Dear Dominic, I'm looking for a new broadband package but I'm not sure what download allowance I need. Please help.
Ginny, via email
Our expert Dominic says...
With so many broadband packages on the market, it can be difficult to decide which service is right for you.
But one of the main things you need to think about is how much you're going to be downloading. You don't want to waste money on an expensive package if you don't spend a lot of time online, but equally, you don't want to end up having your connection slowed down, or even being charged, for exceeding your allowance.
Research by Broadbandchoices.co.uk in January 2010 showed that more than half of broadband users were paying for an "unlimited broadband" package they didn't need.
But even if you don't download a lot yourself, you need to think about other members of your household. If you flat share or have a big family, you need to take into account what other people - especially teenagers - are doing online so that you find the right package to suit your needs.
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Light broadband user
The research showed that the more than half of broadband users on an "unlimited" package fell into the "light user" category, downloading no more than 10GB a month.
Actually downloading the file would use more data, at up to around 350MB, but if you only use the catch-up service a couple of times a week, then simply use your connection for emails and everyday web browsing, you're a light user.
There are loads of cheap broadband options available to light downloaders, with Plusnet broadband (www.Plus.net) offering the UK's cheapest standalone package from just £6.49 a month. Its Value package comes with speeds of up to 20Mb broadband and a 10GB allowance - though you also get free overnight downloads between midnight and 8am.
O2 broadband's (www.O2.co.uk) Basics package, which costs just £8 a month for existing customers, has also been designed for light users. It comes with 20Mb speeds and a 20GB allowance. O2 also offers the cheapest line rental for bundle customers at just £7.50 a month.
Medium level downloader
21% of the people who responded to the Broadbandchoices.co.uk research were medium downloaders, using between 10GB and 20GB a month. Although there are packages offering set download allowances in this range, most providers offer "unlimited" options that are subject to a fair usage policy instead.
You're a medium level downloader if you use regularly online TV services like the BBC iPlayer and Channel 4's 4oD to catch-up on your favourite shows, if you download tracks from iTunes and stream online radio or use a service like Spotify.
Even if you don't use services like these, but spend a lot of time online, you could exceed a 10GB data limit.
Virgin Media's (www.Virginmedia.com) 10Mb and 20Mb cable options and O2's All Rounder package all fall into this category, while Plusnet offers an Extra package with a 60GB allowance and free overnight downloads.
Cheap provider TalkTalk broadband (www.Talktalk.co.uk) offers a 40GB allowance on its Essentials package, which costs just £6.99 a month plus £12.04 for line rental. It also comes with free evening and weekend landline calls.
If you really want to make the most of the internet with high-definition movie downloads, lots of video streaming or online gaming - or if you run a small business from home and do a lot of downloading and uploading, then you should invest in a package that offers truly unlimited downloads.
Just over a quarter of customers in the Broadbandchoices.co.uk research were downloading more than 20GB a month. And even if you're on an "unlimited" package, you can still be penalised if you exceed your fair usage policy.
Sky broadband (www.Sky.com) was the first big provider to offer truly unlimited downloads with its Unlimited package. It offers speeds of up to 20Mb and has no fair usage policy or traffic management.
Virgin Media's 50Mb broadband package also offers unlimited downloads, and its 100Mb broadband service, which will start rolling out from December 2010, will also offer truly unlimited downloads when it launches.
BE broadband is also known for its very generous fair usage policy, and its 24Mb broadband packages have been designed with heavy downloaders in mind.
Will your downloading habits change?
The amount of time that we spend online has skyrocketed in recent years as broadband connections have gotten faster and new services - such as online TV have become mainstream.
October 2010 was a record month for the BBC iPlayer, with a massive 139 million programme requests on computers, TVs and mobiles. Sky also launched its Anytime+ online TV service, while BT Vision will begin offering 3D movies through your internet connection from December.
So it's reasonable to expect that many people will be downloading more than ever over the coming years. While you should take this into account, most broadband providers do offer high-end packages that you could upgrade to if you find that your habits change.