What is a Bandwidth Cap? How Does it Work?

Imagine you are enjoying your favorite web series on Netflix and suddenly you get a notification alert from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) about exceeding your bandwidth cap. Hmmm. You might be wondering what exactly a bandwidth cap is?

A bandwidth cap is a service provider-imposed limit on the amount of data transferred by a user account at a specified level of throughput over a given period.


The term applies to both home Internet plans and mobile data connections. As a rule, when the user crosses that limit, the ISPs charge a higher rate for further data use. However, the provider may not charge overage but instead throttle the transfer rate per second beyond the limit.

For example, if you are paying for a 4G plan, it may downgrade to a 3G data connection. Implementation of a bandwidth cap is sometimes also known as a fair access policy, fair usage policy, or usage-based billing.

Let’s explore in detail bandwidth caps; how it affects the way you use the internet and how you can deal with them.

What is a bandwidth cap? How does it work?

When an internet service provider puts a bandwidth cap, they are substantially limiting the amount of data which users can download or upload via their connection.

Every time you access a website, upload a photo or watch your favorite video, you are consuming data. Your internet provider monitors your usage.

When you run over the cap for your plan, they may send you a warning, charge extra fees, and throttle your internet connection to lower your speed. In extreme cases, they can also disconnect your service.

Bandwidth caps are also uniformly unpopular with customers. As a result, service providers often refer to data caps by other names such as fair usage or fair access policies, usage-based billing or vaguely as band caps.

They are also known as data caps or broadband caps.

What is Bandwidth Throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is the practice of lowering internet speed for specific users or certain types of traffic. It happens when an individual is using excessive amounts of data in a single monthly period.

Throttling is also sometimes used to manage network load during peak times.

In these cases, providers may lower the bandwidth of some, or all users slightly to ensure that the network functions as expected for most customers. That’s why you may notice a lower-than-advertised speed when using a speed test.

Bandwidth throttling can be applied dynamically on a network, such as to limit connection speeds during certain times of the day.

ISPs have most notably targeted peer to peer (P2P) applications for throttling, which due to their popularity can overload their networks.

Why do ISPs cap Bandwidth?

Bandwidth caps are one of the biggest hassles an Internet user will face. It often results in slower connection speeds, bottlenecking and in the worst cases additional charges.

ISPs limit this bandwidth so that they can control the flow of traffic across the network. In other words, this is to protect the network, especially during high traffic times of the day.

An obscure reason can be to make more money. If you want a faster connection, i.e., more bandwidth, you will have to pay for it.

An ISP can also impose a bandwidth cap when a particular user shares access with many users, employs file-sharing software or otherwise breaks terms of use.

Internet service providers might also impose bandwidth caps on individual users who are seen to be using a lot of data through illegal downloading and heavy upstream traffic.

This practice is known as lowered capping.

How can you deal with Bandwidth caps?

These caps can be frustrating in today’s world of high-quality streaming videos and services that depend on high bandwidth. A few simple tips can help you deal with Bandwidth caps and make the most of that limited bandwidth.

Monitor your Bandwidth usage

Tracking and keeping an eye on your bandwidth usage is vital if you have a reasonably low cap. You can do this by visiting your ISP’s website or any other website that shows the bandwidth usage.

It is the best way to see an up to date count of how much bandwidth you are using.

Save Bandwidth on Video Streaming

Video streaming can use a considerable amount of bandwidth. If you want to watch videos while not eating up your entire bandwidth allotment, you can generally change the quality settings.

Some popular websites like YouTube automatically select an appropriate quality level for the speed of your connection which is the highest quality level possible.

However, you can adjust the quality level as per your requirement by going to the settings section.

You will typically find options like this on all video-streaming sites. So, always keep an eye on video playback if you want to reduce your bandwidth usage.

You can save a tremendous amount of bandwidth by watching lower-quality videos.

Schedule Downloads

You will find that some internet plans limit the amount of bandwidth you can use in the daytime but allow unlimited bandwidth usage overnight.

Even ISPs that do not restrict bandwidth usage may slow down your connection during the day and speed it up at night.

So, if you also have a plan like this one, then you can schedule all downloading activities to take place overnight. Use a download manager to schedule these downloads.

This way you will be able to make effective use of your bandwidth along with hassle-free downloads.

How to bypass bandwidth caps?

The only reliable way to bypass these ridiculous restrictions is to get a VPN.

A VPN, an acronym for the virtual private network, is a means of securing your connections in a way that prevents your ISP from even knowing you are on the net.

It means they can’t track you, log your data, cap your data usage or your bandwidth.

ISPs can control and shape your traffic because they see your IP address. So what a VPN does? It merely masks your actual IP with an IP address of the connected VPN server.

By this, your ISP, will not be able to interfere with your online activities and you can stream geo-restricted content from around the world with no limit on bandwidth or data usage.

When you use a VPN, your ISP can impose whatever kind of cap it wants, but it just won’t matter. However, sometimes internet service providers might permanently ban users who try to uncap their connection as they see it as theft of service.



Although bandwidth caps are often so large that most users never come close to hitting them, services such as streaming video and file sharing often can push users over the limit quickly. Those who use their broadband connections at high rates over long periods of time can impair the service of others.

These caps also result in lower rates of access to online materials, especially multimedia content, which is a problem for content creators and their advertisers.

The practice of charging users based on how much bandwidth they consume is not that incorrect. After all, it is only fair to pay a bit more if you are using a bit more. But some, ISPs often charge an unreasonable amount of money if you go over the cap and they do not do customers any good.

However, through this article, you must have become more aware of your bandwidth cap situation and how you can effectively use that limited bandwidth.


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