic. This is typically done when an individual is using excessive amounts of data in a single monthly period. Due to customer backlash, it’s not a very common practice because it involves getting less service than you’re paying for.

Throttling is also sometimes used to manage network load during peak times. In these cases, providers may lower bandwidth of some (or all) users slightly to ensure that the network functions as expected for most customers. This is one reason why you may see a lower-than-advertised speed when using a speed test.

How do you avoid going over your data?

The best way to avoid going over your data is by calculating the estimated amount of data you use per month and then choosing an internet plan that gives you enough data to work with.

Many routers also let you set bandwidth limits on different devices to make sure you don’t go over. And there are ways to adjust your internet usage so as not to burn up your data allotment—for example, you can stream most of your movies in HD instead of 4K (which uses four times as much data as HD per viewing session). You can set your home security cameras to SD instead of HD.

Check out our “How much data do you need?” section above to get an idea of how much data gets used by different internet activities. Also, check out this handy data usage calculator from Armstrong, an internet provider based in Butler, PA. It lets you budget out your daily and monthly internet usage based on a wide variety of factors, including streaming video in different resolutions.

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Looking for a provider with no data caps? Enter your ZIP code to find the ones listed in this article in your area.

Author -

Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.

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