Remember when COVID-19 really started making waves, we were all sent home to quarantine, and all these internet service providers suddenly came out of the woodwork to graciously offer everyone unlimited data? I was as floored as you; who would have ever thought that they had so much room in their magical internet pipes to give everyone the “unlimited” service they want, not the data-capped service they probably get.
I hate being the bearer of bad news, because I, too, have been enjoying Comcast’s limitless service for the past month and a half or so. However, all good things must end, and the generous “unlimited data” you’ve been getting for your home internet as an AT&T or Comcast subscriber expires at the end of the month. That’s … today.
What does that mean? If you listen to AT&T or Comcast’s PR fluff, it means nothing. Because so few of its customers ever come close to the 1TB data cap they get, you’ll be fine to stream all the Netflix you usually do, and play games, and send emails, and download major operating system updates, and install a bunch of apps or games, et cetera.
But, really, your days of downloading whatever you want are at an end.
How do I keep myself under my “new” data caps?
Before I get to some tips, take a moment to see what your ISP promised, if anything. Make sure you take some time to visit their website which, ideally, has some information about their response to COVID-19. If you’re lucky, maybe they extended their “no data caps” policy another month (or forever—a boy can dream).
If you’re back to a data cap, though, don’t ignore it—especially if you’ve got your monthly bill set to autopay. While you, individually, might not be able to hit 1TB of data use in a single month, it’s not impossible. And if you’re living with roommates or a pretty connected family, it’s certainly possible. In fact, I can attest that in my living situation, our house has hit the 1TB cap so much from streaming that it’s forced us to cough up extra to Comcast so we don’t suffer their even-more-expensive overage fees.
I’ve also found that it’s also difficult to control other peoples’ data use, because they simply aren’t interested in not being able to do whatever they want online. Yes, I know there are technological solutions that could mitigate how much data people use on a network. Unfortunately, when you live with others, capping their ability to use the internet—instead of conversing with them regularly when the “data use” graph inches closer and closer to 1TB—is a solution that doesn’t help keep the peace in one’s home.
If your household does a ton of streaming, then maybe dialing back from 4K to 1080p could give you a little extra room for data if you’re hitting (or just barely going over) your cap. Otherwise, it might be time to sit down and have a practical conversation about everyone’s data use. Is everyone grabbing all sorts of new apps and operating system updates? These shouldn’t push you over the edge regularly, but they’re worth sharing. Do you have a gamer in the house who is going wild with the Steam downloads or Fortnite updates? Perhaps someone doing a bit too much BitTorrenting for their own good?
Add in some cloud backups or some streaming game services (or all-digital consoles), and it’s not that hard to envision how a normal family, even a family of two techies, could blow right past a standard 1TB data cap.
But, as always, it’s worth going through the basics: Change your wifi password to make sure your neighbors (or anyone else) aren’t sucking your limited data pool dry. Run malware and antivirus scans on your desktops and laptops to confirm that background apps aren’t destroying your data cap. Disable WPS on your router. Use WPA2 encryption for your wireless network. Convince your loved ones to dial down the backup schedule a bit (as much as it pains us to say that), or consider switching to a NAS box at home instead of a cloud backup service.
What to do if you still blow past that data limit
If you’ve tried everything you can think of and you still exceed that 1TB limit each month, you might have other options. First off, does your ISP offer any other plans that give you actual unlimited data? This might require a phone call instead of a web search—at least, that’s how I found out about a new plan from Comcast that gets me the same level of service with a slight fee tacked on for truly unlimited data (so long as I agree to use their cable modem, not mine).
While you’re on the phone, you might want to inquire about business-level service, too. This could cost you a little extra each month, but it might also get you (actual) unlimited service for less than what you’re paying for your consumer-grade plan plus all the fees you’re being hit with for going over your data cap.
If that doesn’t work, and no amount of begging can reduce your monthly fees or increase your data cap, it might be time to start shopping around for another ISP. If you already have great service, odds are good that you won’t find anyone better—ah, monopolies—but it’s worth a shot.
Hit up DSLreports and use the site’s Review Finder to see what’s available where you live. Smartmove can also help, as can HighSpeedInternet.com or even the FCC’s Fixed Broadband Deployment site. I wouldn’t buy an internet plan if any of these websites offer them; rather, I’d use them to at least note what’s available near me. I’d then visit each ISP’s website and see what they’re offering, including any special sign-up bonuses or promotions. Fingers crossed that you can get decent fiber.
You could mess with smarter routers that can alert you when you’re getting close to your data cap, but knowing you’re about to hit 1TB at day 15 in your monthly cycle doesn’t do you much good—especially if you’re properly quarantining and are stuck at home most of the day, anyway.
Unfortunately, modifying your behavior is a better approach: cutting down on your video quality, reducing the amount of stuff you’re automatically downloading, and perhaps putting off huge downloads for next month if you’re coming close to your limit (which your ISP can easily tell you via some online portal, no doubt).
Instead of clinging to Netflix to distract yourself while you’re stuck at home, go bargain-bin some Blu-rays. Buy an over-the-air antenna. Don’t leave your TV on 16 hours a day (or, worse, have it on as background noise while you sleep). Don’t download your entire game library to your Xbox if you can avoid it, or just download the one or two games you know you’ll play that month.
Yes, I hate this, too, because “unlimited” should be just that. Unlimited, with no restrictions on use. The quarantine has shown us that ISPs aren’t hurting when they let everyone do whatever they want on their networks as much as they can do it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really matter when Comcast, AT&T, or whoever can make just a wee bit more from your downloading habits. So, modify your behavior or pay up—isn’t quarantine life grand?