By Karl Bode
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?