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Frustrated with Data Caps? Find Out Which Providers Limit Your Data and Why

Data caps and other fees waived during the coronavirus pandemic

Update 3/18/2020: For folks concerned about losing internet service during the COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) event, all major US Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have signed the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.

Basically, the pledge states that ISPs will “not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

These internet companies will also “waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the Coronavirus pandemic, and open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.” This pledge covers 60 days starting from March 13.

Many of the country’s ISPs are suspending data caps for the next 60 days, as well. Check with your provider to find out how this applies to your package.

While many people consider only download speeds when selecting an Internet Service Provider (ISP), data caps can end up having a huge effect on your internet experience—and how much you pay for it.

Summary of internet provider data caps

Summary of internet provider data caps

Internet data cap Overage charge Learn more 
1,024 GB–unlimited $10 per 50 GB block AT&T data cap info
1,024 GB–unlimited $10 per 50 GB block Buckeye Broadband data cap info
1,024 GB–unlimited None CenturyLink data cap info
1,024 GB–Unlimited $10 per 50 GB block Cox data cap info
Unlimited None Frontier data cap info
Unlimited None Google Fiber data cap info
10 GB–50 GB None HughesNet data cap info
150 GB–6,144 GB $10 per 50 GB block Mediacom data cap info
Unlimited None Optimum data cap info
Unlimited None RCN data cap info
100 GB–Unlimited $10 for each 100 GB block Sparklight data cap info
Unlimited None Spectrum data cap info
Unlimited None Verizon Fios data cap info
40 GB–150 GB None Viasat data cap info
1,024 GB–Unlimited $10 per 50 GB block Xfinity data cap info

The bottom line

Although we at tend to agree with the providers that say 1,024 gigabytes (1 terabyte) 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. Enter your ZIP code below and compare your results to the table above to find the best data allowance in your area.

Please enter a valid zip code.

What are data caps?

Internet data caps are ISP-enforced data usage limits. 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.

Why do providers use data caps?

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?

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?

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

Before you decide on an internet provider, double-check that it’s available in your area. Enter your ZIP code below to see your options. (We don’t keep your personal info or pass it on to anyone else.)

Please enter a valid zip code.

AT&T data caps

  • AT&T Internet: 1,024 GB
  • Internet 300: 1,024 GB
  • Internet 1000: unlimited
  • Internet and TV bundles: unlimited
  • $30/mo. add-on: unlimited

Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does AT&T have data caps?
Most of AT&T’s plans have a data cap of 1,024 GB. Though you probably don’t have the rare DSL and fixed wireless plans, those ones can have smaller caps. You can get unlimited data one of three ways: the Internet 1000 package, a TV and internet bundle, or the $30-per-month unlimited usage add-on.

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 and fixed wireless 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.

Buckeye Broadband Logo

Buckeye Broadband data caps

  • Starter: 250 GB
  • Essential Internet: unlimited
  • Ultimate Internet: unlimited
  • $15/mo. add-on: additional 250 GB
  • $30/mo. add-on: unlimited

Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does Buckeye Broadband have data caps?
Buckeye Broadband’s Starter internet plan comes with a tiny 250 GB data cap, but you’ll get unlimited data on its other plans.

You can also buy more data each month: either $15 for 250 GB or $30 for unlimited data. But since the Essential Internet plan comes with unlimited data and is only $20 per month more than the Starter plan for new customers, you’re better off making the jump to the next package.

What happens if I exceed my Buckeye Broadband data allowance?
Buckeye Broadband charges $10 for you to access each additional block of 50 GB data. Even if you use only a little of a 50 GB block, you’ll still have to pay for the whole amount.

How do I track my Buckeye Broadband data usage?
To track your usage, log into your account. Buckeye Broadband will send you alerts when you’re nearing your limit.

CenturyLink data caps

  • Most plans: 1,024 GB
  • Fiber Gigabit: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does CenturyLink have data caps?
CenturyLink caps most of its plans at 1,024 GB, but users of Fiber Gigabit get unlimited internet—and so do folks in CenturyLink’s low-income household programs.

What happens if I exceed my CenturyLink data allowance?
If you go over your CenturyLink data cap, you won’t get any fines—but you will be asked to reduce your usage, subscribe to a higher-speed internet plan, or switch to a business plan.

You don’t have to choose any of those options, but that may lead to your service being disconnected. To avoid that, you’ll want to pick among CenturyLink’s choices before three months of excessive usage within a twelve-month period.

How do I track my CenturyLink data usage?
CenturyLink doesn’t currently offer a way to track usage.

