We have covered Comcast’s data cap policy a number of times here on BGR, and it’s a widely discussed topic across the web. It’s a pure money grab by Comcast that has absolutely nothing to do with congestion or quality of service, unlike arguments in favor of wireless data caps. And the policy isn’t just bad for Comcast subscribers in capped markets who might have to pay more to use popular services like Netflix and YouTube, it’s bad for us all.
When Comcast CEO Brian Roberts discusses the company’s data cap pilot, which is now live in nearly 30 markets, he tends to focus on the idea that forcing households that use more data to pay more money is all about fairness. Well, since we know Comcast’s caps are all about money and not about a technical need to limit people’s usage, we have a pretty simple idea that might actually make Comcast’s data cap plan more consumer-friendly.
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First of all, what exactly is Comcast’s data cap plan? For households in 27 markets around the United States with what Comcast comically calls “monthly data usage plans,” home broadband service only includes 300GB of data. Customers who use more data than that will have to pay an additional $10 per 50GB. Alternatively, they can add an extra $30 to their already-pricey monthly Internet subscriptions to use unlimited data.
Comcast’s CEO has publicly addressed the company’s capped plan a number of times, and he focuses on the same point each time. Comcast’s cap is all about “fairness,” he says. Here’s Roberts’s most recent attempt to rationalize monthly data usage plans:
[The monthly data usage plan is] not a cap. We don’t want anybody to ever not want to stay connected on our network, but just as with every other thing in your life, if you drive 100,000 miles or 1,000 miles, you buy more gasoline. If you turn on the air conditioning to 60 vs. 72, you consume more electricity. The same is true for usage, so I think the same for a wireless device. The more bits you use, the more you pay.
So we have put in very high levels in test markets where something around 5% of the customers are affected to start with. Again, the reality so far has been that this doesn’t affect 95% of the customers right off the bat. And then the 5% for some extra money, we’re testing different numbers, $30 to $35, some amount, $10 in some cases, you can go buy more or buy unlimited. So, we’re just trialing ways to have a balanced relationship. You can watch … hundreds of shows and movies and other things before you hit these levels on many devices. It’s not that different than other industries.
Forgetting for a moment that Comcast’s data cap plan is quite different from other industries that might actually have a technical need to cap data in order to maintain a consistent level of service for all customers, it’s funny that Roberts decided to compare Comcast’s broadband service with gasoline and electricity.
Let’s run with that, Mr. Roberts.
If you drive 1,000 miles, you pay for the amount of gasoline you needed to drive those 1,000 miles. If you drive 100,000 miles instead, you pay for 100,000 miles worth of gas. Meanwhile, if you keep your air conditioning set to 60 you’ll pay for the exact amount of electricity it cost to keep your AC that low, while someone who leaves their air conditioning on 72 will pay for far fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Unless we’re missing something, Comcast’s CEO just had a fantastic idea for how his company’s metered usage plan can be made infinitely more consumer-friendly.
Instead of charging user’s a flat fee each month for up to 300GB of data and then charging more for usage beyond that amount, let’s just switch to a metered usage model as Roberts suggested. If a customer uses 50GB or 100GB or 150GB of data in a billing period, he or she should only pay for that amount. If a household goes on vacation for a month and uses no data, service that month is free.
Since Comcast repeatedly says that only 5% of its customer use more than 300GB of data each month, this will be a great way to help the other 95% save money on their Internet bills each month. Fantastic idea, Mr. Roberts — keep it up! At this rate, the public will stop hating cable companies in no time.