Comcast Expands Its Bullshit Usage Caps…In The Middle Of A Pandemic

from the read-the-room dept

Contrary to what some try to claim, broadband usage caps have always been bullshit. They serve absolutely no technical function, do not help manage congestion, and exist exclusively to nickel-and-dime captive customers in monopolized U.S. markets. Worse, they can be used by incumbent ISPs anticompetitively to hamstring competitors in the streaming video and other markets.

Comcast, for years, has been slowly expanding these unnecessary and costly restrictions in line with the frog in the boiling pot fable (you’re the frog, unless that wasn’t clear). The only area the company hadn’t yet deployed the restrictions was in the northeast, largely due to the added competition Comcast sees in the area from uncapped Verizon FiOS. Apparently Comcast has gotten tired of waiting, so they’ve announced that they’ve implemented a new 1.2 terabyte cap across the Northeast, which will be fully implemented by March:

“…effective March 1st, residential customers will begin facing overlimit fees for exceeding their data allowance at a rate of $10 for each 50 GB of excess usage, up to a maximum of $100 a month. Customers will not be credited for unused data, cannot rollover unused data, or be charged less than $10 in overlimit fees, regardless if one used 1 MB or 49 GB over the 1.2 TB allowance.

Customers approaching their usage limit will receive email, text messages, and Xfinity X1 on-screen notifications upon reaching 75% (email only), 90%, and 100% of 1.2 TB of data usage. Overlimit fees that subsequently start accumulating will be noted in email and X1 on-screen notifications for each additional 50 GB of usage over 1.2 TB, up to the maximum overage charge of $100.”

Folks will quickly (as usual) get caught up in a discussion about how 1 terabyte a month is “fair,” ignoring, again, that these restrictions serve no purpose outside of jacking up U.S. broadband bills, which, even under flat-rate pricing, are some of the most expensive in the developed world thanks to monopolization and corrupt state and federal regulators. The industry doesn’t even try to pretend that such restrictions “help manage congestion” (they do not). Nor do they help manage “heavy users,” which can already be shoved toward more expensive business-class tiers when needed.

It’s not a great look for Comcast during a pandemic when broadband is essential and countless Americans are already struggling to pay their bills. Comcast must have done the calculus and figured the outrage will likely be muted enough to prevent any meaningful backlash. After all, unless you live in a Verizon FiOS market in the Northeast, most of these users don’t have any competing ISPs to flock to. And historically, neither party has much cared that entrenched monopolies routinely rip off American consumers with costly and confusing restrictions that serve no purpose outside of jacking up already high monthly bills.

With neither competition nor adult regulatory oversight to keep Comcast in check, who is going to do anything about it?

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Comments on “Comcast Expands Its Bullshit Usage Caps…In The Middle Of A Pandemic”

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36 Comments
JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Comcrap

Back when I was mailing checks to pay my cable bill, I always wrote them to Comcrap. & yes, they cashed them. Yes, I have the 1.2 terabyte cap.

I’ve gone over twice now during the pandemic (the two "courtesy"freebies). Next time they start charging. Each time it is likely caused by online all day "events" using MS teams. They insist we keep our cameras on to be "fully present". Participating in four days, 7 hour days, of steaming these meetings uses a lot of data.

My only other option is AT&T with a max of 29 megabits down. We tried it for 12 months a few years ago & it was not enough for my family. Comcrap knows this & won’t budge on the pricing.

MathFox says:

Re: Re:

The article was the reason for me to check my Internet usage; it’s single person, just work from home and some entertainment appropriate for these COVID times. The usage counter for October came to 1.16 TB. November is on track for 1.1 TB too. I am glad my provider does not dare to do caps!

So, I do have the impression that Comcast carefully set the cap at a level that does not cause mass-rioting, but will generate substantial income.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your experience supports my suspicions that the average family will have problems staying below the cap. I find this sort of corporate attitude to be both greedy and shortsighted, but there is little many can do about it.

I guess there are no price gouging laws at the federal level. The state level laws are mixed to non existent. Not that any AG would do anything.

MathFox says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I do think that with some monitoring and planning it will be possible for many families to stay under the 1.2 TB per month. But it depends on the size of the family and what time they (have to) spend on line.
I don’t think that a family should check their daily Internet quota to decide whether they can Netflix that evening of have to stick it out with ordinary TV. (Can I recommend a board game instead of an online one?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Our household has "solved" this problem by subscribing to both Comcast and FiOS and using a multihome router. The router can automatically switch networks when the service on one is degraded (or out completely) and when data consumption over time reaches a threshold on either one. Yeah, we pay two bills but we always have connectivity and never exceed usage caps. This is important where both of us work from home and have video meetings a good part of every day.

