SALT LAKE CITY — Do you know how much data you use? If you have a cell phone, the answer may be yes because you're charged if you go over your wireless plan's limits.
However, home or business computer data use and accompanying charges may surprise you.
"I was shocked that it was 300 gigabytes, literally shocked," said Stacy Averett.
She said she would have never known except her Internet provider hit her up for a "data charge."
"I understand it for my phone's service. Is it the same for residential? They explained to me they have a 250 gigabyte data cap," she said.
For years, cell phone users have had capped data plans. But the practice of limiting data and charging people based on how much they use has quietly spread to their home Internet connections.
"They charged me $2 for every 10 gigs," Averett said.
Some providers will charge $1 for every gigabyte past the cap. Many people find it's easy to chew through those gigabytes quickly.
Kathryn Linford, of networking firm NetWize said, "People can easily use up tons of space."
She said much of that space is being used for entertainment.
"The reason it's becoming a problem now is because of all the streaming videos, the Hulu, the Netflix, all those types of programs that take up so much of the data," she explained.
A recent report said Netflix and YouTube alone eat up half of North America's bandwidth. Streaming a 2 hour movie in HD can eat up 3 to 5 gigabytes.
- See if your provider has a website where you can look up how much data you've used.
- Walk into an electronics store and buy a router with a built-in traffic meter. It will tell you how much data your computer and mobile devices are using.
Averett's family relies on their Internet for daily entertainment; they don't have cable or satellite. Besides three TVs hooked up to a router, the family has tablets, laptops, a Playstation and other devices all linked to the Wi-Fi.
"You've got your Xbox, your Playstation, your Roku, suddenly your kids' friends come over with their tablets. They're connected to your wireless. Everything that's connected to your wireless is taking up some of that bandwidth," Linford explained.
The bandwidth isn't being eaten away just by downloading or streaming.
"If you're backing up online, if you're sending your photos online, or if you're sending 20 gigs of video, that counts toward that cap as well," Linford said.
All the uploading, downloading and streaming have opened new sources of revenue for Internet providers. They're taking the same data cap game plan the wireless industry has used and running with it.
"The unlimited cell phone is gone," Linford said. "You're going to start finding that with the home Internet. You're going to look at that, and there's not going to be such a thing as unlimited."
"Any time there's something beautiful," Averett said, "someone is going to mess with it and try to make it harder to have."