CenturyLink Claims Broadband Caps Improve The 'Internet Experience' And Empower Consumers

from the pay-more-for-less,-you're-welcome dept

Broadband ISP CenturyLink this week confirmed it’s following on Comcast’s heels and starting to impose usage caps and overage fees on the company’s already pricey DSL services. As we’ve long noted, there’s no reasonable defense for what’s effectively a glorified rate hike on uncompetitive markets, but watching ISP PR departments try to justify these hikes has traditionally been a great source of entertainment (at least until you get the bill).

According to a new CenturyLink “excessive usage policy (pdf) being circulated by the company, customers in early trial markets will soon face monthly usage caps of 300 GB for connections 7 Mbps or slower, and 600 GB monthly caps on connections 7 Mbps or higher. Exceed that usage allotment and you’ll face overage fees of $10 per each additional 50 GB, up to a monthly maximum of $50 per month. The trial is starting in Yakima, Washington and is expected to expand into other CenturyLink territories later this year.

As data has increasingly shown usage caps to be little more than a cash grab (and not really an effective way to manage congestion should it even exist anyway), many ISPs have stopped giving any justification whatsoever for their rush to cap customers. CenturyLink’s PR department, however, does some yeoman’s work in its new FAQ, first proclaiming that they’re just nobly trying to improve customers’ “internet experience”:

“Data usage limits encourage reasonable use of your CenturyLink High Speed Internet service so that all customers can receive the optimal Internet experience they have purchased with their service plan.”

Yes, charging your customers more money for the same (or less) service sounds like a lovely experience indeed, on par with a day of camping or swimming in the lake! Note that there are people who do consume an “excessive” amount of bandwidth, but traditionally those users can simply be pushed toward business-class tiers. No, these restrictions aren’t about determining what’s reasonable in terms of bandwidth consumption, they’re about saddling all broadband customers with usage restrictions to protect legacy TV revenues from the rise of Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services.

After the story first broke this week CenturyLink took this narrative a bit further, issuing a press statement to all news outlets claiming that charging more money for the same service is an act of consumer empowerment:

“CenturyLink is conducting usage-based billing trials in Yakima, WA, to allow customers to control their Internet usage. This gives our customers proactive management of their usage and ensures they are being billed fairly. Very few customers will see any change in what they pay for Internet service, as customers will only be billed an additional amount if they exceed the Internet usage limit for the High-Speed Internet plan they purchased. CenturyLink will analyze the data from this trial to determine next steps and make decisions regarding further rollout of usage-based billing.”

As we’ve noted with Comcast’s caps, large ISPs like to suggest these price hikes are a “trial” where customer input matters. This lets them argue to regulators that they’re not aggressively penalizing users in captive markets, they’re just engaged in “creative price experimentation.” It also gives consumers the false impression that their feedback matters, when ISPs know perfectly well that consumers loathe being charged more money under what’s a highly punitive and often confusing new billing system.

As for usage caps and overage fees giving consumers “proactive management of their usage” while ensuring “they are being billed fairly,” keep in mind that unlike traditional utilities, no regulator checks the accuracy of ISP meters. That has historically resulted in ISPs billing consumers for phantom usage, or even charging them for consumption when the power is out or the modem was off. ISPs want to bill like utilities, but the faintest mention of them being regulated as such results in no limit of histrionics and hand wringing from the sector.

Meanwhile, CenturyLink knows full well that customers can’t do a damn thing about this glorified rate hike, because they either have no other broadband option — or their alternate option (usually Comcast) is imposing usage restrictions as well. Behold the competitive glory of a broken broadband market few in government — and even fewer in the telecom sector — are actually interested in fixing.

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Companies: century link

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Comments on “CenturyLink Claims Broadband Caps Improve The 'Internet Experience' And Empower Consumers”

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That One Guy (profile) says:


As for usage caps and overage fees giving consumers “proactive management of their usage” while ensuring “they are being billed fairly,” keep in mind that unlike traditional utilities, no regulator checks the accuracy of ISP meters.

Also worth pointing out, if they actually cared about making sure that their customers were being billed ‘fairly’ then those who used their connections less would be charged less, just like those that use the connections more are being charged more.

This however is notably not what is happening. Instead everyone, from those that barely use their connection at all to those that use it regularly are all charged the same flat rate, with the price only increasing if someone uses ‘too much’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: '

Not at all, I’m saying that even if I accepted the claim that customers who use their connection a lot presented such a huge problem that caps were necessary for ‘network management’, then their argument regarding ‘fair billing’ still fails because it only works one way, up.

