Are You Facing Internet Data Caps? How to Combat Them and Avoid Bigger Bills

Comcast has imposed a data cap for all of its subscribers nationwide after testing the idea in a few dozen cities. What it means is that customers who exceed a data limit of 1 terabyte in a month are charged overage fees of up to $200. And, no, the company won’t lower your bill if you come in under the limit.

Comcast was the first to do this, but they have opened the way for other companies to do the same — including Cox Communications, the third-largest U.S. cable company. Cox has instituted data caps and overage charges in many of the 18 states where it provides service, recently adding four more states, ArsTechnica reports.

Comcast and executives of other cable companies argue that the overage charges are fair because they charge more for heavy users — and that only a small percentage reaches the data limit. But critics of the move argue that the overage fees amount to opportunistic pricing by cable companies that, in many markets, hold a monopoly on service. By imposing overage charges on streaming video, cable companies may discourage customers from viewing content on services like Netflix and Hulu, and instead opt for cable content. Thus data caps become part of the larger argument and legal battle over “net neutrality.”

Money has a great explanation of the argument over data caps — or “thresholds,” the term preferred by Comcast.

But here’s the bottom line: All users in a household with Wi-Fi are consuming data, so if you’re watching YouTube videos while your spouse is watching “Game of Thrones” in another room, it adds up. Your data usage includes sending emails, reading the news, playing games online, using your home Wi-Fi to get around your cellphone’s data limits — all these activities count. (And let’s face it, we’re all using more data by the day. By 2020, some 15 percent of internet users are expected to require 1,000 GB (1 Terabyte) of data monthly, according to an expert quoted by Money.)

So — until and unless the FCC puts an end to the use of data caps — here’s what you can do if you are facing one.

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 forced 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 it

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. At least one major provider, CenturyLink, recently dropped data caps — and announced it would refund customers who had paid overage charges in its experiment with the practice, according to ArsTechnica:

Data caps have generally headed in the wrong direction for consumers in the U.S. home internet market, and customers seldom have much choice in the matter because of a lack of competition. But the good news is that CenturyLink has apparently decided that the extra revenue to be made from overage fees isn’t worth the increase in angry customers.

Alternatively, consider using a satellite dish, DSL or FiOS. While these internet 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

You can voice your opinion by filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. Admittedly, this is an uphill battle with President Donald Trump in the White House, overseeing an FCC that is trying to undo the framework called “open internet rules” that were put in place under the last administration. But convincing the powers that be to declare the internet a utility and to regulate it — like electricity or natural gas — is one of the few ways to see real relief. Otherwise, given their dominant position in many markets, Comcast and other cable companies can engage in money grabs like this with impunity.

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

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
The 14 Most Deadly Car Models
The 14 Most Deadly Car Models

These vehicles are involved in fatal accidents at least twice as often as the average car.

2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?
2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?

If retirement is on the horizon, you can’t afford to take too much risk, but you also need to make as much as possible. Here are your options.

6 Ways to Guarantee Yourself a Steady Retirement Income
6 Ways to Guarantee Yourself a Steady Retirement Income

Saving is just one part of the retirement equation. Do this now to guarantee income in your golden years.

5 Renovations That Can Impact Your Home Insurance
5 Renovations That Can Impact Your Home Insurance

Home improvements can affect your home insurance policy for the better, the worse or both.

9 Affordable Products That Could Save Your Life
9 Affordable Products That Could Save Your Life

Some of these products you may already own. Others you’ll want to order from Amazon ASAP.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.