Comcast To Regulators: Data Caps? These? Nooo! These Are Just… Fuzzy Friendly Flexible Consumption Plans For Friends

from the friends-who-pay-more dept

A few weeks ago, Verizon Wireless introduced a new bandwidth throttling plan and tried to claim it wasn’t throttling at all, but rather “network optimization,” and now Ars Technica has the story of how Comcast is trying to spin its data caps as not being data caps at all. Instead, they’re “flexible data consumption plans.” Because flexible is fun. Of course, their definition of flexible may be different from yours and mine, because they’re only “flexible” on Comcast’s side in determining just what the caps are. Once you go over those “flexible” plans, you’ll certainly be paying more. Just like a data cap. But, Comcast insists, it’s no data cap.

Comcast has been trying to make this argument for a while, even demanding a correction from GigaOm when it referred to these plans as data caps. However, now it’s made this argument in a regulatory filing with the New York Public Service Commission in support of its merger with Time Warner Cable. In a section responding to the concerns that some have raised about the merger, Comcast attacks the worries about data caps head on:

First, Comcast does not have ?data caps? today. Comcast announced almost two years ago that it was suspending enforcement of its prior 250 GB excessive usage cap and that it would instead be trialing different pricing and packaging options to evaluate options for subscribers ? options that reflect evolving Internet usage and that are based on the desire to provide flexible consumption plans, including a plan that enables customers who want to use more data the option to pay more to do so as well as a plan for those who use less data the option to save some money. As has been well publicized for some time now ? including through Comcast?s own website ? these trials are ongoing and currently cover a small minority of customers. Some of these trials include a data usage plan that allows customers who use very little Internet each month to receive a discount on their service fee, and variations on a plan that provide customers with the ability to buy additional increments of usage if they exceed a base amount (starting at 300 GB) that is included with their service. As it turns out, only a very small percentage of Comcast customers in the trials go over 300 GB in any given month, so few customers see increased costs because of the data plans and Comcast has seen no evidence that the data plans discourage usage, which has generally continued to increase in and outside of the trial markets.

In other words… Comcast is, in fact, testing a data cap. They just don’t want you to call it that. Because it’s flexible.

Jon Brodkin, over at Ars Technica, notes that the FCC’s own working group on data caps — which included a Comcast VP — defines data caps in a way that makes it clear that Comcast’s plans are, in fact, data caps.

A cap is rarely, if ever, a hard and fast ceiling on a customer’s ability to access the network. A cap is usually better understood as a threshold after which the user is subject to a different set of conditions for access, such as movement to a higher priced tier, different product or different speeds. As discussed below, another way of thinking of this is as the boundary between different ?tiers’ of service.

Though, there is a footnote (perhaps added at the behest of the Comcast VP) that Comcast “does not have any caps in place but is trialing two UBP [usage-based pricing] plans.”

Either way, the point is pretty clear. To basically everyone who doesn’t work for a giant broadband provider, Comcast is testing data caps. Time Warner Cable has tested them in the past. And, furthermore, as we wrote about back in May, in candid moments Comcast will admit that it wants to roll those data caps out to everyone within a few years. Having Time Warner Cable under its belt would certainly help on that front…

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Companies: comcast, time warner cable

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Comments on “Comcast To Regulators: Data Caps? These? Nooo! These Are Just… Fuzzy Friendly Flexible Consumption Plans For Friends”

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mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: I am so glad...

Comcast may not be near me, but TWC is. I keep thinking of what happened with my cellphone. Cingular’s customer service never disappointed me, but customer service soon went into nightmare mode after AT&T bought them.

To be honest, most people that I know seldom have anything nice to say about TWC’s customer service. I might be the exception, but they have never failed to impress me with good, quick, helpful responses. If just half of what I read about Comcast is true, I imagine my choices will be AT&T versus TWC/Comcast. :((

Ninja (profile) says:

Oooooh! A 300Gb flexible …???… limit? Cap? Wall? I usually hover in the 150Gb total transfer but this month I downloaded 180Gb worth of data in 35 hours (along with keeping with my regular usage on the rest of the month) which will certainly shoot me way past the 300 threshold. Thankfully my ISP isn’t full of bullshit like Comcast and there’s no cap other than my connection limit (which amusingly is set at 50mbit but I get around 60 consistently). But I digress.

The only caps that make any sense is caps on the size of the pipe itself (the speed). If they have issues at peak times they can make tiers that give discounts for limited speeds at those times (ie: you get 100mbit but during peak times this is reduced to 50 to accommodate everybody equally). Sure the best solution would be to expand the network but this would be a much more reasonable way to distribute the load without shafting your customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I average 120 to 150. My highest usage was late last year at about 280. This past June, I used less than 100 while in July it was nearly 250. Yet, this month, I’m sitting at under 90 with just a few days remaining.

I’m on Time Warner so I don’t worry about caps from them. But, if Comcast gets approval for the merger, it is rumored that my area (Columbus, OH) will either end up in the spin off company or under Charter. Charter has caps and isn’t afraid to use them. I don’t know what will happen with the spin off company. I’m not excited about either prospect honestly.

If Comcast wins approval for the merger, I will seriously consider switching to WOW as I believe it is available in my area. Verizon FIOS isn’t available in my area and I’m not interested in AT&T U-Verse which is available and isn’t as fast as what I have with Time Warner.

I’m not excited at all about this merger talk.

