How to Fight Internet Data Caps — and Avoid Bigger Bills

What's Hot

2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

What you can do to avoid paying more for your Internet use, and why you should care even if you don't use the offending carrier (Comcast).

Comcast has been rolling out data caps in cities across the country. Unsurprisingly, the affected consumers have been less than enthusiastic about the change. What do these caps mean? Is there any way to avoid them? And should you care if you don’t have Comcast?

To answer the last question first: Yes, you should care. Remember when airlines started rolling out extra baggage fees? First one did it, then it wasn’t too long before the others jumped on board. Comcast may be the first to do this, but if they can pull it off, they won’t be the last.

Here’s how it works: The cable giant allows people to consume 300 gigabytes of data a month; after that, they charge extra. And, no, they don’t lower your bill if you come in under the number.

That much data is roughly equivalent to watching about five hours of television every day for a month. Comcast says only about 5 percent of their customers exceed this number. You might think, “Well, that’s fine. I don’t watch that much TV.” But remember: All TVs using the connection are consuming data, so if you’re watching the game while your spouse is watching “Downton Abbey” in another room, it adds up. Second, remember that this metering extends to all data, not just your TV. Sending emails, reading the news, watching videos on YouTube, playing games online, using your home Wi-Fi to get around your cellphone’s data limits — they all contribute to your usage.

There are some competitors who believe that 300 GB number was not chosen arbitrarily. They point out that the average American watches about five hours of TV a day, so the number was designed to make it unattractive for people to cut out their cable service and replace it with Netflix, Hulu and the like. They’re considering taking legal action under net neutrality rules and a number of advocacy groups are protesting data caps — so the longer-term picture is unclear.

In the meantime, here’s what you can do:

1. Watch Comcast’s own stuff

Comcast’s own streaming services, such as OnDemand and StreamTV, as well as regular TV, don’t count toward the monthly data metering. So, if the show you want to watch is on both Netflix and OnDemand, watching it on OnDemand will help you stay under your limit. (However: This is actually the root of the net neutrality complaint against Comcast. Other companies argue this amounts to favoritism that may be forbidden under federal regulations.)

2. Secure your router

If you haven’t got a good password on your router already, it’s even more important that you install one now. If someone else is using your Wi-Fi, they’re eating up data and you’re paying for it.

3. Use your phone if you can

If you happen to be one of those folks who still has unlimited data for their phone, you can use it to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for streaming on your other devices. If you don’t know how to do this, here are instructions for set up on iPhone and Android. Of course, if you have a data limit on your phone, this won’t be a money-saving workaround.

4. Double-check them

Comcast has been known to make mistakes in tracking how much data you use. While they offer most customers a way to check their usage, you’re generally left taking them at their word. One way to double-check is to install a third-party firmware in your router. This can help you keep tabs on your data use and give you ammunition if they say you’ve gone over the cap when you haven’t. It has the added bonus of often being more difficult for hackers to break into.

5. Vote with your feet

Cable companies have a functional monopoly in most places. If you are one of the lucky handful of people who have another cable option, exercise it. Alternatively, consider a satellite dish, DSL or FiOS. While these solutions have problems of their own, switching means that Comcast loses market share, which may be the only thing that would make the company reconsider its data cap policy.

6. Lobby the government

This suggestion is obviously not a quick fix for your Internet bill, but it is really the one that could make a difference. Convincing the powers that be to declare the Internet to be a utility and to regulate it —  like electricity or natural gas — is one of the few ways to see real relief. (Municipal broadband might sound nice, but the costs make it unlikely to get off the ground in most cities.) Otherwise, given their dominant position in many markets, Comcast and other cable companies can engage in money grabs like this with impunity.

You can voice your opinion by filing a complaint with the FCC. (According to this advocacy group, the FCC has vowed to take action if Comcast or other company attempts to take its data cap plan nationwide.) There are also groups, including that are collecting signatures to petition Comcast on the issue. This one, at, petitions the White House and Congress to stop Comcast data caps.

Have you run into the caps? Have strategies to avoid them? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


Read Next: What to Buy in February: Valentines (of Course) Plus Real Deals on Essentials

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,055 more deals!