We’ve all been guessing it was going to happen for months, but that doesn’t make it any more fun when it actually does: data caps are marching across the nation, and coming for millions of Comcast customers from coast to coast.
The caps (they gave up on “thresholds“) have been slowly spreading across new cities for years, and in a blog post today, Comcast confirmed that it’s bringing “data plans” (read as: broadband service limits) to “many markets” nationwide.
Users who go over the limit of 1 TB of data used in a billing cycle will get a stern warning. Customers get two “courtesy months” in a year without being billed for overage. After that, it’s overage charges, much like a traditional wireless plan. Your service won’t be cut off or throttled; you’ll just suddenly see extra charges on your next bill.
The full list of states and metro areas now subject to the cap is a few scrolls down in Comcast’s updated FAQ, and you can check at Comcast’s dedicated “data plan” site to see if the ZIP code where you live is subject to a cap or not.
Comcast is emailing customers in affected markets to let them know about the change, which goes into effect at the beginning of next month. Consumerist readers in several metro areas, including Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Sacramento forwarded their Comcast emails to us.
The form letter comes in two varieties, and which one a customer receives varies based on their average recent usage. Customers with low data usage receive soothing messages saying, “Based on your usage history you can still … do whatever you want to do online, worry free,” like this example from a customer in greater Indianapolis:
High-usage customers, on the other hand, receive a somewhat more passive-aggressive message saying that “The vast majority of our customers would consider one terabyte to be a massive amount of data,” before conceding, “it may not be enough for everyone,” like this example from a customer outside of Detroit:
Comcast is, of course, cheerfully praising the generosity of its 1 terabyte limit, without actually mentioning that it’s not really necessary to impose such a limit on most customers at all.
If it’s true that “more than 99% of [Comcast’s] customers do not use 1 TB of data in a given month,” why cap at all? After all, the company has admitted before that data caps are not actually a network or congestion-management tool, and surely there’s a limit on how much extra revenue they can extract from that remaining 1%.
Comcast also reiterates several times — in their FAQ, in their blog post, in the e-mails to customers — that, “Our data plans are based on a principle of fairness. Those who use more Internet data, pay more. And those who use less Internet data, pay less.”
And yet that is not, in fact, true. If 99% of their customers, as they claim, use less than 1 TB of data per month, then those who use less are not paying less. Those who use less — everyone but the one-percenters, as it were — are all paying the same, without an opportunity or method to reduce their bills.
Several readers who forwarded their letters from Comcast to us also expressed concern about Comcast’s ability accurately to meter their usage. As we’ve seen several times before, Comcast’s usage meters are far from infallible, and when something goes wrong there’s basically no recourse for consumers.
One high-usage customer shared with us his usage graph of 3270-3360 GB per month over the past several months, and wondered how Comcast turned that into an average of 2766 GB in the letter they sent him. “I’m not sure what kinda math they use,” he told us, although admittedly their confusion is in his favor.
“I gotta love just how strong they push the ‘it won’t affect you’ part,” one reader tells Consumerist. “Reminds me of politicians announcing a new toll road.”
As for options, well, they’re slim. Another reader wrote to us about his service options — Comcast or DSL — before concluding he was stuck: “No one else has something like this in [his city] speed-wise,” he wrote. Another asked us, “what can consumers do about this in markets without competition?”
And unfortunately, that answer continues to be: basically nothing.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.