Following months of trials, Comcast began the commercial rollout of a controversial usage-based broadband policy last week that charges consumers extra if they exceed monthly data allotments.
The new policy, to be applied in most of the MSO’s markets by Nov. 1, limits usage to 1 Terabyte (1,025 Gigabytes) per month before customers are charged $10 per each additional bucket of 50 GBs.
Notably, those overage charges will not exceed $200 each month no matter how much data a residential customer uses. Comcast is also giving customers two “courtesy” months before data overage fees would be applied.
NORTHEAST NOT INCLUDED
Comcast markets in the Northeastern U.S., including its hometown of Philadelphia, and in its Mid-Atlantic region, including Washington, D.C., are among the few areas that are not part of the MSO’s current data plan rollout. Comcast has not announced if it will expand the policy to those areas.
In markets with the data plan, Comcast is also offering an unlimited data option that costs an additional $50 per month, which is up from fees of $30 to $35 per month, depending on the market, that the operator had previously been testing.
For light Internet users, Comcast offers a “Flexible Data Option” for customers on its Economy Plus and Performance Starter high-speed tiers that provides an automatic $5 credit if their total monthly usage is less than or equal to 5 GBs per month. On that plan, Comcast charges $1 for each 1 GB of data used over the 5-GB threshold.
Comcast’s data usage plans don’t apply to Comcast Business Internet subs, customers on “Bulk Internet” agreements or customers who use the MSO’s new Prepaid Internet service (offered in a handful of markets) or Gigabit Pro, service that uses fiber-to-the-premises technology.
With the commercial deployment, Comcast joins a growing mix of cable operators and Internet-service providers that have implemented usage-based Internet data policies, including AT&T, Mediacom Communications and Cox Communications. Altice USA-owned Suddenlink Communications also has a data plan policy that charges extra when customers exceed their monthly cap, along with a recently launched unlimited data option, but former Cablevision Systems properties now owned by Altice don’t implement data caps. Charter Communications, per the order approving its acquisition of Time Warner Cable, is prohibited from imposing data caps or charging usage-based pricing on residential broadband service for seven years.
FCC TO INVESTIGATE CAPS
Usage-based broadband policies have taken heat from critics who see them as a way for cable operators to drive more revenue while also keeping over-the-top video competition in check. The Federal Communications Commission is looking into data-cap policies but has not set a timetable.
Comcast, meanwhile, reasons in its FAQ about the policy that its data plan “is based on a principle of fairness. ... Those who use more Internet data pay more. And those who use less Internet data pay less.”
Comcast also stressed that about 99% of its customers don’t use more than 1 TB in a month, and that median monthly usage is about 75 Megabytes.
To give customers a sense of how much data 1 TB is, Comcast’s FAQ notes that it’s roughly equal to streaming 600 to 700 hours of HD video, playing online games for more than 12,000 hours or streaming more than 15,000 hours of music.
Comcast provides an online meter that shows customers their data usage and also sends them an in-browser message and an email when they are close to or have exceeded the 1-TB cap.
Mapping a Fat Pipeline
The bulk of Comcast’s footprint will soon implement the MSO’s data-usage policy.
Comcast’s Terabyte usage plan is active in the following markets: Alabama (excluding the Dothan market); Arizona; Arkansas; Florida (Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Keys); Georgia (excluding Southeastern Georgia); Illinois; Northern Indiana; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Southwestern Michigan; Mississippi; Tennessee; Eastern Texas; South Carolina; and Southwest Virginia.
The plan is set to become effective Nov. 1 in these additional markets: Dothan, Ala.; Houston; California; Colorado; Florida (North Florida, Southwest Florida and West Palm); Southeastern Georgia; Idaho; Indiana (Indianapolis and Central Indiana, Fort Wayne and Eastern Indiana); Kansas; Michigan (Grand Rapids/Lansing, Detroit and Eastern Michigan); Minnesota; Missouri; New Mexico; Western Ohio; Oregon; Utah; Washington; and Wisconsin.