Illustration of a Comcast Internet user being yanked away from a computer monitor and other equipment.

Aurich Lawson / Getty Pictures

Comcast’s 1.2TB month-to-month knowledge cap is coming to 12 extra states and the District of Columbia beginning January 2021. The unpopular coverage was already enforced in most of Comcast’s 39-state US territory over the previous few years, and the upcoming growth will for the primary time convey the cap to each market in Comcast’s territory.

Comcast can be offering some “courtesy months” by which newly capped clients can exceed 1.2TB with out penalty, so the primary overage prices for these clients can be assessed for knowledge utilization within the April 2021 billing interval.

Comcast’s knowledge cap has been imposed since 2016 in 27 of the 39 states in Comcast’s cable territory. The cap-less components of Comcast’s community embrace Northeastern states the place the cable firm faces competitors from Verizon’s un-capped FiOS fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

However final week, an replace to Comcast’s web site stated that the cap is coming to Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The cap can be coming to components of Virginia and Ohio the place it wasn’t already applied. In all, Comcast has practically 28 million residential Web clients.

We seen the up to date language on Comcast’s web site Friday. Comcast seems to have taken the replace off that webpage, however a Comcast spokesperson confirmed to Ars in the present day that the info cap goes nationwide in January 2021 and stated that notifications are being despatched to clients of their payments. The up to date language from the Comcast web site was additionally preserved in a information article by Cease the Cap in the present day.

Courtesy months for newly capped customers

Comcast’s replace stated clients in newly capped markets “can take the months of January and February to know how the brand new 1.2TB Web Information Plan impacts them with out further prices. We’ll credit score your invoice for any further knowledge utilization prices over 1.2TB throughout these months in the event you’re not on a limiteless knowledge plan.”

That may delay enforcement till March, however Comcast additionally gives all clients with one courtesy month in every 12-month interval. Newly capped clients might thus begin getting overage prices for his or her April 2021 utilization.

“Comcast is definite to be criticized for increasing knowledge caps in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly because the variety of circumstances explodes in america, pushing extra folks than ever to work at home,” Cease the Cap wrote.

The information-cap growth will possible lead to extra disputes between Comcast and clients. Comcast has all the time stated its knowledge meter is correct, however has needed to appropriate occasional errors. Prospects who abruptly face overage charges usually suspect the meter is flawed. Comcast gives no method for patrons to independently confirm the meter readings, and there isn’t any authorities regulation of broadband-data meters to make sure their accuracy.

Limitless knowledge choices

Comcast’s overage prices are $10 for every further block of 50GB, as much as a most of $100 every month. Prospects can keep away from overage prices by spending an additional $30 a month on limitless knowledge or $25 for the “xFi Full” plan that features limitless knowledge and the rental price for Comcast’s xFi gateway modem and router.

Comcast is attempting to offer clients in newly capped markets an incentive to improve to limitless knowledge earlier than the caps really go into impact. It’s kind of convoluted: clients who join limitless knowledge in December or January could have the $30 unlimited-data cost waived till June, the Comcast spokesperson informed Ars. Individuals who join limitless knowledge in February or March could be charged the additional $30 charge beginning in April.

Comcast is doing one thing comparable with the $25 xFi Full add-on, which primarily combines two prices into one—a $14-per-month cost for Comcast’s gateway and one other $11 to get limitless knowledge. Prospects who improve to the unlimited-data model of xFi Full in December or January won’t be charged the additional $11 till June, the spokesperson stated. Prospects who enroll later pays the cost beginning in April.

Comcast says cap is for “tremendous customers”

The Comcast spokesperson defended the data-cap growth, saying that “a really small variety of clients drive a disproportionately giant quantity of visitors,” as “5 p.c of residential clients make up greater than 20 p.c of our community utilization.”

About 95 p.c of Comcast residential clients use lower than 1.2TB a month, with the median buyer at 308GB, the spokesperson stated. The cap is “for these tremendous customers, a really small subset of our clients,” and “for these tremendous customers we’ve got limitless choices,” the spokesperson stated.

However Comcast clients would possible use extra knowledge in the event that they did not face caps. New analysis by OpenVault, a vendor that sells data-usage monitoring platform to ISPs, discovered that 9.4 p.c of US clients with limitless knowledge plans exceeded 1TB a month and that 1.2 p.c exceeded 2TB in Q3 2020. For patrons with knowledge caps, 8.3 p.c exceeded 1TB and 0.9 p.c exceeded 2TB.

Comcast didn’t present a transparent reply as to why the corporate determined that now could be the best time to develop the info cap to extra states. The spokesperson stated Comcast has spent $12 billion to develop its community since 2017, and that growing capability helped the community carry out effectively even because the COVID pandemic prompted massive will increase in residential broadband utilization. However Comcast lowered capital spending on its cable division in 2019 and lowered cable-division capital spending once more within the first 9 months of 2020.

Information caps generate income for ISPs

It has been clear for years that Comcast’s knowledge caps are a revenue-generating system somewhat than a congestion administration instrument. When Comcast was imposing a 300GB month-to-month cap in 2015, a Comcast engineering govt stated imposing the month-to-month knowledge restrict was a enterprise choice, not one pushed by technical necessity.

Month-to-month knowledge caps are usually not helpful for managing congestion in actual time, since they apply solely to a buyer’s month-to-month whole somewhat than really addressing the impression heavy customers might need on different clients at peak utilization instances. Comcast used to make use of a congestion-management system to decelerate the heaviest Web customers, however turned the system off a number of years in the past, saying its community was robust sufficient that it was not wanted.

Comcast started imposing the info cap and overage prices in some states in 2012. The cap was initially 300GB and was raised to 1TB in 2016.

Comcast waived the info cap for a number of months throughout the pandemic, then raised it from 1TB to 1.2TB when it was reimposed in July. Regardless of the momentary data-cap waiver, Comcast boasted that its community was capable of deal with the pandemic-fueled utilization.

One small ISP in Maryland, Antietam Broadband, determined to completely take away knowledge caps after discovering that elevated utilization throughout the pandemic did not hurt the community. Antietam additionally stated that clients working at house switched to “broadband packages that extra precisely mirrored their broadband wants.” As Antietam’s expertise reveals, heavy Web customers usually pay for quicker speeds, making certain that ISPs get extra income from heavy customers even when there isn’t any knowledge cap.

As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) informed Ars earlier this yr, the pandemic confirmed that knowledge caps aren’t essential to handle community visitors. “Information caps have all the time been about socking customers with further charges to pad Massive Cable’s revenue margins,” Wyden stated on the time. “Even after the COVID-19 emergency passes, ISPs ought to get rid of pointless knowledge caps.”

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