Weeks after a group of Massachusetts legislatures urged Comcast to roll back the activation of usage-based broadband data policies in the northeastern US, two state representatives have proposed a bill that would ban data caps and service shutoffs for a period extending beyond the pandemic.
The proposed bill, filed jointly by state representatives Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill) and Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge), sets forth the following Internet protection provisions for consumers for up to 60 days after the pandemic:
- Bans Internet Service Providers from shutting off internet service for customers facing financial hardships caused by the pandemic;
- Bans Internet Service Providers from raising the cost of internet service and from creating any new fees or charges associated with the service;
- Bans Internet Service Providers from implementing any new data caps or allowances; and
- The bill establishes a moratorium on any existing data caps or allowances implemented by Internet Service Providers.
The bill also aims to repeal a section of Massachusetts General Law that limits the state's ability to regulate ISPs. Also, co-sponsorship requests for the new bill have yet to be sent, Reps. Vargas and Rogers noted in the announcement.
The proposal surfaces after dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers called on Comcast to pull back a new data policy that took effect in the cable operator's northeast region on January 1, 2021. That policy, which matches up with one recently restored and updated in other Comcast regions, limits monthly usage to 1.2 terabytes before overage fees ($10 for each additional bucket of 50 gigabytes, up to a maximum of $100 per month) apply. Comcast also offers an unlimited data option for an additional $30 per month.
Vargas holds that the policy is unnecessary, and amplifies the strains put on consumers during the pandemic.
"COVID-19 has forced internet access to become a basic need, and we can’t allow this vital service to be priced unfairly," he said in a statement. "There is no research or justification to back up the need for data cap."
In the northeast, Comcast has implemented a two-month grace period on the policy; it will credit back any charges associated with data overages or unlimited data for January and February 2021. Customers also get one courtesy month during every 12-month period, so the earliest that a Comcast broadband sub in the region would feel a financial impact from the policy would be April 2021.
Comcast and several other ISPs around the US are also catching heat from the US House Energy & Commerce Committee for the use of data caps and/or for raising prices during the pandemic. Responses to a litany of questions posed by the committee were due by January 25.
Charter Communications recently withdrew a petition asking the FCC to sunset conditions tied to its 2016 acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House that prevented the cable op from deploying usage-based broadband policies and striking paid peering deals. Without the early sunset, those conditions will lift on May, 18, 2023.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News