If you’re looking to save money on the household bills picking up a cheap broadband deal is often an easy win. Even without taking into account the many money saving deals and free broadband offers, there are very low cost broadband packages out there.
But it’s not always that straightforward. Some of the cheapest home broadband deals have a monthly data usage cap, and exceeding this can result in various penalties being applied to your account. This may be a speed reduction for the remainder of the month, an automatic switch to a pricier unlimited package (usually reserved for repeat offenders) and in some cases an additional per-GB charge. The latter is especially problematic if you’re not careful.
It’s estimated that in 2015 the average monthly data consumption of a household was 82GB. But if you’ve got a package like BT Broadband with a 12GB cap, 82GB usage could cost an additional £122 as BT charges £1.80 per GB over the limit. That makes unlimited packages a lot cheaper in the long run for many of us!
Most concerning though is how information about these penalties is not always as obvious as we’d like, especially when ISPs use capped deals in advertisements to trumpet low prices without putting much emphasis on the potential pitfalls.
Many ISPs tuck important details like overuse fees in the usage policies (which we all know most people don’t read) - even when the terms are actually fairly reasonable.
TenTel’s exceedingly affordable £2.99 broadband deal with its relatively tiny 5GB limit, for instance, has an extra fee of £1.50 per GB. But TenTel told us they would always contact a customer when they hit 75% or 100% of the limit and advise of additional costs, and would not allow them to spend more than £25 extra.
BT too says it alerts customers at 70% and 90% usage and offers usage tracking on its MyBT app, though it does not have any spending cap in place so if you ignore the warnings the extra fees will continue to pile up.
We have also asked Sky for comment on their policies, which are especially vague. Sky only states it would charge “fair and reasonable costs”. It also notes that TV downloads would count towards your usage limit, and with these being particularly demanding it would be easy to hit that cap in no time. BT however does not include on-demand video streaming via its TV boxes or the BT Sport app when calculating data limits, which may make it a more attractive proposition if TV streaming is likely to make up a significant proportion of your usage.
This isn’t a widespread problem - our research shows that only around 8% of broadband users have a limited package - but those of you who are using capped packages need to be mindful of the fact that cheap broadband deal could end up costing a lot more than you may expect.
How do you know how much you’ll need? Pinning this down exactly is tricky as every online activity can consume different amounts of data based on many factors. For instance, the average size of a web page was reported in 2015 to be over 2MB, but some pages can be significantly higher.
To help you make the right choice we’ve produced this infographic cheat sheet giving an overview of the data costs of some of the most popular online activities. Since these things change all the time and it’s never an exact science anyway you should treat this as a rough guide only, but it does help to give an idea of how little it would take to bust through the data cap on the more limited packages. Certain things like streaming video are especially greedy (some of the figures we’ve used come from Netflix itself, where streaming an hour of ‘Ultra HD’ video could use 7GB!).
If you’re at all concerned about this we would always recommend an unlimited broadband service for the peace of mind.