The news of Comcast capping Xfinity monthly internet data usage at 1TB was unfortunate for many of the company’s subscribers (it’s already pushed to 16 markets, with another 18 getting the cap on November 1), but perhaps it may not strike you as pressing and potentially threatening. A full terabyte of bandwidth--that’s not too bad, right? After all, even hardware enthusiasts and internet power users don’t use that much data. Looking back at my own previous months, even during heavy internet usage I’ve averaged little over a half a terabyte month-to-month, and that’s with a decent amount of gaming and streaming.
It is perfectly understandable if you missed the news. That would be the ideal, in fact. That you missed it. That you ignore this. The preference would be that you shrug with indifference at the lofty cap of one full terabyte of data usage per month. Perhaps even that you nod in appreciation for the concept that those scant handful of bandits rocking out at multiple terabytes of data per month have their comeuppance, and finally pay their fair share for squandering the bandwidth and hogging all those precious interweb tubes.
But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because this change may not immediately affect you. This is a trap set for a future that will be here very, very soon.
Imposing a data cap could eventually help Comcast set up a tiered system by which volumetric access to data is rationed out, much like the current restrictions on the speed with which that data is delivered. The new data cap starts at 1TB, but that’s just the beginning.
With Xfinity, Comcast already offers a minute discount for subscribers who use less than 5GB of internet data per month. To me, this latest roll-out is the first step in a plan to commoditize the amount of data people use. It also reeks of a last-ditch effort to stave off the recent flood of cord-cutters seeking to avoid the drudgery of a bloated and costly cable television subscription.
If you don’t like the new data cap, you have the "option" of "opting out" of the data cap for a mere $50 extra per month. That’s if you enroll in the "Unlimited Data Plan" before going over your allotted amount of data. If you don’t, you’ll be charged by the gigabyte in blocks of 50GB for $10 each. If you live in an area where Xfinity is your only option for internet service due to Comcast’s aggressive lobbying of local municipal governments to establish itself as a monopoly, good luck! You will not be provided with alternatives that are, to use the company’s own adjective, "Comcastic."
Capping data usage is a clue that Comcast is not interested in investing in nor improving on its provider infrastructure. Because it does operate as a monopoly in many areas, choice is deeply limited, and most will have no recourse but to accept the new limitations or pay dearly for the ability to use their bandwidth as previously agreed.
This Is Fine, Trust Us
Some Xfinity subscribers have been displeased by the recent news. In response to the withering criticism and scathing articles on the subject of the recent caps, Comcast released a short video on YouTube. Fair warning: if you are currently a customer of Comcast and suffer from high blood pressure, it may be worthwhile to skip this.
You may notice that comments were turned off for that video. We can only guess as to the reason.
Are you sufficiently placated now that you know how crazy big a terabyte is? If you were able to watch that patronizing video without the veins popping in your head, you might remember the classic quote attributed to Bill Gates after IBM introduced the PC’s RAM limit: "640K ought to be enough for anybody."
Similar stories of tech innovators quipping that one day computers "might be small enough to fit inside a house" abound, but this attempt to mollify the critics of the data cap is as cringe-inducing as it is nauseating. Virtual reality and 4K televisions and monitors are here, right now, and they come with a burgeoning increase in demand for higher definition content. Netflix and other streaming providers are readying 4K content. Comcast seeks instead to offer the minimal data required for cat pictures, tweets, and animated GIFs.
This latest slight against the entire internet goes above and beyond the customer service woes that forced the company known as Comcast to rebrand service under the new spin-off name of “Xfinity” in an attempt to escape the self-inflicted damage to its brand. Capping bandwidth into tiers goes beyond the extortive, monopolistic practices that made internet access in the United States cost roughly 3.5x more than it does in Europe for similar service, according to analysis from the Center for Public Integrity.
The FCC should investigate Xfinity’s recent capping of data usage at 1TB. For existing customers, this stands as a bait and switch. Consumers were sold something that came with a set of expectations, and then that something was changed, leaving many with no choice or leverage.
Comcast seems to be employing the boiling frog approach with data caps, rolling them out slowly with limits that seem reasonable at first. The temperature-sensitive amphibians among us have taken notice, and now you can croak your loudest in response.
If you wish to issue a complaint to the FCC on this matter, and tell them that you oppose the latest move to cap bandwidth, you can do so here.
Here’s a sample letter:
Comcast recently rolled out a 1TB cap on data usage for all of its existing plans in markets throughout the United States. This change constitutes a major alteration to the service they sold myself and other consumers, which previously did not include any such cap on data. The new imposition of this data cap signals that Comcast is 1) not interested in upgrading existing infrastructure, 2) wishes to take advantage of tiered usage through bait-and-switch, and 3) is confident enough in the lack of availability of alternatives in areas where they hold a monopoly on internet service access.
I ask that the FCC please enact and enforce new rules limiting the ability of internet service providers to impose data caps on this critical public utility.