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Internet data caps: Everything you need to know

Find out everything you need to know about data caps from downloading a movie or watching a show on Netflix. Our guide gives you all the tips and tricks you need to know.
Written by Reviews.com Staff, Contributor

What are internet data caps?

A data cap is a limit that internet providers place on the amount of data that each client can use in a given month. A data cap accounts for the data you send and receive.

Essentially, this means that your provider is monitoring your internet usage, determining how much data you are using each month. Different activities require varying amounts of data. For example, downloading a movie or watching a show on Netflix uses significantly more data than sending an email.

In years past, your cell phone provider likely charged you based on the number of texts that you sent and received or the amount of time you spend talking on your phone each month. Nowadays, most phone plans have either unlimited data or allocated amounts large enough that you rarely consider whether or not you'll surpass your monthly limit. Internet data works the same way, but many activities that are done online use more data than sending a text. As such, it's important to understand how much data your internet plan allows you to use.

The plan you choose determines your data cap. Varying amounts of streaming, downloading, and browsing is available to users depending on their pay each month. 

The amount of data you need depends on how much time you spend online and what you do. Simple tasks such as Google searches and sending emails take up a relatively small amount of data, while streaming movies and tv shows require much more data.

See also: Best internet service provider 2021: Top expert picks

What do you need to know about data caps?

Data caps apply to mobile phone service plans in addition to home internet plans. Mobile internet use is likely where you will go over your allocated data limit more easily. Especially now with smartphones, scrolling through social media, checking your emails, using a navigation app for directions, and even checking the weather all drain your data.

If you aren't careful about how much data you consume, you can very easily surpass your given limit, resulting in a higher monthly bill. 

What happens if you go over your data cap?

Going over your data cap, intentionally or unintentionally, generally results in increased charges on your internet bill. Once you surpass your allocated amount for the month, your internet provider will charge you based on the amount that you go over. Most providers charge between $10 and $15 for each additional 50GB used. These rates are generally significantly higher than the rates built into monthly packages. 

As such, it's important to understand your household's data needs and internet habits before you choose an internet data package. 

See also: Best cheap internet provider 2021: Affordable ISPs

How big are most internet data caps?

All Internet providers structure their plans a little differently. Internet caps often range from 10GB to 150GB. Almost all providers offer unlimited plans, but for the most part, they aren't necessary.

Data caps put a limit on the amount of internet access users can have. For the most part, many normal activities such as shopping online and checking your email won't cause you to exceed your limit, but it is important to understand your month-to-month data consumption. If you stream Netflix frequently, you may want to consider a larger cap. 

What size data cap do you need?

When determining how much data you need, it's best to start by considering how much time you spend online on a given day. If you turn on your laptop to check your email once a day, you can get away with a small data cap, which will save you a lot of money. But if you live with your spouse and three children and you all have iPads, laptops, gaming systems, and other internet compatible devices, you'll need a much bigger plan. 

If your family spends a lot of time on Netflix, checking social media, and playing video games, you may want an unlimited plan or a plan with a high data cap. If you have kids, your household is likely to use a lot more data during summer vacation. But in the winter, you may be able to get away with a much smaller plan. Be sure to research the options provided by your current internet service provider and its competitors to get an idea of your options and how much you can expect to spend.

While the concept of data caps may seem complicated, in reality, you just need to be mindful of how much time you spend online and choose a plan that aligns with your usage.

See also: How much internet speed do you really need?

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