Is your internet provider monitoring your data accurately?

No one wants to pay for unused data or overpay for using too much. It’s like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears — find a plan with too much data and you’re overpaying, but choose one with too little data, you might get slapped with overage charges you could have avoided. The goal? Find an internet data plan that’s just right. 

So, knowing how much data certain activities call for and how much you use can help inform you to sign up for the right amount of data. 

How to find out how much internet you use

Certain activities require more data use than others. One minute of surfing the web, for example, uses about 250 kilobytes (KB) of data, or 15 megabytes (MB) per hour. For a look at other common internet activities and how much data they require, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other internet service providers (ISPs) provide handy charts and calculator tools so you can identify how much data you likely use. 

This chart outlines some common activities and a look at how much data they require:

ActivityData size
Sending an email with no attachment20 KB
Gaming online (1 minute)200 KB (12 MB/hour)
Surfing the web (1 minute)250 KB (15 MB/hour)
Sending an email with standard attachment300 KB
Downloading music (1 song)4 MB
Social media photo upload (1 photo)5 MB
Streaming standard-definition video (1 minute)11.7 MB (700 MB/hour)
Streaming high-definition video (1 minute)41.7 MB (2500 MB/hour)
Streaming 4K video (1 minute)97.5 MB (5850 MB/hour)

Many brands, like AT&T, which offers 1 TB internet, offer options to add unlimited data on select plans for a monthly fee, while for others, like Spectrum, data caps don’t exist.

Not sure if your ISP has a data cap? Here’s a handy list of the top ISPs, their data cap ranges, and corresponding monthly costs. When in doubt, call your ISP and ask.

Why do you keep going over your data limit? 

If you text, email and generally surf the web, you’ll likely be just fine. But if you’re a bit of a data hog and watch YouTube videos (even if just for background music) and keep the “auto-play” video function enabled for your social media channels, you’ll end up gobbling up much more data than you think. 

Heavy Facebook and Instagram users, for example, can plow through many GBs a week just scrolling through photos. HD video calling and downloading music eat up a lot of data, too. 

But streaming video is likely going to be your biggest culprit, especially given these times of cord cutting and upgraded 4K displays. Streaming in 4K? Consider cutting back to the 1080p display type. 

According to a Consumer Reports expert, the average Netflix video is 90 minutes long and uses about 1.6 GB of data per hour (2.4 GB for the 90-minute video). So, he estimates, in one month, you’d have to stream 416 Netflix videos of 90 minutes each to hit a 1 TB data cap. The more people in your household using the data, though, the faster you’ll arrive at 1 TB.

Indirect data usage occurs in the background, during tasks performed automatically by your device. Be wary of background refreshes and updates, all of which could happen without you noticing and can use a lot of data. Wait until you’re securely logged on to a Wi-Fi account before any major refreshes or updates. In your phone settings, check to make sure all of your apps are set to manual refresh, too. That should also help. 

Many routers offer network management settings, too, which allow you to monitor your devices’ use. AT&T, Verizon, and Spectrum allow you to manage your internet data usage via login portals. 

Is there a third-party monitoring service?

If you’re interested in an outside, third-party source monitoring your data, options like DD-WRT are available.

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