Data caps are in the news once again with Comcast’s announcement that all Xfinity Internet users will soon have a 1TB data cap with overage charges applied to data use beyond the cap. As an alternative to the overage charges, Comcast is also offering an unlimited data plan at an additional cost. The announcement came about the same time the FCC approved the merger of Charter and Time Warner Cable but added a requirement that they cannot impose a data cap for seven years.
Let’s talk about what data caps do what this means for cord cutters.
So what are data caps?
Data Caps are metered capped plans for your Internet service. You’re probably already very familiar with them as most cell phone plans only allow you to use so many GB before charging you overage fees. Data Caps on your home Internet service are very similar to cellphone data caps, but with a higher limit of data use.
Some DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) companies cap their plans at just 150GB a month, while others set a higher cap of 300GB a month. This cap can be used up quickly by streaming video as some HD streams use 2GB to 3GB per hour.
Don’t have a data cap yet? Consider yourself lucky. In 2013 Gigaom reported that 64% of all Americans were under some kind of data cap on their home Internet; a number that is likely higher in 2016.
Why do data caps threaten cord cutting?
The danger of data caps is that they limit what you can to do online once you have used up your monthly quota. This is especially true if you have a lower cap, but even with the higher ones, like Comcast’s new 1TB data cap, users will still feel the effect.
This issue is perhaps best summed up in a tweet from Jared Newman, a writer for Tech Hive and PCWorld:
No idea how this isn't blindingly obvious to everyone. pic.twitter.com/p8j86aUKur
— Jared Newman (@OneJaredNewman) April 28, 2016
If you have a 300GB data cap and do nothing but stream HD Netflix, you would be limited to only three and a half hours a day of use before exceeding your monthly data cap. Keep in mind, that’s just one stream at a time. If you have kids in the house and have two or three streams going at once, you could be limited to just one hour.
Data caps and 4K
As cord cutting grows and 4K and VR technology become more widespread, it is increasingly likely that home users will exceed even Comcast’s new 1TB data cap.
While an HD stream from Netflix uses 3GB of data every hour, an hour of 4K streaming from Netflix can use as much as 7GB (via Netflix).
Many have suggested these data caps are meant to help Comcast’s networks avoid becoming overwhelmed by heavy usage. However, an internal training manual obtained by Yahoo Comcast specifically states “this is not about congestion management.”
The Yahoo post makes it clear that Comcast sees data caps as a way to make more money from their Internet customers. There’s even some speculation the data cap is a tool to discourage people from becoming cord cutters.
While data caps may not prevent people from being cord cutters, they can possibly be a mental barrier to cord cutting as data caps bring fear of high overage costs.
What you can do as a cord cutter who faces data caps
If you are facing a data cap and are concerned about how it will impact you as a cord cutter, you do have a few options.
First, you can work to successfully stay under even low data caps. Lowering the quality of your stream from HD to Standard, as well as using DVDs and other tricks can make a difference. When I first cancelled cable, I successfully stayed under a 250gb data cap even though it took a lot of time and effort.
Second, you can find a plan or a service that does not impose a data cap. While this may be difficult in some areas, new Internet service providers are popping up that do not enforce data caps. Among companies like Ting, Google Fiber and DSL resellers like DSL Extrema, there are increasingly more options for cord cutters in markets beyond their current phone and cable companies.
Third, if you really want to be data-cap-free you can always ask your Internet service provider if they offer a plan without a data cap. Often times, plans that do not impose a data cap are available, but they cost more.
Cord Cutting can, and will, survive even nationwide data caps on every user. Cord cutting is such a richer and superior experience compared to traditional cable TV that even overly aggressive data caps cannot stop people’s desire for a better way to watch TV.
What are your thoughts on the subject of data caps? Have you had to alter your Internet usage to work around the limitation? Tell us about it in the comment section below.