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Comcast’s ridiculous explanation for why it wants to limit your Netflix binges

Published Jan 29th, 2016 9:39AM EST
Why Is Comcast So Bad

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In case you don’t know, Comcast is starting to get more aggressive in rolling out its data caps across the country. Many of its customers have complained loudly about the unfairness of these data caps despite the fact that Comcast insists they’re all about “fairness.” In a new Bloomberg article about Comcast’s data caps, the company tries to explain why these caps are really about fairness to its customers, although in reality this justification is a giant pile of nonsense.

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“The company says usage-based billing, which is common in the wireless industry, is about fairness,” Bloomberg explains. “Customers who only use the Internet to check e-mail shouldn’t pay the same as subscribers with bandwidth-heavy web habits like online video games, file-sharing or binge-watching web videos.”

I’m sorry, but this is preposterous.

Comcast customers in capped areas who are light Internet users aren’t seeing their prices go dramatically down. Instead, as the Bloomberg piece notes, Comcast is paying customers back $5 each month if they use less than 5GB. Wow-wee, a whole five smackers! And all I have to do is never watch YouTube or stream music for a lengthy period! Thanks, Comcast!

This $5 monthly refund is doubly ridiculous when you consider that the cost of going over the caps in the markets where they’ve been introduced is $10 per every 50GB. Additionally, customers in some markets who want to keep their unlimited data plans can do so… if they pony up between $30 and $35 more per month.

I am not at all a fan of any data caps but there are much fairer ways to implement them than the way Comcast has chosen. Google’s Project Fi, for example, pays you back for any unused data you have left over a billing cycle. T-Mobile and AT&T also let you roll over unused data to future billing cycles. Comcast, on the other hand, does neither of those things.

Additionally, one person watching lots of Netflix doesn’t hurt the experience of a person checking their email unless all that binge watching is causing lots of network congestion… but Comcast has explicitly said that its data caps have nothing to do with network congestion.

So what is this really about? In a way, it is about “fairness,” but not to customers. Instead, it’s about Comcast taking what it thinks it deserves.

“We’re just trialing ways to have a balanced relationship,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told the Business Insider Ignition conference last month. “I don’t think it’s illogical or something people should be paranoid about.”

The “balanced relationship” he’s talking about is between Comcast and Netflix. Essentially, he sees Netflix swiping away Comcast TV customers by riding over the top of Comcast’s cable Internet service and he wants to make sure Netflix pays the appropriate price. If Comcast customers are the ones who have to bear the cost of this “balanced relationship” by paying extra for their Netflix binge watching, then so be it.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.

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