From AT&T to Cable One: Who has the highest data caps in wireline, wireless and cable?

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FierceTelecom is sizing up which wireline telco, cable and wireless carriers have the best data caps. (Getty/cosinart).

As consumers' desire for content and other forms of entertainment served over the internet has risen, wireless and wireline service providers have looked for the best way to optimize their networks by implementing data usage caps.

While the overall implementation of data caps varies between service providers, the overall idea is simple: It’s a way a service provider can place monthly limits on the amount of data you can use over your connection. When a user goes beyond that set limit, different network operators engage in different actions, including slowing down data speeds, charging overage fees and, in rare cases, disconnecting a subscriber.

Even before the latest battles over net neutrality began, the notion of capping data has been fraught with controversy. Several wireline, cable and wireless operators implement some form of caps while others don’t.

In this report, we consider which carriers have implemented data caps and how large those caps are. Each provider is ranked by the size of the data cap they offer and the charge they incur for exceeding it. Service provider groups that have no caps are ranked according to company size.

Telco patterns vary

In the telco segment, the implementation of data caps not only varies by company, but sometimes within the telco’s plans themselves. AT&T, for example, does not implement caps for its emerging 1 Gbps FTTH service. But it does charge $10 for every extra 50 gigabyte (GB) when users go beyond their limir on its 300 Mbps FTTH service. It also implements 150 GB and 25 GB caps for U-verse and DSL.

Likewise, CenturyLink does not charge overages for its 1 Gbps FTTH service but implements a 1 TB limit for its DSL subscribers.

And telcos overall aren’t universal with caps. Several other top telcos, including Frontier, Consolidated, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, don’t implement any caps regardless of the speed tier.

Service provider Service type Speeds Caps Charges
1. AT&T FTTH 1 Gbps No caps No charges
  FTTH 300 Mbps 1 TB $10 for extra 50 GB  
  DSL 230 Kbps - 3 Mbps 150 GB $10 for extra 50 GB  
  U-verse 3.1 - 100 Mbps 1 TB $10 for extra 50 GB  
2. Verizon DSL 7 - 15 Mbps No cap No charges
  FTTH 50 Mbps - 1 Gbps No cap No charges
3. CenturyLink FTTH 1 Gbps No cap No charges
  DSL 12 - 100 Mbps 1 TB limit $10-50 per extra GB
4. Frontier  DSL 1 - 24 Mbps No caps No charges
  FTTH 50 Mbps - 1 Gbps No caps No charges
5. Windstream  DSL 2 - 40 Mbps No caps No charges
  FTTH 1 Gbps No caps No charges
6. Consolidated DSL 10 - 50 Mbps No caps No charges
  FTTH 1 Gbps No caps No charges
7. Cincinnati Bell DSL 5 - 40 Mbps No caps No charges
    100 Mbps - 1 Gbps No caps No charges


Cable MSOs remain divided

In the cable segment, MSOs are somewhat divided about implementing caps. Of the top three cable providers, Comcast is the only one that implements a 1 TB limit, whereas Charter and Altice don’t have usage caps.

As one of its provisions to get its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Charter had to agree not to implement caps. Other MSOs like Cox, Cable One and Mediacom offer users options to purchase higher-speed tiers.

Cable One, for example, will upgrade to a higher tier, while Mediacom charges $10 extra to add more gigabytes. Mediacom, which offers various data limits for each speed tier, says customers should pay for bandwidth the same way they pay for everything else—based on quantity consumed.

 

Cable 

Service type

Speeds

Cap limit

Charges

1. Charter 

cable modem

30 Mbps

No caps

no charges

   

60 Mbps 

No caps

No charges

   

100 Mbps

No caps

No charges

   

400 Mbps 

No caps

No charges

   

1 Gbps

No caps

No charges

2. Altice

cable modem

100 Mbps

No caps

No charges

   

400 Mbps 

No caps

No charges

   

300 Mbps 

No caps

No charges

   

1 Gbps

No caps

No charges

3. Comcast

cable modem

50 Mbps - 1 Gbps

1 TB

$10 for another 50 GB or $50 additional for unlimited 

         

