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Working from home or streaming more? You may be facing a huge internet bill soon

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us go to work every day. Millions of Americans are still working from home, which means they’re relying on their internet connection more than ever before.

More internet activity means increased data usage and potentially higher bills. That’s why many internet service providers took it upon themselves to remove data caps during the early stages of the pandemic. Tap or click here to see how this worked.

But now that we’ve reached the end of October, many of the pandemic assistance programs put out by ISPs are slowly coming to an end. For many Americans, data caps are back — and internet bills are about to spike drastically. Here’s what you can do about it.

Data caps for some, higher bills for all

The “Wall Street Journal” reports that numerous ISPs have started winding down their customer support options as the pandemic drags on. Services like Comcast, Cox and others have begun to reinstate data caps and overage fees as work-from-home demands create a strain on broadband.

Internet data usage spiked significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic

One data process analyst cited by the WSJ was told by Comcast that he had exceeded his data limits back in July. Apparently, he would be on the hook for a $50 surcharge if he kept exceeding the cap.

RELATED: 10 ways to save money on energy bills

It might seem unfair at first glance, but there’s a reason these caps exist. Data caps are designed to place the burden of network strain on the heaviest users. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made almost every at-home student or worker a heavy user. And, being businesses, ISPs claim they can’t afford to keep footing the bill forever.

So what are users to do? At this stage in the game, there are only a few options: Pay the extra fees, change your rate plan or find ways to curb data use.

Every ISP will have different plans on returning to “normal billing,” so make sure to give yours a call and find out what your options are. Believe us: They’re more than happy to tell you how much they plan on charging you.

On a positive note, at least one ISP is forbidden from capping internet use by the FCC: Charter. If you’re a Charter subscriber, you won’t see a bump in your bill until at least May 2021.

What can I do to lower my data use and internet bill?

There are plenty of ways you can reduce data usage and prevent yourself from going over the caps. Most of these techniques involve either cutting the quality of media you consume or avoiding internet activities that use lots of data.

These devices use the most internet data.

You’ll have to weigh each method against your lifestyle, but each of these cuts can make a big difference in your overall bill:

  • Find out your internet plan and cut the extras: If you purchased a bundle for your internet package that includes TV or phone, you may want to unsubscribe from these options. Call your ISP and ask what kind of plans it offers that can reduce your overall bill. This won’t actually trim your data usage, but it will make your monthly bill lighter on your wallet.
  • Cut high-bandwidth activity: Streaming videos, media downloads and online gaming are huge drains on data. Curbing or cutting these activities on your broadband connection can keep you from going over your cap. If you have an unlimited data plan on your smartphone, consider using it for streaming or games. Tap or click here to see what free streaming services your phone plan qualifies for.
  • Reduce your video quality: If you’re watching YouTube or having video chats, reducing your stream quality for videos or cameras can make a huge difference in data use. On YouTube, you can change your video quality by clicking the gear icon under the video player. On most video chat apps, you can make these adjustments in Settings.
  • Check to make sure nobody else is using your internet: If you have an open Wi-Fi connection, other devices using it can rack up tons of data. Make sure your network is encrypted with a password, and frequently check that no unfamiliar devices are using it. Tap or click here to see how to tell if someone is stealing your internet connection.
  • Ask to go audio-only: This can be a great option for workers with demanding video chat schedules. If possible, ask your supervisor if they wouldn’t mind you joining meetings with the video turned off. You can still be present for meetings as normal, but the camera won’t be on — and the lack of video feed will use less data overall.

Ultimately, if we spend more time at home, it’s logical to expect all of our utility bills to go up. All those savings on gas from not commuting to the office will be going elsewhere now.

But if you budget smart and stay mindful of your activity, you can keep your bills low and still get the most out of your connection. It’s just going to take some effort going forward. Tap or click here to see even more ways to lower your internet bill.

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