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It’s common knowledge that mobile providers like AT&T and T-Mobile throttle user connections Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling If you are on an unlimited plan that's throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers advice on how to ease the pain. Read More after they use a certain amount of data in a month — but did you know that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might be doing the same thing?

Why do companies employ this infuriating practice? And what can you do about it?

The Reason Behind Data Caps

Before answering this question, let’s define what data caps actually are. Both ISPs and mobile providers put a limit on how much data you can use in a month. Comcast is testing 300 GB monthly caps, for example, while cell phone plans have a wide variety of data caps The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone Though mobile phones have improved over the years, cellular plans have either stayed the same or gotten worse. Luckily, we've found the best deals for US smartphone users. Read More ranging from 10 MB up to over 10 GB.

What happens once you use that amount of data? It depends on the provider. Sometimes your connection is slowed down, also known as throttled. Or you’re charged for the data that you use above the cap. In some cases, you simply lose Internet access altogether.

data-cap

This practice is infuriating to customers, so why do providers do it? According to StopTheCap.com:

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…former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski defended the practice, claiming it would bring lower prices to light users, spur “innovation”, and enable consumer choice.

Mobile providers have repeatedly stated that data caps help ease congestion, and Verizon even told the U.S. federal government that data caps exist to relieve the need to throttle their customers. Cable ISPs also use data caps to manage “congestion” — but there are several reasons why no one believes these explanations.

First of all, the amount of data available on cell phone plans has skyrocketed faster than the speed at which additional infrastructure has been built. You might have expected to get 1 GB on your plan a few years ago, but now it’s easy to get a 30 GB single plan or a 100 GB shared plan.

And yet, the providers aren’t saying that congestion has increased significantly.

cell-tower-twilight

Second, and more importantly, is that cable companies and their lobbyists are starting to admit that their data caps are more about making money than relieving congestion. The lead lobbyist of the cable industry put it simply as, “Our principal purpose is how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost.”

At the end of the day, it’s about making money Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Imagine a world where the content you are allowed to view on the Internet is tightly controlled by your Internet service provider. On MUO Debates, we explore and question this reality. Read More .

Many people are getting fed up with data caps, especially when companies put caps in place and then charge more money to get the same service that customers previously had. Comcast, for example, charges people in Atlanta an extra $35 per month to remove their recently-added data cap. Customers in Florida, however, only pay $30 for the same cap removal.

And this seems likely to continue until projects like Google Fiber expand and start posing a serious threat to the industry Here's How the New Internet Might Finally Kill Comcast Here's How the New Internet Might Finally Kill Comcast Many Americans want to see Comcast crash, burn, and receive a comeuppance for their bad service and worse support. But is such a fate even possible for a monopoly as big as Comcast? Read More .

What You Can Do About It

Before looking at how to bypass your data caps, you should take a moment to register your support with groups who are lobbying against the price gouging practice that’s taking place in the name of (non-existent) congestion relief.

StopTheCap.com has a great page on how to take action against ISP data caps, and many of the suggestions apply against mobile providers as well. Sign this petition against data capping to make your voice heard.

stopthecap

Many people believe that usage-based pricing and data caps violate the central tenets of a free and fair Internet What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More , and it’s time for customers to speak up against these unfair practices that we have to endure from our service providers.

Sign petitions, share information, and get in touch with legislators! That’s the only way we can win this war.

How to Bypass Data Caps

Now that you’ve taken a moment to address the root of the problem (you did sign the petition, didn’t you?), let’s explore how you can get past data caps on your own Internet and mobile plans.

Technically, you can’t bypass your data cap. Once you’ve been throttled, you’re stuck until the end of the month — unless you resort to questionable practices, like deleting the throttle-service file mentioned in our article on avoiding mobile data throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling If you are on an unlimited plan that's throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers advice on how to ease the pain. Read More .