If it’s only ‘fair’ that customers who use their connection more pay more then clearly those that use less should pay less, but that’s not what’s happening, exposing the ‘fairness in billing’ claim as a lie and a flimsy excuse to charge more for the same service.

Andy says:

Re: Re: '

The fact that Americans accept paying for incoming calls and outgoing calls so that the telcos can double dip on every phone call is one of the things i can never get my head around, paying for incoming calls, amazingly successfuly grab of a huge chunk of money form consumers. And no it is not a sharing of a calls costs it is double the price many other country pays, in fact more than double as America already has the highest costs for mobile calls in any first second or even many third world countries.

SlowIsSlowIsSlow says:


The irony, that CenturyLink would speak to 7Mbps speed which is below what is considered actual “broadband” in the United States and still Cap it.

They should be giving anything below the official 25Mbps to customers for $10 bucks a month, at least then it wouldn’t be insult to injury.

Anonymous Coward says:

Translation help...

“Data usage limits encourage reasonable use of your CenturyLink High Speed Internet service so that all customers can receive the optimal Internet experience they have purchased with their service plan.”

We are too fucking busy working on strategies to gouge, swindle, cheat, or just lie our way to more profits instead of building a network that could support our customers properly. We instead introduce usage Caps as our unique version of “The Emperors New Cloths” for doing something about it and plan to continue offering sub-par service while we seek new and creative ways to charge more for less!

The customers will love it! Because the FTC and FCC really do not give a shit, and in the rare cases that they do… we have Congress and our local political yuppies for that shit!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Why do they have to be insulting?

OK, I get that they want to squeeze every last penny out of their customers that they can. They are a telecom company, after all.

But why do they (and others) insist on insulting us all by telling us that it’s for our own good? Do they really want to make themselves even more hated than they already are?

PaulT (profile) says:

“Data usage limits encourage reasonable use of your CenturyLink High Speed Internet service”

Now, here’s the thing: define “reasonable”. Somehow, I think that the ISP’s definition will differ wildly from the average consumer’s. For example:

“customers in early trial markets will soon face monthly usage caps of 300 GB for connections 7 Mbps or slower, and 600 GB monthly caps on connections 7 Mbps or higher”

OK, so let’s take the higher one as an example. 600GB might sound a lot, but what will people use it for? Well, increasingly you’re talking about video streaming/downloads and online games.

So, video – Netflix states that HD video uses around 3Gb/hour (https://help.netflix.com/en/node/87). A standard Netflix account allows 2 devices to stream. So, in a family household, you might have 100 hours per device for 2 devices before you hit the cap. If streaming is your primary TV viewing source, it’s not hard to imagine some people hitting that cap just watching TV .

Then, downloads. Some files are becoming increasingly large. As examples, I recently downloaded Halo 5: Guardians as part of a free week on Gold. The download was 90GB. A couple of games like that a month and you’re looking at using 1/3 of your cap before you’ve even started playing. The games may not use huge amounts of data while playing them, but a few good sessions could also add up.

These kinds of usage can easily add up, and they’re certainly not going down. I don’t think the Halo 5 download is the norm just yet, but that’s probably where the future is heading and it’s not unusual to see huge patches. Ditto Netflix – if more people move to Ultra HD (7GB/hour) and they introduce the rumoured download facility, that 600GB is going to look rather shabby.

So, it’s extremely easy for people to come up to these caps while using the service in what most would consider a “reasonable” way. But, what are the chances that the ISPs adjust their business to accept the reality rather than simply fleece customers who may not have much choice in the matter? Slim, in a non-competitive market.

Yet, those same customers are “empowered” and have their service “improved”? Hardly. Even if you agree with the concept of capping consumers, this kind of limit is bound to cause problems for people who are using the service reasonably.

Flynn Arrowstarr says:

Re: Re: Cap at 7mbps

When I was on the consumer DSL, it was 250 GB. We went over that two months in a row and got a popup on our screen that we were overusing our bandwidth. So, my guess it, it would be the 300 GB limit.

On business class now – same speed, $20 more per month and no caps. Bastards… 😛

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Now, here’s the thing: define “reasonable”.

Reasonable is legal code for “Whatever the fuck we need it to be whenever we want it to be.” Just look at SCOTUS… they us the term reasonable to fit into whatever fucking mold they need it to so that the constitution can be shredded.

