The best internet provider to avoid data caps

A discussion of the best internet provider may be a moot point depending on the number of companies delivering broadband internet to your home or place of business. If you are lucky enough to have a choice, you may want to consider data caps in addition to price, speed, and other factors when picking the best internet provider for you.

Some internet providers cap data at a certain level each month, meaning you may have to pay more if you watch too much Netflix. Each provider handles this a bit differently: some will give you a warning, some will prompt you to upgrade to a more expensive plan, and others will automatically charge you for a new bucket of data. If you stream a lot of video from Netflix or Hulu or download large files such as video games, it isn't hard to go through a few hundred GB of data per month, so pick a provider that best fits your needs.

The best internet provider to avoid data caps

The below table summarizes the biggest and best internet provider in the country and their data cap policies.

  • Comcast, the country's largest internet provider, caps data at 300GB per month but has not been enforcing the policy yet to my knowledge.  They're also testing out different ways to deal with customers who need more data, but haven't settled on a nationwide policy yet.
  • AT&T U-Verse (their fiber-based network) caps data at 250GB but offers additional data in 50GB chunks for $10.  They offer a 150GB cap for DSL customers.
  • Time Warner, the 3rd largest broadband company does not currently cap data, likely because they are trying to get regulatory approval to be acquired by Comcast. Their stance may change once the acquisition is either approved or denied.
  • Century Link has a 250GB cap for plans faster than 1.5Mbps, and 150GB for plans at 1.5Mbps.
  • Cox offers many different speed and data cap tiers.
  • Finally, Mediacom offers various service tiers with up to 4TB of data per month.

How much is 100GB?

An HD Netflix stream can use up to 3GB per hour, which means each 100GB will get you about 33 hours of HD streaming (not including any other online activities). Netflix also has an account setting to limit how much data Netflix uses.

How much bandwidth do you need?

Netflix recommends 3Mbps for SD streams, 5Mbps for HD, and 25Mbps for Ultra-HD (4k).  I'd recommend minimum download speeds of 5-10Mbps multiplied by the potential number of concurrent video streams your household will need.  A family of four should consider a connection of at least 25Mbps, while someone living alone or a couple that watches Netflix together may only need 5-10Mbps.

Keep in mind that these speeds usually aren't guaranteed by the provider and can vary based on several variables, such as the number of people also online in your area.  Netflix publishes rankings of providers' overall average speeds.  See how yours stacks up.