How to Avoid Mobile Data Caps

But if you find that you’re hitting your data limit on a regular basis, you can use data compression to your advantage. We’ll start with mobile options, as there are more of them:

  1. Enable Chrome’s data compression. Chrome offers data compression on both Android and iOS, which will lower your monthly consumption of bandwidth. Go to Settings > Bandwidth Management > Reduce data usage to activate compression. Opera’s Turbo function does the same thing. (Plus Opera is just awesome 5 Ideological Reasons Why You Should Try Opera 5 Ideological Reasons Why You Should Try Opera Not a lot of people have tried Opera or even heard much about Opera as the browser has always watched from far away as Internet Explorer, then Firefox, and now Google Chrome are taking the... Read More .)
  2. Use a VPN with compression. Some mobile VPNs, like Hotspot Shield, offer data compression to further limit the amount of data you consume.
  3. Install data-saving apps. Because of the irritating prevalence of data caps, developers have started creating apps that help you consume less data in various ways. Onavo Extend and Opera Max are two great examples.

And also look into these clever tricks for reducing mobile data usage Saving Mobile Data: 5 Clever Ways To Reduce Data Usage Saving Mobile Data: 5 Clever Ways To Reduce Data Usage If you’re on a limited mobile data plan, you may find opening your bill to be harrowing experience. Is there an overage charge? How much? And why was there so much data used? While the... Read More .

How to Avoid ISP Data Caps

Unfortunately, there are fewer tried and tested strategies for avoiding throttling from your ISP. The deployment of data caps by ISPs is more recent and not as widespread (at least in the U.S.) so counter-tactics are still being developed. Here’s what we know so far, but as we come across more, we’ll keep you updated!

  1. Use the Data Saver extension for ChromeGoogle’s compression extension is still in beta, but reports say that it can save you a lot of data by compressing pages on Google’s servers before sending them to your browser. No reports yet on just how much more of your data Google gets when you use this extension.
  2. Tweak your browser settings Ultimate Browser Settings: Must-Change Items In Chrome, Firefox, & Internet Explorer Ultimate Browser Settings: Must-Change Items In Chrome, Firefox, & Internet Explorer Let's take a look at those must-change browser items. Maybe you do the same, or perhaps you think that the settings should be different? Read More for maximum data savings. The best thing you can do here is to make all plug-ins click-to-play (we have tutorials on this for Chrome How to Stop Auto-Playing Flash and HTML5 Videos in Chrome How to Stop Auto-Playing Flash and HTML5 Videos in Chrome Auto-playing videos can be obnoxious. Here are a couple of Chrome browser tips and extensions to prevent videos from auto-playing. Read More and Firefox How To Stop Auto-playing Flash And HTML5 Videos In Firefox How To Stop Auto-playing Flash And HTML5 Videos In Firefox Does auto-play video drive you mad? We'll talk you through the best ways to stop auto-playing videos in your Firefox browser. Read More ). This is a good idea for all sorts of reasons, but it will definitely save you data. You can even disable images if you really need to cut down on your bandwidth.
  3. Use Opera’s Turbo function 3 Unmissable Reasons Opera Is the Right Browser for Your Mac 3 Unmissable Reasons Opera Is the Right Browser for Your Mac Chrome and Firefox rule on Windows, but on OS X, Opera is the browser to beat. Eternal favorites Chrome and Firefox can give you flexibility, but not without some heavy compromises. Read More . The desktop version of Opera offers data compression with Turbo.

As of right now, that’s the best way to go. You might be able to find a desktop VPN that offers data compression, but they seem to be rare, possibly because of the massive amount of data they’d be asked to compress. Using the Data Saver extension and enabling click-to-play plug-ins should make a noticeable difference, though.

It’s Time For Change

Data caps are a blatant money grab, and they don’t do customers any good. It’s time that we take a stand and voice our displeasure to ISPs and mobile providers.

But until enough people form a unified front, we’ll have to resort to finding ways around them. If you have any other useful methods to reduce data consumption, or tricks for not hitting data caps, please share them in the comments so we can all benefit!

How often do you run into data cap issues? Have you tried reducing your data consumption? How did you go about it? Share your experiences with us below.

Image Credits: SharkPaeCNX via Shutterstock.com

  1. John Amos
    November 16, 2016 at 8:28 am

    I have a 200 GB data cap which isn't really enough when all i use it for is online gaming and the funny thing they are calling it "UNLIMITED INTERNET WITH ABSOLUTELY NO DATA CAPS" i call that false advertising.

    • Dann Albright
      November 28, 2016 at 2:45 am

      Yeah, it seems like a lot of companies get away with that somehow. It's possible that "data cap" is defined differently by different groups. That's my best guess, anyway.

