What You Need To Know About Internet Data Throttling

Internet providers are bringing back data caps at a time when more people than ever are using their home internet. Here's how internet data throttling could affect you.

Parents and children all working from home wifi data throttling internet data caps Gettyimages 1213531596Justin Paget/Getty Images

Unlimited Home WiFi: A Thing of the Past?

With families spending more time at home because of the pandemic, home data usage is on the rise. Under one roof, families are working from home, learning remotely and overall logging more time online. All these activities contribute to a large spike in data usage.

Keep America Connected Pledge

In March 2020 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its Keep America Connected Pledge, which saw more than 750 broadband and wireless companies promise to waive late fees and not cut off service because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though the pledge timeline ended last June 30, many companies voluntarily maintained those policies.

Now, several companies, including Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, are reinstating data caps and increasing their TV and internet prices. This means customers will see higher bills as well as data throttling from their internet and data providers. That leaves many homeowners wondering how this will affect their critical internet usage.

What Is Data Throttling?

Data throttling means provider-imposed limits on the amount of data you’re able to transfer while completing activities online. Communications networks use data throttling to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion. The amount of data you use depends on your online activities.

What Does This Mean for Data Users?

Everything you do online, from reading an email to streaming your favorite show, uses internet data and counts towards your monthly data cap. Communications companies often slow your cellphone or internet data to dial-up speeds once you go over your data bucket for the month. Companies also use this strategy to convince users to purchase more expensive tiered pricing data plans.

If your plan has a data cap, your internet company gives you a certain amount of data with your monthly plan. If you exceed that level, you’ll be charged more or your download speeds will become slower.

Which Online Activities Use the Most Data?

It’s not uncommon for providers to impose data caps on home internet. So it’s important to review how much data you typically use in a month to decide which plan best fits your needs.

If you’re curious about how much data you normally use, here is a list of common online activities and their typical data usage:

  • One email with attachments: 0.4 MB.
  • Online gaming: 34 MB per hour.
  • Streaming music: 55 MB per hour.
  • Scrolling on social media: 94 MB per hour.
  • Surfing the web:  184 MB per hour.
  • Streaming HD video: 2.5 GB per hour.
  • Streaming 4k video: 8 GB per hour.
  • Video conferencing: .7 to 2.4 GP per hour.

How To Check if Your Data Is Being Throttled

The easiest way to detect data throttling is to run a speed test, then run it again using a virtual private network (VPN). If your connection is significantly faster with the VPN, your data is more than likely being throttled.

You can also check for data throttling via a speed test app, such as Ookla’s Speed Test app. You’ll need to know your baseline data speeds. To do this, run a couple of speed tests at the beginning of your billing cycle in several locations in your home at different times of the day.

If you notice sluggish internet speeds toward the end of the month, it might be because you’ve hit your data cap. To test if you’ve hit your data cap, run a few more speed tests in the same locations and at the same time of day as you did before. If your connection is significantly slower, your data is being throttled.

Up next, learn if renting a router and modem from your internet company is a bad idea.