We’re among the lucky few who have high speed service available from multiple sources. And, I suppose, who can afford to pay two ISPs. Most of the country isn’t so lucky.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

As tired as I am of stressing this on these kinds of articles – "what’s a cap"? The only one I was aware of was on my mobile connection where I’d hit a cap and the speed was throttled (till next bill date), but that’s not even true now. There does seem to be something wrong over there.

"Folks will quickly (as usual) get caught up in a discussion about how 1 terabyte a month is "fair,""

It’s not even about "fair" as much as it is "expected". In the modern era you can easily expect 100-150Gb game downloads, 3Gb per hour Netflix 1080p streaming on multiple devices, and so on, not to mention however much all those video calls take up.

Such a limit might have been reasonable in an era where most customers access email but there’s a few heavy hitters who download all day, but not in the era of people being locked in 24×7 with their entertainment and their employment online.

"up to the maximum overage charge of $100"

This is probably the only reasonable thing. Even Comcast understand that they can’t put the employment options of their customers in jeopardy with an infinite cap so they cap it at what they think they can get away with. Although, I say that assuming that they don’t just cut off people who have had one too many business meetings that month?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"As tired as I am of stressing this on these kinds of articles – "what’s a cap"?"

Yeah, but Paul, we live in the repressed Old World where the government regulates corporate business models and as a result we get no choices and crappy goods and services, you know.

I’m sure a data cap and normally having only that one ISP to choose from are advantages we silly europeans just don’t have because we don’t live in the Land of Opportunity where the unfettered market always produces the best deal.

Do I need to put an /s on this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Land of Opportunity

More like the Land of Greed. The general mindset over here is "Fuck All Y’all." People pay no mind to the level of ripoff or entrapment others experience, with victim blaming being standard operating procedure for many, while simultaneously spouting bullshit about "freedom" and "liberty." As if that somehow justifies any of it.

Do I need to put an /s on this?

As this is a mostly US based site, Yes. Make it nice and big with some underlines too. We’ve got 1st Grade Reading Comprehension College Attendees over here. We need all of the explicit definitions we can get.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"As this is a mostly US based site, Yes. Make it nice and big with some underlines too. We’ve got 1st Grade Reading Comprehension College Attendees over here. We need all of the explicit definitions we can get."

Wow. Just wow. I mean I’m usually not mincing my words over the various ways the USA is failing it’s own mythology…but that was just harsh, man.

I do get where that comes from though. I have older relatives who worked professionally in the US, in labs and hospitals, back in the 50’s…and at that point at least "education" was another animal over stateside than it is today, with college graduates and postdocs being erudites.
Today? I’ve spoken to german professors who complained many of their US colleagues when they were over there knew nothing beyond their field of specialization. Self-made idiot savants.

"…victim blaming being standard operating procedure for many, while simultaneously spouting bullshit about "freedom" and "liberty." As if that somehow justifies any of it."

This used to be the common justification for much of europe pre-WW2 as well. In some ways centuries of strife topped off by two world wars decisively cured us off much of the blind nationalism and "My country, right or wrong" philosophy which kept causing so many persistent messes. The US is still stuck in the paradigm where it’s considered patriotic to shrug off any blame or inconvenience with unfounded pride backed by some popular cure-all catchphrase.

As far as I know the only real cure is for the nation to receive so many beatings a caution visavi the less desirable traits sinks into the actual culture. In the case of the US it looks like there are currently 73 million americans – the cultists still voting GOP after four years of Trumpism – willing to be the object lesson as to why blind adherence is a bad thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yep, Concash sucks. No local ISP competition = No low ISP pricing.

In other totally unrelated news:
I wonder if a lottery be used to pay off the deficit? Imagine a $100 ticket lottery in which the winner does not have to pay taxes (city/county/state/federal) for 10 years. Lottery participants can buy as many $100 tickets as they want, and ABSOLUTELY ALL of the ticket sales go directly to paying off the national debt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

I’ve heard this before, and I’m down with the potential for lower prices, but I’d still like to see what would happen if there were local ISP competition between all/most ISPs in every major US city.
-we get to choose between gas stations
-we get to choose between grocery stores
-we get to choose between restaurants
-we get to choose between cheap stores (Walmart/Target/Big Lots)
-we get to choose between wireless carriers
What if we could also choose between ISPs? Wouldn’t the ISPs compete with each other for lower prices? Comcast vs. Cox. vs. Frontier vs. AT&T vs. Fios etc. all in the same city.

EGF Tech Man (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

Unfortunately where I live, the only reasonable choice for the typical residence is cable service (Midco hasn’t built out any FTTH plant)…CenturyLink is only offering DSL on 100 year old copper, lucky to get 1Mbps – I had a site a block away from the CO, still never had solid DSL, no matter what they tried…There are a couple WISP offerings, but efforts to line all the streets with trees in the 1970s is really paying off now, and LOS ends up being hard even though we live in about the flattest area on earth, also Midco (cable TV co) just bought out the largest WISP, so I’m sure they are limiting new customers to rural or ones expensive to install cable to. Verizon was going to start building out 5G towers near neighborhoods for I assume fixed service use, but the NIMBYs petitioned the city council to not grant the permits and VZW has not submitted another proposal since – and it’s been 2-3 years….