  2. Robin
    September 25, 2016 at 4:11 am

    In my country, Curacao; i pay about u.s.$ 60 a month for 50mbps up and 20mbps down, and sometimes i use more than 300 gb in a month.
    No caps, and no throthling.
    Only downside is that on peak hours your speed may slow down to about 35 to 30mbps.

    • Dann Albright
      October 21, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      The US is way behind a lot of the rest of the world when it comes to internet services, and data caps are one of the places where that's obvious. Glad to hear you don't have any problems with them! Seems like you have a pretty good deal there.

  3. Shiben Chakravorty
    August 18, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I have 45gb data cap that that just isn't enough for me -_-

    • Dann Albright
      August 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Do you do a lot of streaming or torrenting? Is that what's using a lot of data?

      • Shiben Chakravorty
        August 21, 2016 at 4:25 pm

        Youtube streaming, not torrenting. I download a lot of games off steam. I recently purchased BF4(from origin in a steal deal!) but I can't download it cause my cap is over (1 mbps is not good for d-ling) and I have to wait for this month to end.

        • Dann Albright
          August 31, 2016 at 6:17 pm

          Yeah, YouTube streaming will do that. Sorry that you can't download the game; that's rough!

  4. candtce
    August 15, 2016 at 3:32 am

    I had unlimited internet in Alabama a state that is poor why are richer states monopolizing this industry and limiting our data usage?

    • Dann Albright
      August 16, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      You say you "had" unlimited internet . . . when was that? It could have more to do with the time than the state.

  5. cosmo
    July 28, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    I have a cap of 7.5GB a month. It seriously sucks. African internet is shit.

    • Dann Albright
      August 16, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Yeah, that's pretty low . . . Africa isn't exactly known for its technical infrastructure, though, so I guess it's not hugely surprising!

  6. sdag
    July 2, 2016 at 8:43 am

    "ranging from 10 MB up to over 10 GB."

    This doesn't mean shit? Up to over? This just means 10MB or more. Why even bother writing 10GB?

    • Dann Albright
      August 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      'Cause writing "ranging from 10MB up to a lot more than that" doesn't sound very good.

  7. lordmogul
    June 30, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I'm between 550 and 800 GB on my downstream and 40-60 GB on my upstream per month and can just be happy that they only have a speed cap and not a volume limit.

    • Dann Albright
      August 16, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      Yeah, that's fortunate! That's a lot of downloading.

      • Wetware
        November 24, 2016 at 7:05 pm

        That's not that bad anymore! I have a well connected house with 3 pc's, 3 roku's, tablets, phones etc... 3 kids and 2 adults. Comcast says i hit on avg. 1500GB a month. Before youa sk, no. No torrenting is going on either.

        • Dann Albright
          November 28, 2016 at 2:26 am

          Wow; 1500GB is a lot of data. I have no idea what I use, but now I need to find out. :-)

  8. kajksdj
    June 18, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    its kill zone

  9. Natasha
    June 6, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Living on blm land, where area can only use satellite.
    For me and my boyfriend, both work online, it's been a very stressful situation as we basically can't go anywhere, since we live in the middle of no where, while the cap limits our accessibility to the put side world.
    An other helpless feeling while the world struggle to contend it's shallow greed.

    • Dann Albright
      June 13, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Yeah, that sounds rough. Satellite has never been a great way to go, but if it's your only option, I guess you just have to deal with it! How high is your cap out there?

  10. Steve Larkin
    February 6, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Hit my DC last month. Haphazardly leaving Youtube series of videos playing and falling asleep while watching it was my downfall. Really never had a problem with watching Netflix movies here and there, but if you go on a "Binge" and watch a series of shows on Netflix, you can easily hit your Data Cap without knowing it.

    What's even worse - is that being in an area served by AT&T, there is no available U-Verse services available, and I am forced to pay for higher tier DSL service which for the most part, has been good enough downstream speed at about 5.5mbps. However AT&T UNFAIRLY caps DSL users at 150gb whereas U-Verse subscribers get a 250gb cap.

    Unlike a Utility company, ISP's do not show actual usage on their bills. In my case, it was an extra ding of 20 bucks! For every 50gb over your cap, its 10 extra bucks for that month. Bills include NO usage amounts, statistics or the like compared to say a Gas or Electric Bill, and show no historical data usages either!

