Comcast, citing fairness, adds data caps in more cities

Comcast is expanding its "Data Usage Plan Trials" to cities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia. Customers in those cities will have a 300 GB data cap; they'll be charged $35 for additional increments of 50 GB.

Jeff Fusco/AP/File
Comcast will add data caps to residential Internet connections in some additional cities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia. Here, the Comcast logo is seen at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 19, 2015.

Most people don’t worry about how much Internet data they use in a month when they’re on their home WiFi network.

A typical residential connection is billed by speed tier, not usage, so as long as a person’s connection is fast enough, there’s no real obstacle to watching shows on Netflix, uploading and downloading large files, and sharing photos on social media.

But Comcast has been experimenting with metered home data plans, called “Data Usage Plan Trials,” and on Wednesday sent e-mails to customers in certain cities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia to inform them that they’ll get a data cap starting in December.

DSLReports, which first reported the expansion, noted that Comcast customers in certain cities will have their monthly usage capped at 300 GB. People who exceed that cap will be charged $10 for each additional 50 GB increment; or customers can opt to pay an additional $35 ($30 in some areas) to keep unlimited data.

“We believe that 300 GB is more than enough to meet your Internet usage needs,” Comcast said in the e-mail to customers.

Comcast says that only about 8 percent of its customers use more than 300 GB of data in a typical month, according to the Associated Press. Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told the AP that the company sees data caps as a way to “introduce some more fairness” by making sure the heaviest users are paying their fair share. Comcast and other ISPs argued to the Government Accountability Office last year that heavy data use isn’t making wired networks congested, but that extra revenue from data caps could help fund network upgrades.

Exactly how much data is 300 GB? Comcast says you’d be able to stream 230 hours of HD video before you hit that cap; the average US household watches 240 hours of TV a month on top of social media activity, Web surfing, and other activities that use data. So users who have “cut the cord” by ditching their cable subscription in favor of online services such as Netflix and Hulu would be much more likely to incur penalties for blowing through their 300 GB cap each month.

Free Press, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, asked the FCC on Wednesday to investigate Comcast, saying the data caps are “part of Comcast's scheme to stifle innovation and choice in online video and cloud-based services.” The FCC’s Open Internet rules, put into place earlier this year, don’t make data caps illegal, but let the FCC judge on a case-by-case basis whether a company’s data caps are an “unreasonable interference” to customers’ Internet use.

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