Comcast will ring in the new year by broadening the reach of a usage-based residential broadband data policy that puts a cap on monthly usage and features a more expensive unlimited data option.
The cable op confirmed that it will activate its broadband data policy – recently capped at 1.2 terabytes per month before overage charges are applied – to its northeast region starting in January 2021.
That region, which includes markets where Comcast competes with Verizon's non-capped Fios Internet service, covers parts of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, West Virginia and Washington, DC.
Even as the new policies take hold in the northeast, Comcast is taking measures to ease the imposition of the cap. Comcast, for example, will effectively offer a two-month grace period, as it will credit back any charges associated with data overages or unlimited data for January and February. Additionally, customers on Comcast's data plan also get one courtesy month every 12 months, so it's possible that some customers in Comcast's northeast division would get a reprieve until April 2021.
The extension of the policy in the northeast division will effectively provide Comcast with uniform, national coverage, matching it up with policies that have been in place in its central and west divisions for years, save for a temporary move by the operator to remove the cap and usage-based policies in all service areas during the early phases of the pandemic.
The decision to introduce the policies in the northeast arrives a few months after Comcast restored and updated its usage-based data plan. Following a temporary suspension of that plan earlier this year, Comcast in July raised the monthly limit to 1.2TB, 200 gigabytes more than the 1TB limit in place prior to the US COVID-19 outbreak.
Under the updated plan, residential broadband customers who exceed more than 1.2TB of data per month are charged $10 for each additional bucket of 50GB, up to a max of $100 per month (Comcast's maximum data overage charge prior to the pandemic was $200).
In markets with the usage-based plans, Comcast also offers an unlimited data option that removes the monthly 1TB threshold and costs an additional $30 per month.
Critics of data caps and usage-based policies are quick to point out that they do little to ease network congestion and argue that they are unnecessary tools used by certain ISPs to artificially bulk up the average revenue per user (ARPU). Comcast has previously argued that its usage-based policies were centered on a "principle of fairness" – that customers who use more Internet data pay more. However, that position on the matter is no longer expressed in Comcast's current FAQ about the policy.
Comcast maintains that 95% of broadband customers across its base use less than 1.2TB of data per month – even during a pandemic period that has seen network utilization surge – with median usage at about 308GB per month. The operator estimates that 1.2TB provides enough data for customers to stream 500 hours of HD video, play online games for 34,000 hours or video chat for 3,500 hours.
For more about Comcast's decision to align its broadband usage policies on a national basis please see this story at Light Reading: Comcast to bring broadband data plan to Fios territory .
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News