Internet data caps explained

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Last updated: 09/09/2020
Internet data caps explained

What is a data cap?

A data cap is a limit your internet provider imposes on the amount of data you can send and receive each month. Every time you load a webpages, stream video content or download a file, you’re using data—either a small amount or a large chunk, depending on the activity. 

Not every internet plan has a data cap, but those that do will either charge you if you exceed it or slow your speed above the limit—referred to as deprioritization or throttling.

Internet providers with data caps


Data cap

Overage costs

Track your data use


1 TB

$10 per additional 50 GB, but only after the third billing period you exceed your allowance

Log into your online AT&T account. After the first period you exceed your limit, AT&T will send you email alerts when you use 65%, 90% and, 100% of your monthly allowance.


1 TB

none, but you will be asked to reduce your usage or switch to a business plan



1 TB

$10 per additional 50 GB

Log into your online account or use your Cox Connect App. Cox will send you email alerts and text messages at 85%, 100%, and 125% or your monthly allowance.


400 GB - 6 TB

$10 per additional 50 GB

Log into your online Mediacom account


1 TB

$10 per additional 50 GB, up to a total of $200 a month.

Log into your online account or use your Xfinity mobile app. You’ll also see in-browser notices and emails as you near the limit.

Note that most of these limits are 1 TB, which few households will exceed. For context, a 1 TB limit can accommodate more than 300 hours of HD video streaming every month.

Internet providers without data caps

If you want a completely unrestricted internet experience, you’ll want a plan without a data cap. When you compare internet deals, consider the following providers:

  • AT&T (fiber)
  • Earthlink
  • Frontier
  • Optimum
  • Spectrum
  • Verizon
  • Windstream
  • WOW!

Note that even unlimited internet plans arent completely unrestricted. Some ISPs have been known to caution customers who are using excessive amounts of data, so they don't impact the service other customers in their local area receive. But youd have to be gobbling up hundreds of terabits to attract their attention.

Data caps with satellite internet

Unlike ground-level wired internet, satellite internet is usually constrained by restrictive data caps. These caps mean you’ll have to ration your streaming and downloads so your allowance lasts the full month. If you exceed these limits, the provider will usually cut you off and you’ll have to buy additional chunks of data to get back online.

Satellite internet provider

Data cap

Overage costs


10 GB - 50 GB

Buy additional data: $3 per GB


10 GB - 150 GB*

Buy additional data: $10 per additional GB, with discounts if you buy larger chunks

*Note that sometimes Viasat claims to offer unlimited data. This is somewhat misleading. While Viasat won’t cut you off if you exceed your allowance, they will slow your connection down to between 1-3Mbps, too slow for comfortable internet browsing. You’ll need to buy additional data to return your speed to its full capacity.

What can I do with my data allowance?

If you have an internet plan with a data cap, it’s helpful to know how much data your favorite internet activities use, so you understand how much Netflix streaming and game downloading you can do every month.

  • 1 hour of web surfing: 10 - 25 MB
  • 1 hour of music streaming, such as on Spotify or Apple Music: 100 MB
  • 1 hour of online gaming: 40 MB - 300 MB
  • 1 hour of watching YouTube videos: 350 MB
  • 1 hour of watching Netflix in standard definition (SD): 1 GB
  • 1 hour of watching Netflix in high definition (HD): 3 GB


What about downloads? Here’s how common file types weigh in:

  • MP3: 3.5 MB
  • Album: 80 MB
  • Photo: 5 MB
  • SD film: 1 GB
  • HD film: 4 GB
  • Video game: 40 GB, although some video games can come in at more than 100 GB. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a whopping 200 GB, the biggest game file yet.


With a 1 TB allowance—standard from popular providers AT&T (DSL), CenturyLink, Cox, and Xfinity—you can:

  • Watch 3,000 hours of YouTube (although be aware a month is just 720 hours)
  • Play 3,000 - 25,000 hours of online games
  • Watch 1,000 hours of Netflix in SD
  • Watch 300 hours of Netflix in HD - 10 hours a day
  • Download
  • Download 300,000 MP3s
  • Download 200,000 photos
  • Download 1000 SD films
  • Download 250 HD films
  • Download 25 average-sized games or download Call of Duty: Modern Warfare five times
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