Every time you go on the internet, you are using and moving megabytes of data. Whether uploads or downloads, you constantly send data to and from your devices. From streaming video to sharing photos to posting on social media to searching for a new book to read, every activity adds up to a lot of data usage.

If your monthly internet service plan is unlimited in the amount of data you can use, you have no worries.

But if your internet service plan includes data caps, that means you have a monthly limit on the amount of data that you can send and receive. When you exceed your plan’s data cap, your provider charges you an additional fee—often at a higher rate—to use more data until the next month begins. You might be familiar on the mobile phone side, with plans that let you choose unlimited talk, text and data as well as plans that set limits and then bill extra charges when you go over any limits.

The principle might sound simple, yet a plan with data caps can get confusing for users, so here are some things to consider.

How to know if you have an internet plan with data caps

You might not even have known you were signing up for a plan with limits. In fact, when you check your bill or your contract agreement, you may not even see “data caps” or “limits” listed on your bill. In some cases, data caps can be called a “data plan” or referred to as an “allowance.” A careful read of your bill, service agreement or the terms of service can help you determine if you have a plan that includes usage caps. 

What is the impact of data caps?

Data caps usually result in either overage charges or slower internet connection speeds once you use up your monthly allowance. Overage charges will show up on your bill. If you see overage charges on your bill and question any of them, get in touch with your provider for an explanation. Ask whether your service includes data caps.

Some providers may slow or throttle your service. What it means and how to know

Some providers will slow internet connection speeds for customers who exceed their monthly allowance; this practice is also known as throttling. You’ll likely notice a change in performance during throttling, which can lead to a frustrating internet experience.

The best way to understand the impact of throttling is to run an internet speed test at the beginning and the end of your monthly service term. If you experience a marked change in the speed of your service over time, contact your provider to find out if they are throttling your service.

Internet activity that is using the most data

If you have data caps on your plan, you may benefit from actively managing your internet activity to stay within your plan’s limits. Some providers warn you when you are nearing your data cap, but if you take responsibility to manage your usage, you can help eliminate overage charges. 

Keep an eye on the heavy hitters

These are the activities that use the most data on an internet connection. Take a look at the list below, and add up the usage for every person and every device connected to your service. This takes a little work, and you might learn some interesting things in the process. Frequent use of the services listed will use your monthly data allowance quickly.

You will need to prioritize your data use. Of course, you should never skip the important software updates, which often include critical security protection. But you may find it easier to adjust your entertainment demands.

  • Updates to software, devices, media servers and gaming consoles
  • Streaming TV services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and IP set top boxes
  • Streaming movies/Video on Demand, including high resolution (720; HD or higher) video streaming on your big TV screen
  • Large File Transfers and cloud storage access/backup for your files and photos with Dropbox  or Carbonite
  • Video gaming

How to keep track of your data usage

If you have data caps, you may want to monitor your household data usage. There are some helpful tools, starting with your internet service provider. Here is a sample of resources that are available.

  • Your provider’s online tracker: Call customer support to find out where to find this page on their site. You can see how they are tracking and monitoring your internet usage.
  • NetWorx: Download this software to collect your bandwidth usage data for both Windows and iOS.
  • Glasswire: Download the free app to monitor bandwidth usage and more. Upgrade to the paid version for more features.
  • Bandwidth+: This app tracks the Mac computer it is running on.
  • BitMeter II: An app that measures bandwidth on Windows computers and devices with built-in alert messages.

I want to live without data caps. Tell me how.

Finding and selecting a new provider is easy. Simply go online, search for internet service providers in your zip code, even as localized as your address, and check their offers.

Make sure that their internet service is free of data caps. And then call to get all the information you need. Because now that you know the facts, you can sign up for the plan that’s right for you and how you use the internet.

You don’t have to live with limits. Let the internet take you to the content, the knowledge, the entertainment, the science, the travel, the learning that you want. Just as you want to experience them. Without limits.