Cox Logo

Cox data caps

  • All plans: 1,024 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 have data caps?
All of Cox’s internet plans come with a 1,024 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

  • Most plans: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does Frontier have data caps?
Frontier Fios 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

  • All plans: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does Google Fiber have data caps?
No, Google Fiber doesn’t cap data.

HughesNet data cap

  • 10 GB: slows after 10 GB
  • 20 GB: slows after 20 GB
  • 30 GB: slows after 30 GB
  • 50 GB: slows after 50 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 25 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.

If you go over your data cap, you can also purchase Data Tokens (for $9–$75), which will return you to 25 Mbps during normal hours.

How do I track my HughesNet data usage?
Log into your HughesNet account to track your data usage.

Mediacom Logo

Mediacom data caps

  • Internet 60: 350 GB
  • Internet 100: 1,024 GB
  • Internet 200: 2,048 GB
  • Internet 500: 4,096 GB
  • 1 Gig Internet: 6,144 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 350 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 exceed 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 Logo

Optimum data caps

  • 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.

RCN Logo

RCN data caps

  • All plans: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does RCN have data caps?
All of RCN’s plans come with unlimited data.

Sparklight data caps

  • Lite 15 Plus: 100 GB
  • Starter 100 Plus: 300 GB
  • Streamer & Gamer 200 Plus: 600 GB
  • Turbo 300 Plus: 900 GB
  • GigaONE Plus: 1,200 GB
  • $40 add-on: unlimited

Overage charge: $10 for each 100 GB block of additional data

Does Sparklight (formerly Cable One) have data caps?
Sparklight’s data caps are restrictively small. Its first two plans have limits of 100 GB and 300 GB, which don’t even come close to offering enough data to support modern internet usage. But you can add unlimited data to your plan for an extra $40 per month.

What happens if I exceed my Sparklight data allowance?

Sparklight has larger additional data blocks than many providers that enforce data caps—$10 gets you 100 GB more data. And Sparklight will only charge you up to $50 in a month. But you’re more likely to run into overage charges with Sparklight, so don’t get too excited.

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 Logo

Spectrum data caps

  • All plans: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does Spectrum have data caps?
Spectrum’s plans all come in unlimited data.

Verizon Fios data caps

  • All plans: unlimited

Overage charge: none

Does Verizon Fios have data caps?
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).

Viasat data caps

  • Bronze plans: slow after 40 GB
  • Silver plans: slow after 60 GB
  • Gold plans: slow after 100 GB
  • Platinum plans: slow after 150 GB

Overage charge: none

Does Viasat have data caps?
Viasat (formerly Exede) has four different tiers of data caps for its plans: 40 GB, 60 GB, 100 GB, and 150 GB.

What happens if I exceed 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 logo

Xfinity data caps

  • Most plans: 1,024 GB
  • Gigabit Pro: unlimited
  • $50 add-on: unlimited

Overage charge: $10 for each 50 GB block of additional data

Does Xfinity have data caps?
Most Xfinity plans have a 1,024 GB data cap. However, you can purchase an unlimited data option for an additional $50.00.

Or if you’re a light internet user who typically uses less than 5 GB, you can enroll in the flexible data option and get a $5 credit each month. And also—please contact us. We’re not sure people like you exist, but we want to know your secret to staying under 5 GB.

What happens if I exceed my Xfinity data allowance?
You won’t be billed for the first two months you exceed 1,024 GB, but after that, Xfinity will charge you $10 for every additional 50 GB of data, up to a total of $200 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

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 above offer unlimited data, so check your options. Enter your ZIP code below to see which of those providers have networks near you.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Internet data cap FAQ

Which internet providers offer unlimited data?

Some internet providers offer unlimited data in all of their plans:

  • Frontier Fios
  • Google Fiber
  • Optimum
  • RCN
  • Spectrum
  • Verizon Fios

Other internet providers offer unlimited internet on high-tier plans:

  • AT&T
  • Buckeye Broadband
  • CenturyLink
  • Xfinity

And a few internet providers offer unlimited data add-ons for a monthly charge:

  • AT&T
  • Buckeye Broadband
  • Cox
  • Sparklight
  • Xfinity

How many hours of streaming is 1 TB?

With 1 TB (1,024 GB), you can stream in Standard HD for about 1,000 hours, Full HD for 333 hours, or 4K Ultra HD for 143 hours.

Is home Wi-Fi unlimited?

You won’t use your phone data while you’re on home Wi-Fi, but you’ll still use your internet service data. Data plans for internet vary greatly, so check our table above or ask your internet provider to see how much data your internet service plan allows.

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