I’ve observed in the past that Comcast’s data caps look specifically designed to discourage cord cutting and the revelations that Comcast has created its own IP TV service that will not be subject to any usage restrictions has only confirmed my suspicions. However, this really only scratches the surface of the cynical math behind Comcast’s data caps, which are going to do far more damage to rival video streaming services in the coming years than what they’re doing right now.
Comcast’s data caps are about to get far more painful in the coming years primarily because of the rise of 4K televisions. Have you seen some of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday prices on 4K TVs this year? They’re insanely cheap right now compared to what they were two years ago and you can bet they’re selling like hotcakes this holiday season.
That means that a lot more people are going to be streaming their favorite shows in 4K. Sure, right now there isn’t a lot of 4K content but that’s going to change. Netflix and YouTube already offer 4K content, Amazon is shooting all its original content in 4K, and now DirecTV says it’s going to work on creating 4K content as well. It’s just a matter of time before 4K becomes the new HD: Once more people have 4K televisions, more content providers will invest in producing shows in 4K.
And that’s when Comcast’s 300GB data thresholds will turn from an annoyance into an absolute menace. Consider this: A single download of a two-hour 4K movie will eat up an estimated 40GB of data. And let’s not forget that game purchases are more and more being done over the Internet and not through physical discs. Grand Theft Auto V on the Xbox One weighs in at just under 49GB while Fallout 4 comes in at 28GB and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt comes in at 32GB. And all this is before patches and DLC, meaning these games eat into even more of your data cap than they do when you first install them.
And that is the real cynicism behind Comcast’s data caps: They’re designed with the future in mind. Comcast can implement them right now and claim that only a tiny portion of its users are affected. As more and more users become ensnared, however, Comcast can then talk about the “unexpected” demands being made on its network by games and 4K videos and can then either demand higher interconnection fees from top content providers as it’s done in the past with Netflix, offer customers its own special services that won’t count against caps, or just grow fat off all the overage fees customers will pay.
No matter how you slice it: CA-CHING, CA-CHING, CA-CHING.
If there were any kind of competitive market for broadband services in this country, there’s no way Comcast would be able to get away with this. Given the truly sad state of wireline broadband competition in the United States, however, Comcast users will have nowhere else to go.