So yes, there is no competition and no one wanting to provide competition…So it should be regulated like a monopoly utility.

MathFox says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

If you say $0.08/GB it will be much clearer, less zeroes.

But even that means that the "Internet utility" would receive $0.25-$0.50 per HD Netflix movie, for transporting the bits. That can easily add up to more than the Netflix subscription.
(And if you like a good and affordable Internet connection I recommend you to emigrate to Europe or Asia.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

"I know this may be an unpopular opinion here, but maybe treat Internet like any other utility, like electricity, gas, water"

I think you’re in the wrong place if you think that’s an unpopular or controversial stance on this site, though there will be some dissent I suppose. Those things are utilities because they’re necessary for the modern world, and I don’t see why internet should not be treated the same.

"Charge $20/month for the connection then like a $0.0008 per MB transferred."

You might want to reconsider your maths there.

I’d prefer a reasonable baseline with a flat fee for uncapped broadband at a reasonable minimum speed, with the option to pay for higher internet speeds if desired. Sort of how healthcare generally works in Europe – you always have a minimum standard of care, but you can pay for all the optional extras you want if you can afford private care.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

"I know this may be an unpopular opinion here, but maybe treat Internet like any other utility, like electricity, gas, water."

Terrible idea, really. Power, gas and water are physical items – goods.

bandwidth has no such limitation with the only upper limit being the amount of data which can be simultaneously handled by the trunk.

It’s worth noting that ISP’s who do not have a monopoly or are part of a cartel can’t run this business model, because ANY competitor can drop the cap completely and outcompete anyone idiot enough to try retaining it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

"Telephone is a utility"

Is this where I bring up that in europe it’s pretty common for the phone subscription to have unlimited minutes within at least the same national networks?

So it’s really the same. caps is an almost uniquely US phenomenon. There are still telcos in europe going with the per minute rate but they are growing thin on the ground in the wake of harsh competition and direct audio chat clients like skype, zoom and teams.

MathFox says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Maybe treat it like every utility

Honestly, there is a choice of telephone providers in The Netherlands, fixed line, mobile or VoIP. There also is a choice between flat-fee "unlimited calls" and low fixed cost but pay per minute plans. (And several plans that come with a number off free call minutes per month.)

Competition enables choice and the EU forced national telcos to compete.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Maybe treat it like every utility

"Competition enables choice and the EU forced national telcos to compete."

Whereas in the US, courtesy of regulatory capture, the government watchdogs tasked to ensure the marketplace remains competitive has instead done their damndest best to breed monopolies.

Facts in hand it turns out that Keynesian economics are better by far than Friedman’s unregulated market when it comes to generating an active marketplace where viable choices exist. That the US has almost completely gone with the latter since the 80’s is why the current model looks the way it does.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe treat it like every utility

Telephone is a utility

And you pay a monthly fee, and that’s it. Other than pre-paid, you can’t even find a cell phone plan that charges by the minute, let alone a home phone. I don’t want a broadband plan where I have to consider if it’s worth the extra money to stream that movie. I wouldn’t object to such plans being available, for people who barely use the internet, but I don’t want one.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Maybe treat it like every utility

OK, and broadband requires access to the bandwidth provided by backbone providers (in a very broad manner of speaking, obviously that’s not all).

My point is, from an end user point of view, they’re both a set of wires that come into someone’s house that provide something that enables devices within the home to operate. There’s not a lot of difference from that POV, and certainly nothing in a physical sense.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Maybe treat it like every utility

"OK, and broadband requires access to the bandwidth provided by backbone providers (in a very broad manner of speaking, obviously that’s not all)."

There’s a difference between infrastructure which, once placed, has a cap on amount/time unit rather than a physical limit depending on resources. Power generation consumes resources. The utility of an existing grid does not.

The only real applicable factor which could involve data caps is network load. And the greed of a pseudo-monopoly trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of customers when there’s no actual competition to be had.

"… from an end user point of view, they’re both a set of wires that come into someone’s house that provide something that enables devices within the home to operate."

Well, yes. But when the end user is dealing with a monopoly their POV is not relevant to the discussion to begin with. Their choice is exclusively restricted to choosing whether to be gouged over an unreasonable price model which could not exist in a competitive market, or else going without that utility.

NoNameNovember says:

Reason Why

Anytime an ISP mentions limits on bandwidth and/or caps
the first thing that should come to mind
is that spending money on infrastructure
solves anything related to bandwidth and capacity.

Anytime they try to project that monthly caps are needed –
Reason why spending money on infrastructure isn’t the first response coming from North American ISPs (yes including Canada here too) lobbyists?

It’s all about fictitious limits…
The same stuff Telco’s created in the form of ‘fees’.

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