What Is an Internet Data Plan?Most forms of Internet access require customers to subscribe before they can connect to the service. Beside acceptable use policies, the terms of these subscription agreements include limits set on the utilization of the Internet connection over time. These limits are commonly known as data plans.
Some public locations like libraries and city centers may offer Internet service for free with no subscription required. The costs of these services are subsidized by government or community agencies and local businesses, who manage the terms of service. Except for these special networks, you must choose and maintain personal and household data plans for any Internet access points you use.
Terms of Internet Data PlansKey parameters of these Internet data plan include:
Fees and Access Expiration: Most private data plans require paying a separate fee that gives Internet access for a fixed period of time (day, week, month or year). The provider issues an authorized account login or access code in return for payment and de-authorizes access when the time limit expires and renewal payments are not made. (Some businesses like hotels may include the Internet service cost as part of your room or other service payment.)
Data rate: Internet providers commonly offer data plans with different levels of performance. A DSL service, for example, may be sold at 1.5 Mbps, 3 Mbps, 7 Mbps, and 15 Mbps. The provider utilizes the same underlying network technology for all customers, but they artificially limit ("throttle") your connection to lower levels if needed to match your data plan.
Bandwidth caps: Some data plans place specific limits (quotas) on the volume of data that can be transferred across the Internet connection during a given time period (typically, one month). If you exceed an Internet bandwidth quota, the provider may block your Internet access, charge extra fees, or throttle your Internet connection to a low data rate, depending on the terms of the service agreement. Better service providers support tools that measure your ongoing bandwidth utilization and issue alerts when you are approaching a quota limit.
Data Plan Considerations for Home Internet UseResidential Internet services typically run on renewable monthly subscriptions. Most providers offer a choice of multiple data plans at different price points. Cheaper home Internet service plans feature lower data rates and often include bandwidth caps.
Because multiple people tend to share home Internet connections, bandwidth utilization can be unexpectedly high. Monitor your bandwidth utilization regularly if you are on a capped data plan to avoid surprise issues.