Think about the flow of data in your business. Whenever you or anyone uses your business’s internet connection, you’re all sending data to and from your various devices. From emailing to uploading content to social media to tracking shipments and downloading documents, every activity contributes to your data usage.

If you have an unlimited data plan covering all of your business usage, you don’t have to worry about being charged extra fees for exceeding your internet plans’s data usage cap.

But if your internet plan sets data caps as defined by publiknowledge.org, that means there’s a monthly limit on how much information you can send and receive before you’re charged an extra fee. You’re often charged at a higher rate for data usage above what’s included in your data plan until your next billing cycle begins.

In theory, it’s relatively simple, but it can be still confusing, especially if you have different internet plans for different locations for your business or separate plans for certain devices such as tablets or smartphones.

How to know if you have data caps

Depending on your internet provider, data caps might be described in different ways, either as a data allowance, under a description of a “data plan” or in some other way. Take a careful look at your contracts and your latest bills to see whether your plan includes a data cap, and consider contacting your service provider if you’re having trouble finding the details.

Even though small business internet plans are less likely to have data caps than residential plans, the ones out there are also often more expensive. If you’re running a small business from your home or have employees who extensively access the internet for work purposes from home, that may be a reason to consider a business plan rather than a standard residential plan for those locations. Business plans also often come with additional features, such as dedicated customer service lines.

If you use cellphones, tablets or wireless hotspots with their own connections for your business, they may each come with their own rules about data usage and caps.

Other business services, such as web hosting or cloud-based tools, may also monitor data usage and charge accordingly or cap usage. If you exceed these limits, you or your customers may not be able to access important files, or you might find yourself hit with a surprisingly large bill. Make sure to understand the fine print to know exactly how usage is billed and what happens if you exceed any built-in limits before charges hit your bottom line.

Some providers may slow or throttle your service. Here’s what that means

If you do have data caps on your plan, your provider might limit internet usage after you exceed the cap by lowering your internet speed through a practice called throttling. You may find the internet frustrating to use at this point, and the low speed may make it hard for you to get work done.

One way to check to see if you’re being affected by throttling is to run an internet speed test at the start and end of your billing cycle. If your connection is a lot slower at the end of the cycle, you may be experiencing throttling. Contact your service provider to find out if that’s the case or you’re experiencing some other problem.

Keep an eye on big usage activities 

It can be difficult to limit internet usage. You likely need to use a certain amount of data per month, and it’s difficult to monitor every activity and every user.  

Still, you may be able to limit some usage to help stay below your data plan limits if you have them. Certainly, there are real data hogging activities. Streaming video can consume a lot of data, so you and your employees may want to refrain from such activities at work unless it’s somehow critical to the business. If you provide Wi-Fi to customers, you might consider limiting their bandwidth or access to streaming sites if this is using a lot of your data.

Big file transfers, such as uploading large documents or photos to cloud storage sites such as Dropbox or Google Drive, can also use a lot of data. Limit them by transferring files locally and avoiding unnecessary duplicate uploads. If your business creates a lot of videos or photos, you may want to decide which ones to save and upload rather than putting them all on cloud storage.

If you have some computers or other devices with data plans and some without, or you have data caps at home or on wireless hotspots but not at the office, you may want to shape your usage so that you do data-heavy business using a connection where your usage is not capped. Make sure your laptop or cellphone is connected to the connection without caps, rather than the one that has them, to upload or download big files like videos if you are able to do so.

Find a way around data caps

If you’re not satisfied with the data limits on your business’s plan, search for internet providers offering service at your address. When you’re looking for a business plan, make sure to specify that in your search, since the terms are usually different from residential plans.

Make sure that the plan you’re selecting doesn’t have data caps or has caps high enough that you won’t experience any service disruptions or overage charges. Call to discuss the terms of the plan if you need to, and make sure that data caps are one thing you don’t need to worry about for your business.