Comcast Dramatically Expands Unnecessary Broadband Caps -- For 'Fairness'

from the pay-more-for-the-same-service! dept

For years, we've noted how there's absolutely zero financial or technical justification for usage caps on fixed-line networks. They don't really help manage congestion, and as any incumbent ISP earnings report indicates, flat-rate broadband has proven incredibly profitable. But thanks to limited competition, caps are a great way to raise rates, hamstring streaming video competitors, and give incumbents a distinct advantage for their own services (aka zero rating). Ultimately, caps disadvantage startups and small businesses, while making broadband more expensive and confusing for everyone.

Needless to say, Comcast is pursuing this option with reckless abandon.

The cable giant this week again expanded its usage caps into a massive number of new areas according to an updated Comcast FAQ. As it stands, Comcast customers in capped markets face a 1 terabyte usage limit, after which users pay $10 per each additional 50 GB consumed, or they pay $50 a month for the same unlimited consumption they previously enjoyed. Hoping you'll ignore the fact that there's no functional justification for such limits, Comcast's FAQ and press release go well out of their way to try and claim that they're imposing this draconian new price hike out of...'fairness':
"A terabyte is a massive amount of data. More than 99 percent of our customers do not use 1 TB of data in a given month. But for those who do use more, we have options. Our data plans are based on a principle of fairness. Those who use more Internet data, pay more. And those who use less Internet data, pay less."
Bullshit. If "heavy users" were really a concern, these users could be shoveled to business-class tiers, since they make up a minority of Comcast's overall customers. No, the goal of usage caps isn't fairness, it's to impose punitive new restrictions on all of a company's customers, who can't vote with their wallet because they don't have any broadband alternatives (or if they do, don't have any alternatives that don't also cap usage). The end result is customers being forced to pay significantly more money for the same, unlimited service they had yesterday.

Then, to add insult to injury, these users are told this confusing new price hike is somehow an act of corporate altruism and fairness.

Comcast hopes that you'll be distracted by the fact that at the moment, most people shouldn't bump into the terabyte cap (recently raised from 300 GB after Comcast began worrying the FCC might actually start doing its job). As such, Comcast provided a handy little video to try and explain just how generous the cable giant is being:
Again though, focusing on the fact that people aren't bumping into the cap now ignores the certainty that they will bump into the cap down the line. As 4K video streams and technologies we haven't even invented yet emerge, consumers will inevitably face having to ration their usage or pay steep penalties. And, since Comcast exempts its own streaming service from these caps, those users are being incentivized anti-competitively to stick with Comcast's video services.

Usage caps are an embarrassing con being played on an unsuspecting public by one of the least liked companies in any industry in America. More embarrassing perhaps is the fact that the FCC, tasked with protecting broadband consumers, hasn't shown the slightest interest in either cracking down on this behavior, or if not -- ensuring that usage meters are accurate. The end result is vastly more expensive broadband, disadvantaged competitors, and frustrated and angry consumers whose complaints to the FCC simply aren't being heeded.

Filed Under: broadband, broadband caps, data caps
Companies: comcast


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  1. icon
    Eldakka (profile), 9 Oct 2016 @ 7:30pm

    What is weird about these broadband caps is that where I am, since the general availability of xDSL technologies to consumers in the early '00s, caps have been standard. Not only have caps been standard, it's been pretty common to count both incoming and outgoing data in those caps. While we sat back with envy when people from the US were surprised that we had caps.

    Every couple of years the caps would change, usually increasing, for no increase -- sometimes a decrease -- in price.

    The plan I've been on for the last ~6 years or so is $79/month (naked ADSL2 - no telephone service and I get about 16Mbps sync speeds). Initially it was only 150GB/m, combined data. Which in 2010 was fairly decent, I'd download SD TV, steam games etc, and only exceed the cap (throttled to 256Kb/s down) once every 3 or 4 months, which I could pay an extra $15 for another 15GB (or $5 for 3GB), if I needed for the last few days or week of the month.

    Then about 3 years ago it went to 250GB/m, which co-incided nicely with my expanding viewing habits, and allowed me to download 720/1080p for choice programmes, and more TV programmes in general (and a lot of pr0n ;) ). Again, I'd exceed the cap every 3 months or so, and to avoid throttling it was now $15 for an an extra 25GB (or $5 for 5GB) if needed for the tail-end of the month.

    About 12 months ago this was increased to 500GB/m. At which point I switched most of my viewing to 1080p, with the filler shows still being SD or maybe 720p (the shows I don't get excited about, but fill the time in between the good shows). I'm not sure what the avoiding-throttling excess was, as I never needed it with 500GB.

    And, finally, about 6 months ago, only about 6 months after upping the cap to 500GB/m, it was again upped to -- uncapped. At which point all-downloading-hell broke loose, I download everything, even pilots, in 1080p. Even to the extent of downloading an SD or 720p HD TV episode to watch it now if that's available first and later downloading a 1080p version for savouring... Where I used to have Steam auto-updates turned off to save quota, so I'd only patch games I'm playing right now, now it's turned on for all installed games.

    So here I am, gone from 150GB --> 250GB --> 500GB --> uncapped over 6 years, for no price increase, not even inflation or extra hidden costs, yet the US carriers seem to be reversing this trend.

    We used to be envious of the broadband situation in the US, but not anymore, not in the last 3 years or so anyway (excluding Google Fibre - drool).

    TLDR - the rest of the world is going from caps as standard to big caps or even totally uncapped while the US telcos are reversing direction and introducing unjustified, monopoloy-enabled profiteering caps and increasing prices at the same time.

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