There are 2.4 billion Internet users spanning the globe. In the U.S. this means nearly eight out of every 10 people regularly use the Internet, and the content they are accessing is shared, tagged and, increasingly, involves photos, video and audio. In 2007, for example, virtually no one uploaded video to YouTube. In 2013, the channel's uploads reached 100 hours per minute [source: Meeker and Wu].
Whether you upload LOLCat videos to YouTube or not, it pays to know your data usage. Monthly Internet data usage includes all the items you send, receive, stream, download or upload each month through your Internet provider, including images, movies, photos, videos and other files. If you exceed the monthly usage allowance of your Internet provider, extra charges will be levied. Although the amount of data will vary by plan and provider, a middle-of-the-road plan typically caps data usage at 150 GB per month.
While this may not sound like much, it's still enough bandwidth to download about 40,000 MP3s a month. Or transfer about 35,000 12-megapixel images [source: Gruener]. And when you consider that in 2011, the average household used about 26 GB of data per month, it almost seems generous. In fact, some estimates suggest the household data rate will still be well under this cap in 2016, averaging about 84 GB a month [source: Yu].
Most providers offer a way to view your Internet data usage on their Web sites. Some offer e-mail or text notifications when you've approached or surpassed data thresholds, and you can set these alerts by logging into your account.
You could install a bandwidth monitor (most are available as free downloads) on your computer to track how much data you use. There are monitors for each of the major operating systems — Windows, Mac and Linux — and most will calculate daily, weekly and monthly usage. For example, Networx (Windows), iStat Pro (Mac) and BandwidthD (Linux) are free or low-cost data usage trackers. It's also worth nothing Mac's OS X has a built-in Activity Monitor, which can be accessed in the utilities folder. It doesn't track bandwidth data numbers, but it offers a real-time look at total data consumption. Keep in mind, though, most data monitors only track the computer on which they're installed. If you have multiple computers, you'll need multiple bandwidth monitors.