    Since the FCC has now recently re-classified ISP's as Telecom's perhaps more can be done to at least regulate and give local Commerce Commissions which regulate utilities will have more say so and teeth on Data Caps. AT&T's argument is that it costs more because neighbors and others connected to a "Circuit" can slow down connection speeds.

    And just how do I know I'm not PAYING for my neighbor's usage then! I know, that's not really relevant for this discussion, but if ISP's are going to be a "Metered" service, isn't it just fair that you only pay for what you use then? PER GIGABYTE instead of Over X Megabytes?

    • Dann Albright
      February 9, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      Ah yeah, I can see how leaving YouTube videos running might put you over your data cap! Still, that's ridiculous. I'm sure you're paying way too much for your service already (like everyone else is), so an extra $20 is just a kick in the ass.

      I hope you're right about ISPs' reclassification helping ease some of these issues. My cell phone provider doesn't give me stats about usage after the month is over (so you have to check it on the last of the month if you want to know how much you used), and that can be really frustrating. These seem like pretty basic services that companies should be offering.

      As for paying for service based on the number of gigabytes that you use . . . I have no idea if that would work well or not! I've never really thought about it. As long as the prices were reasonable, I guess it makes sense. I can't think of any significant problems with it off the top of my head, but I'll have to give it some more thought.

      Thanks for giving me lots of things to think about! :-)

    • Peluca
      March 12, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Yet you don't complaint when you go to a bar and spend $50 in beer, do you?

      • money
        May 29, 2016 at 8:09 pm

        moron - learn logic

      • money
        May 29, 2016 at 8:11 pm

        drink $50 in turpentine please

      • Dercas
        June 26, 2016 at 4:09 am

        Bars are stupid places. The only bar I have ever been to is the VFW, and even then the drink prices are stupid. Get a couple cases and invite some friends ( if they're friends, they'll chip in).

        The best part about that is that no one needs to drive anywhere. If no one is driving under the influence, then no one can be killed by a drunk driver. Nuff said.

  11. Ahzi
    December 30, 2015 at 12:43 am

    Almost lost my work at home job because of caps. Subscribed to PlayStation vue as an alternate to cable and got hit with a throttle for a cap I didn't even know about and was unable to work for days until my ISP listed the throttle. Now I have to get cable and they're the only provider here.

    Hm. Seems like they're doing it like this on purpose.

    • Dann Albright
      January 2, 2016 at 2:02 am

      Ouch; that's a bad situation. Data caps are infuriating, and I would say that they're definitely doing these things on purpose. When I lived in the UK, there was a lot more competition between ISPs, and as far as I can tell, these issues aren't as bad. I wish we'd move to a model like that in the US sometime, but sharing or nationalizing cable infrastructure seems awfully unlikely. Hopefully customer pushback will prove effective in the future!

  12. John Smith
    November 2, 2015 at 8:58 am

    I never run into data issues (ISP) as I have unlimited data :-)

    • John Smith
      November 2, 2015 at 8:59 am

      Although I have a 300mb limit on mobile data :-(

      • John Smith
        November 2, 2015 at 8:59 am

        Just in case anybody asks, I use TalkTalk on both.

      • Dann Albright
        November 6, 2015 at 5:17 pm

        300MB on mobile? That's not very much—I'd go through that really fast. Are you almost always on wifi?

  13. Leah C
    October 31, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I ran into data issues last month. Since I'm on a family plan (and now we've added my aunt) my dad was nuts about it. We had one week left in the month and he was obsessed with how much data we used to make sure we didn't go over the limit (he kept checking and asking mei f this or that used data). It was a combination of doing more traveling than usual and watching videos with the wi-fi unknowingly shut-off. I just have to be mindful the wi-fi is on when it's supposed to be on. With the traveling my parents used the GPS a lot and that really cuts into data. You have to be careful about what apps you use when you are on data.

    • Dann Albright
      November 6, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Yeah, I've definitely forgotten to turn my wifi back on before, and that can result in a lot of data that you don't think about. Especially with videos! It's really a pain to have to watch your data carefully—there are a lot of apps that will use it that you don't think about. Hopefully this article helps you avoid that issue in the future!

      Thanks for reading!

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