4. Cox

cable modem

10 Mbps - 1 Gbps

1TB

$30 for extra 500 GB or $50 additional for unlimited data

5. Mediacom

cable modem

60 Mbps 

150 GB

$10 per additional GB

 

 

100 Mbps

1000 GB

$10 per additional GB

 

 

200 Mbps

2000 GB

$10 per additional GB

 

 

500 Mbps

4000 GB

$10 per additional GB

 

 

1 Gbps 

6000 GB

$10 per additional GB

6. Cable One 

cable modem

15 Mbps

50 GB

no charges—upgrades to higher tier

   

1.5 Mbps - 12 Mbps 

300 GB

no charges

   

150 Mbps

600 GB

no charges

 

Streamer &
Gamer plan

200 Mbps

900 GB

no charges

 

Roommate plan

200 Mbps

1200 GB

no charges

 

Power Home plan

200 Mbps

1500 GB

no charges

   

1 Gbps

1500 GB

no charges

 

Wireless customers face throttling

Given the fact that wireless operators are using spectrum, a resource that has its limitations, the large wireless operators have taken the approach of quietly dumbing down connections, or throttling a connection after a user goes beyond their monthly allotment. But consumers should be aware that the wireless operators’ “unlimited” data plans aren’t exactly limitless.

Several major wireless carriers cap high-speed data usage. Not content to go with the flow of other operators, T-Mobile offers the most generous data allowance at 50 GB for unlimited data.

After T-Mobile, the data allowances for unlimited data plans drops to 23 GB from Sprint and then an average of 22 GB for AT&T, Verizon and US Cellular. Similarly, several of the top wireless operators will also slow down a user’s speed if they exceed the limits on lower speed packages. AT&T and US Cellular will slow all data usage to a 128 Kbps (2G speed) for the rest of the billing cycle.

Wireless Carriers Service type Plans Cap limit* Charges
T-Mobile Wireless Unlimited 50GB No charges
    2GB 2GB No charges
    6GB 6GB No charges
    10GB 10GB No charges
    18GB 18GB No charges
    22GB 22GB No charges
AT&T Wireless Unlimited 22 GB No charges
    1GB 1GB No charges
    5GB  5GB  No charges
    10GB 10GB No charges
    20 GB 20 GB No charges
Verizon  Wireless Unlimited 22GB  No charges
    2GB 2GB $15 for each additional GB
    4GB 4GB $15 for each additional GB
    8GB 8GB $15 for each additional GB
Sprint  Wireless Unlimited 23 GB No charges
    2GB 2GB No charges
US Cellular Wireless Unlimited 22 GB No charges
    2GB 2GB No charges
    6GB 6GB No charges

* All wireless operators throttle service speeds after a user surpasses their data allowance on unlimited and traditional plans

In this report we track three types of providers:

ILECs: Traditional telcos are at a crossroads. As more customers want higher speeds, this group has two options: shortening copper loops to deliver VDSL2 and Gfast, or deploying FTTH. AT&T and CenturyLink, two carriers with sizable copper plant infrastructure, have been deploying a mix of copper-based technology and FTTH. AT&T has committed to build fiber to over 12 million homes by 2019, while CenturyLink has built out FTTH to over 1 million homes and has set a broader goal to provide 90% of homes passed with 40 Mbps, 70% of homes and businesses passed with 100 Mbps and over 20% with 1 Gbps or higher.

Cable MSOs: Cable MSOs made their broadband business by delivering broadband over existing HFC facilities. The advent of DOCSIS 3.1 enabled them to offer 1 Gbps via their existing HFC plant. Some cable operators have opted to implement data caps while others like Charter are banned by the FCC from doing so for several years. Other cable MSOs such as Cox and Mediacom have set limits for bandwidth while Altice has no caps.

Wireless operators: Wireless operators in the United States, which now operate a mix of 3G and 4G LTE networks have been working to attract customers with unlimited wireless data plans. The allure is to play into the consumers ever-growing desire to get their social media, video and other data applications regardless of their location. The drive to unlimited has created a competitive environment among the top five wireless operators.