The new Rules for the FCC net neutrality read JUST like that. Which is why I am actually against the new rules. The new rules in the hands of an industry shill are just as bad or worse than the current rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’ve always wondered why they’re moving towards such high caps. From a marketing standpoint, to move people away from streaming television, the cap should be lower. My wife and I watch a LOT of netflix. It’s pretty much all we do after work. About half the time we watch separately.

We have gigabit fibre, and we only use 5-20 gigabytes a day. The 300 GB cap makes sense as a deterrent, but 600 GB and 1 TB? That has to be only 1% of their users, or at least a low enough percent that they’re not going to be making money back on overages that they’re losing in TV revenue.

Are they just setting caps at where they expect we’ll all be in 5 years so it doesn’t seem so offensive to us when it happens? As in, ‘oh crap this is our fault, we’re just using so much data now’?

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thank you for this breakdown.

I think the average person can’t really understand numbers like 300G or 2T or whatever else. But when you start saying things like “100 hours of Netflix”, then people start to understand that this is roughly 100 episodes of a TV show or 50 movies and they start to think about how much they actually watch.

And don’t forget about all the little things like videos on YouTube and Facebook or even auto-playing ads.

And how much data does a video chat over Facetime or Skype take?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The ‘generous’ caps also look even worse when you factor in something pretty common:

Households with more than one person.

Sure one person might struggle to hit 300 or 600 GB’s in a month, requiring a whole lot of binge watching and/or hefty downloads, but add a few other people also using the connection for watching/downloading things and that number starts seeming a lot smaller.

The idea that ‘most’ people won’t use that much so it’s not an unreasonable cap is true(ish) as far as that goes, but completely ignores the fact that a family of people can easily blow through the allotment and start raking in overage fees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah, makes sense, thanks for the explanation.

Not that I was defending the practice in any way whatsoever.

I hate the idea that people might be beginning to forget that for decades we paid for a speed and not a quantity, and that the quantity is an artificial scarcity. It feels very much to me like book publishers all of a sudden putting limits on the number of times you can read a book purchased at a bookstore, all other things being the same, and then comparing the reading of the book to water and electricity usage.

Darkhog says:


Funnily enough, in early 2000s Polish ISPs decided to try this stunt as well. It didn’t fly (or run, walk, or even crawl).

UOKiK (Polish government agency for protecting the rights of customers, dunno what its US equivalent is) and UKE (essentially Polish equivalent of FCC) promptly put out regulations that forbids such stuff from happening, though it was over before these regulations were put in place as certain ISPs (sorry, don’t remember which one, I was a teenager at the time) specifically made the point that they don’t have any usage caps in their advertising campaigns.

Darkhog says:

Re: Re: Heheh.

Indeed, that’s the case, James Burkhardt. I’ve thrown this as an interesting tidbit and because maybe someone from Google marketing dept will read it and use as part of Fiber advertising, or some smaller local ISP which is big enough anyway to run ads on TV/major portals and doesn’t impose usage caps will use this idea. It worked in Poland, may as well work in U.S.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is needed...

In a perfect world the FCC would require that part of all advertising for broadband service include the amount of time it would take to hit the bandwidth cap at maximum usage.

When I had consumer grade service from CenturyLink, that number was about a day and a half. (I now have business service from them to stop them from complaining about my usage. When Google Fiber hits my location, I will switch to that as soon as possible.)

When CenturyLink first implemented their bandwidth caps they never told customers, it just happened. Also the wording about those caps on their web site was a cut-and-paste job from Comcast’s bandwidth cap text.

Basically the whole thing is a “Screwage Fee”.

Anonymous Coward says:

God I am glad I live in europe and don’t have to deal with this shit. I host my own nextcloud and lend some space to my sister. I also stream music and movies from my home server as well as sending backups of my important stuff to a friends house in exchange for keeping his. I classify it as being much, but still a resonable home use of a modern connection. I run through about 2 Tb a month doing this, you think comcast would send a hitman or a truck for all the money they want if I had them?

DigDug says:

Class Action Lawsuit - Rico Act Violations

Since the entire “industry” is “doing it”, we can all start a class action lawsuit, with their attempts at “coercion” and “contract violations”, etc…

When you “pay” for XXMbit/S service, that means that you are allowed to download (((3 * 60 * 24) * 30) * XX) MBytes a month.

Anything less than that is breach of contract.

Restricting below that is a form of coercion to “buy” a higher tier that doesn’t improve your speed at all.

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