Comcast is expanding the number of markets that are testing the MSO’s usage-based broadband plans, which include policies with soft monthly caps that charge extra for additional buckets of data, as well as a newer “unlimited” data option.
-A soft, monthly usage cap of 300 Gigabytes per month that charges $10 for each additional bucket of 50 GB above that threshold. Comcast has also implemented a “three-month courtesy program” meaning customers won’t be billed for the first three times they exceed the monthly 300 GB limit. Comcast is also testing a more variable usage-based policy in Tucson, Ariz., that adjusts the monthly consumption ceiling based on the speed of the customer’s data tier. (In Tucson, Comcast’s Economy Plus through Performance tiers set monthly data thresholds at 300 GB; Performance Starter or Blast! at 350 GB; Blast! Pro at 450 GB; and Extreme at 600 GB. Customers there are also charged $10 for each bucket of 50 GB above those monthly data ceilings).
-A “Flexible-Data Option” that’s tailored for light Internet users on the MSO’s Economy Plus and Performance Starter tiers. That opt-in trial caps usage at 5 GB per month before customers are subject to per-gigabyte fees. Customers who do not exceed the monthly 5 GB ceiling receive a $5 credit, but will be charged an additional $1 per GB consumed beyond the 5 GB threshold.
-An “Unlimited Data Option” that costs an additional fee of $30 to $35 per month, depending on the market. “The fee is regardless of actual data usage,” Comcast notes in the FAQ. Comcast first began to trial this option in select parts of Florida on Oct. 1, 2015, noting then that a customer survey with a group of heavy data users found that the majority (60%) “expressed interest in an unlimited data plan option at the predictable, flat price of around $30 a month.”
Comcast is testing the usage-based policies in the following areas: Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Tucson, Ariz.; Little Rock, Ark.; Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga.; Central Kentucky; Houma, LaPlace and Shreveport, La.; Maine; Jackson and Tupelo, Miss.; Chattanooga, Greenville, Johnson City/Gray, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; and Galax, Virginia.
The MSO is trialing its Unlimited Data Option in most, but not all, of the same markets: Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga; Houma, LaPlace and Shreveport, La.; Jackson and Tupelo, Miss; Chattanooga, Greenville, Johnson City/Gray, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C., and Galax, Virginia.
Per the updated FAQ, the following Comcast markets are kicking the tires on the Flexible-Data Option: Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Fresno, Calif. (Economy Plus only); Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga.; Central Kentucky (Economy Plus only); Houma, LaPlace and Shreveport, La.; Maine (Economy Plus only); Jackson and Tupelo, Miss.; Chattanooga, Greenville, Johnson City/Gray, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; and Galax, Virginia.
Comcast has not announced when or if it intends to expand the data trials to other markets, but notes in the FAQ that the current consumer trials “may be discontinued at any time.”
Comcast’s data usage plans do not currently apply to customers on the MSO’s fiber-based Extreme 505 and Gigabit Pro services, and also do not apply to Comcast business service customers and those on “bulk Internet agreements.”
DSL Reports obtained a copy of a notice being sent to Comcast customers who will be put on the trials starting December 1, noting that the "median usage for XFINITY Internet customers is 40 GB of data in a month."
The letter also notes that Comcast subs can track usage with the MSO-supplied data meter, and a data usage calculator that estimates a customer’s usage. Subs on the 300 GB data plan will receive a courtesy “in-browser” message and an email when they have reached 90%, 100%, 110%, and 125% of their monthly data usage plan.
While Comcast has previously argued that about 10% of its customers consume almost half of all the data on the operator’s network, holding that the “trials are based on principles of flexibility and fairness.” Critics of the policies believe they are in place to juice broadband revenues while keeping growing over-the-top video competition in check.
The FCC, meanwhile, is proposing to reclassify some over-the-top video providers as MVPDS. In September, FCC general counsel Jon Sallet said the Commission's media vetting team's opposition to the now-scuttled Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger centered on online video distribution and the combined company's ability to "throw sand in the gears" of online video competitors.