Rabbit80 says:

Re: Re: Re:

Been forced to redownload my steam library a couple of times this year. That sits at around 1.5TiB – my current record for downloads in a month sits at around 3.5TiB and my usual usage is around 600GiB (Mainly due to Netflix HD streaming)

Fortunately, I live in the UK and our ISPs have finally started to learn that ripping us off loses them customers. Most unlimited plans are now actually unlimited. In the past unlimited meant a hidden cap (under the guise of a fair use policy) which could result in suspension of your account. I was suspended by two separate ISPs under their FUPs in the past – after getting warned to reduce my usage they still refused to tell me what the upper limit was!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Everyone needs to stop bitching about the US. The US is one country that offers far more protection that any other country does. Most citizens don’t even need a fraction of that protection unless you’re doing something the government doesn’t agree with, like leaking documents. If you are, then you shouldn’t be a citizen in the first place.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can legally use large amounts of data quite easily. I pay for my data usage like everyone else. If I were a Comcast sufferer, and thus had a reason to bitch, then I would bitch about Comcast as I rightfully should.

Not being a Comcast user, I still have a reason to bitch because other ISPs would like to follow Comcast’s example.

How I use my bandwidth is none of your, or Comcast’s business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

According to your viewpoint kenichi tanaka, no one really needs that amount of data eh? (that includes you in your viewpoint) So you wouldn’t mind going back to 56 k while paying for broadband speeds. Fair enough, you do that while everyone else actually uses the internet after paying for access.

This is just more BS on why Comcast should never be allowed to merge with Time Warner. Comcast has been very active in the news while the merger consideration is going on. I’ve heard more BS being attempted to be spun into what’s good for the customer while not actually being so than I’ve heard from ISPs in a long time. It tells me Comcast wants this really bad.

What’s good for Comcast is good for none of it’s customers. For an internet company that has terrible customer service combining with another internet company not known for it’s customer service, this is a terrible idea. Comcast is out for one thing, how much it can be allowed to get away with in gouging the customer. Making them a bigger bully isn’t going to help.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Last time I checked netflix was legal. Last time I checked the copies of free software I was seeding (like 10-20Gb worth) were legal. Last time I checked Steam traffic was legal (oh boy an install from zero is pretty demanding). Last time I checked backing up hundreds of gigabytes to a cloud storage was legal. I can go on if you need more examples of why you are full of bullshit.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Everyone needs to stop bitching about Comcast.”

Why? Comcast is one of, if not the, worst ISPs around. They deserve every bit of the bitching.

“Most customers don’t even use a fraction of that data unless you’re doing something illegal”

First, so what? That doesn’t make this data cap business in any way reasonable. And it doesn’t make Comcast’s lying about data caps any better.

Second, lots and lots of people use large amounts of data without breaking the law. Bringing up illegal acitvities as some kind of justification for data caps is just plain stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you also want to look at all the bullshit they do like charging for equipment that was returned and sending people to collections? What about repeated not showing up for their appointments? What about the flat out worst customer service how many years in a row?

Comcast is a fucking joke of an ISP. If they were actually forced to compete they would go under, which is why they fight so hard to not to have to compete.

If someone drinks and drives it’s the person’s fault not the vehicle manufacturer, much like if someone abuses their internet for illegal means there’s reprocussions for them. That however does not speak to the fact that Comcast plays bullshit games like “UP TO” 50mbps in their marketing materials while never actually providing that service. Or bullshit like “oh these, these aren’t data caps….they’re….data…..caps….”

But hey, keep on keepin’ on with that whole comcast shill thing you have going on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Between the lines...

including a plan that enables customers who want to use more data the option to pay more to do so as well as a plan for those who use less data the option to save some money.

What they don’t mention is that they’re eliminating the plans for those who want to continue to use the data they’ve always used and want to pay the same or less to do it

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Good, because it’s flexible they won’t charge me for going over it will they?”

No no you misunderstand. It’s flexable as in: “last month you used 30gb and the cap wa 4000; this month you used 130 and the cap was 10 you owe $100 in overages” …
See flexible,
Your friends at ComCast (Castrating your communication since ???)

Anonymous Coward says:

If they REALLY wanted to offer flexible plans, they leave everything alone with the billing and data without any caps. Then they simply announce automatic discounts that get applied to your next bill based on your previous usage if your usage was under a given amount the previous month. It’s the same concept that some car insurance providers do with safe driver rewards programs for periods of time with no claims. Of course that concept means you don’t get to gouge people for under estimating what their usage for the month would be.

Just another Comcast User says:

I am a Comcast user and evidently I have exceeded the 300GiB limit 3 months total now…

They also give you a grace period of 3 months over and they supposedly tell you that they are doing so. But they do so over your email account(that you don’t check). Then when you try to go check the fact that they told you by logging and checking your email account…. you find out that by default they delete all unread email after 45 days so they can’t prove or disprove the fact that they actually notified you 3 times. And now since I average 600GiB a month they want me to pay $120 in overage fees.

I tried to call and have the fee removed because I claimed they never actually notified me that anything was happening and they hung up on me.

Horray for Comcast!

NaBUru38 (profile) says:

“A cap is usually better understood as a threshold after which the user is subject to a different set of conditions for access, such as movement to a higher priced tier, different product or different speeds.”

If after reacing the 200 GB or so the company would provide a slower connection (say 1 Mbit/s), that would be a flexible data service. But cutting access to 0 Mbit/s is a data service cap.

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