Fearing COVID PR Backlash, Comcast Backs Off Its Bullshit Broadband Caps In The Northeast… For Now

from the we-will-no-longer-charge-you-extra-for-no-reason dept

Last November, Comcast quietly announced that the company would be expanding its broadband caps into the Northeast, one of the last Comcast territories where the restrictions hadn’t been imposed yet. Of course Comcast was utterly tone deaf to the fact there was a historic health and economic crisis going on, or how imposing unnecessary surcharges on consumers already struggling to make rent wasn’t a great look. In some states, like Massachusetts, lawmakers stood up to the regional monopoly, going so far as to push a law that would have banned usage caps during the pandemic.

After gaining some bad press for the behavior, Comcast initially delayed the efforts a few months, hoping that would appease folks. When it didn’t (for good reason; caps are technically unnecessary price gouging), Comcast initially stated it would push the launch off until early next year. Now, with no end to the pandemic in sight, Comcast has reconsidered that launch as well, and will be delaying caps in its Northeast markets indefinitely:

“Comcast confirmed that it won’t activate data caps and usage-based broadband policies in its Northeast division in 2022, effectively extending an earlier delay to keep the policy out of the region through the end of 2021. There’s still no telling whether Comcast will revisit the plan for 2023 and beyond.

“We don’t have plans to implement our data usage plan in our Northeast markets in 2022 at this time,” a Comcast official told Light Reading.

Massachusetts Rep. Andy Vargas had been pressuring Comcast, noting that introducing new, unnecessary price gouging efforts during an economic crisis and pandemic wasn’t a good look. He says he was told the expansion has been put on hold permanently (read: for as long as the pandemic makes Comcast look bad for nickel-and-diming users):

The problem, as we’ve noted repeatedly, is that these restrictions shouldn’t exist in the first place. The other problem is that the pause only applies to the Northeast, and only because Comcast sees notably more competition there from uncapped Verizon FiOS. The majority of Comcast markets (where there’s less or no competition) already face such arbitrary limits, and will see no reprieve, pandemic or no. As such, delaying them is more about temporarily managing PR blowback than broader change. If Comcast was serious about doing the right thing, it would eliminate caps and overage fees over the entirety of its markets.

There’s simply no technical reason for such restrictions to exist on a fixed line network in 2021. Contrary to public misconception, caps don’t help ISPs manage network bandwidth, something that can already be done with existing hardware and adequate investment. Such restrictions aren’t financially necessary either; Comcast’s flat-rate broadband margins are significant, and any “extremely heavy users” can already be shoved toward business-class tiers. Caps only have two real purposes: (1) to impose covert price hikes on uncompetitive markets without changing your advertised rates, and (2) as an anticompetitive weapon in the streaming wars (Comcast lets its own streaming content bypass such restrictions, while competitors’ services will incur users’ extra charges).

So yeah, it’s nice that Comcast customers in the Northeast get a reprieve from being ripped off for the duration of the pandemic, but there’s no change for most Comcast customers who already have to pay the company extra every month for absolutely no technical reason.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Fearing COVID PR Backlash, Comcast Backs Off Its Bullshit Broadband Caps In The Northeast… For Now”

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9 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Also, and I’m sorry to keep repeating this for emphasis, what’s a bandwidth cap?

It’s like arguing thing about co-pays and so on in healthcare debates – the debate has been set to such a level that some people don’t realise that these things don’t exist in other systems. It’s not just about the level that these things should be set to, but where they need to exist at all, and evidence in some places suggest that they only exist at the behest of the for.profit supplier of something that perhaps should not be an optional part of modern life.

For reference, where I live there is no cap on bandwidth for any ADSL or fibre connection as standard, and if you go over your "cap" for mobile connections, the speed is reduced but you don’t face extra charges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also, and I’m sorry to keep repeating this for emphasis, what’s a bandwidth cap?

It’s something other than what we’re talking about, which is a data transfer cap. DOCSIS networks, like Comcast’s, almost always have bandwidth caps, i.e., artificial limitations on speed (which match what was advertised, and don’t much bother people).

We’re talking about caps on the amount of data that can be transferred in some relatively long period of time, e.g. a month, after which additional charges accrue or subscribers face punitive measures (e.g. disconnection for "abuse"). In the mobile case you mention, a bandwidth cap is imposed once the data transfer cap is reached. It’s one reason people don’t consider mobile networks to be "real" broadband.

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