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Why Comcast is pushing broadband data caps that nobody wants

Updated 8 years ago
Published Nov 22nd, 2014 10:00AM EST
Why Is Comcast So Bad

Do you want your home broadband services to have strict data caps like the ones on your mobile data plans? Of course you don’t! But that isn’t stopping Comcast and Time Warner Cable from pushing them anyway.

RELATED: Time Warner Cable insists you’ll love data caps, no matter how many times you say ‘no’

In case you didn’t know, Comcast this fall expanded its trial run of capped broadband plans in several markets in the south, including major markets like Atlanta, Nashville and Charleston. The lowest data caps are set at 300GB per month, which the company believes should be enough for the vast majority of its users. Comcast first started these data cap trial runs in Nashville in 2012 but it’s been steadily tinkering with them ever since.

The company explains that it’s trying to shift over to capped broadband plans because it’s trying to adapt to changes in the market — you know, the same market that’s told Time Warner Cable again and again that it doesn’t want capped plans.

“As the marketplace and technology change, we do too,” Comcast writes. “We evaluate customer data usage, and a variety of other factors, and make adjustments accordingly. Over the last several years, we have periodically reviewed various plans, and recently we have been analyzing the market and our process through various data usage plan trials.”

Of course, anyone who has actually looked at changes in the marketplace and technology can tell you that home broadband data caps make absolutely no sense in this context. The amount of things we can do on the Internet now has become more data intensive, from online gaming to watching Netflix streams in 4K.

The growth in these kinds of applications has flourished precisely because consumers have been able to get access to unlimited data on their home Internet services. Doing anything that would inhibit consumers’ use of their home Internet connections or would make them fearful of watching a movie online because they would get slapped with overage fees would therefore hurt the growth of online content distribution.

So why is Comcast really doing this? As Coolio once prophetically rapped all those years ago, it’s about “power in the money, money in the power.” The money part is easy: Comcast would love to be able to hit so-called “data hogs” with overage fees. The power part comes if the FCC gives Comcast the green light to charge content providers more for Internet “fast lanes.” In fact, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where companies that pay for the “fast lanes” also get their services’ data excluded from Comcast’s market caps, just as AT&T has been trying to do with its “sponsored data” program.

Now, Comcast and other ISPs would never be able to get away with this if they faced any sort of competition. People really hate the idea of data caps on their home Internet service and they would flock to non-capped options if they were available — but in many Comcast markets that competition flat-out does not exist.

What Comcast is trying to gage here is just how far they can push people into accepting data caps before they just throw up their hands and go back to dialup. The best thing consumers can do is just refuse to take any of Comcast’s capped data offers, no matter how much of a “bargain” the company is pitching them as. Otherwise, you’ll rue the day you decided to take the deal that forced you to pay overage fees for watching one too many shows over Netflix.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.