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Opposing Comcast's Internet Bandwidth Cap (Opinion)

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.

Data Rationing

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.

Action

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:

Dear FCC,

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.

Sincerely,

_Your Name_

  • Calebrulez
    To add some math, the current speed that Comcast sold me was 150 mbps for a month, however if I use 150 mbps for 16 hours 17 mins 21 secs i will use up 1TB of data, so essentially they sold me something they said I can use for a month that will actually be used up in less than a day. This sort of behavior is only possible because of their monopoly status.
    Reply
  • amtseung
    The problem here is not the practice, but the mindset. The new data caps are akin to extortion, and that anybody that's already paying the extortion fee (already paying for unlimited), is still going to get throttled anyway, just to further reinforce the idea that "1TB is all you'll need". I'm sorry, but this is not fair practice, nor is this a good practice. I can pretty much call Comcast the Italian Mafia of the ISP world: monopolize an area, provide a "service", extort, profit, repeat.

    And I'm currently a Comcast customer, because that's all we have in this area.
    Reply
  • wysiwygbill
    My choices are either Comcast or my current provider, CenturyLink. With CenturyLink I can stream at a speed which drops to a whole 140p on youtube between 6pm and 1am or so despite having a 12 megabit DSL. This goes for a PC or Roku; on Sling or Youtube. I can download files (and videos), and get the right scores on internet speed tests; just not effectively stream. The only reason I'm still using CenturyLink is because of how much I despise Comcast/Xfininity. My municipality rejected the available state wide community fiber and opted to keep the "duopoly" where we pay through the nose for a substandard product.
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  • Kewlx25
    Datacaps cost more than no datacaps. Bandwidth is so cheap that the administrative overhead to track the bandwidth costs more than the money saved.

    Spend $10 to save $1. Actually, not even that. According to ISPs that offer unlimited bandwidth, less than a nickle on the dollar goes to to bandwidth and infrastructure. Offering the Internet is actually the cheapest part of being an ISP. The other $0.95+ of every dollar you pay for your bill goes for support and advertising.
    Reply
  • jpishgar
    The only reason I'm still using CenturyLink is because of how much I despise Comcast/Xfininity.

    This is the critical problem presented. In that where choice is available, it is extremely limited choice. For a significant number of people in America, there is not even the options provided by a duopoly, and they are stuck with Comcast/Xfinity.

    And I'm currently a Comcast customer, because that's all we have in this area.

    Likewise. And, while I am in one of the few areas that is not immediately impacted by this roll-out of caps, I was compelled to speak out about it. I know that I'm next on a list of eventualities here, and that after the roll-out is complete, there's the inevitability of hitting the cap, and then the tiers, and then the plans following the tiers. And then the add-ons to those plans. And then the fees associated with the plans. And then, would I like to add streaming? How about Steam access? Do I want to pay for Premium Extra Platinum Skype & VOIP package on top of my tiered upload/download speed and volume package deal?

    No, this is a critical utility. It should be treated AND regulated as a utility if there are no valid alternatives. If they don't want to be treated as a utility, then the practices employed thus far in eliminating competition in municipalities should be investigated as anti-competitive.

    -JP
    Reply
  • DookieDraws
    "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."

    Exactly! I am currently on year 2 of a 2-year promotion. When I signed up, I had no data limitations, and this is the way it should be until my promotion expires next August. But I doubt it will be.

    To be honest, I do not think I have ever went over a TB of data, but there's always a first for everything. Plus, I wonder how accurate their data meters are? Wasn't there some complaints about inaccurate readings during the trial periods?
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    Gotta pay that 2.3 million dollar fine for illegal billing customers for services or equipment they did not have some how.
    Reply
  • none12345
    First take 1TB and mulitply by 0.8 for overhead. So you are left with about 800GB of usable data.

    4k video @ 60 fps is ~60 megabit/second = 7.5MB/s = 27GB/hour

    So you get about 29 hours of 4k video. Youd use up your terabyte in less then a week if you watch any tv/movies/youtube.

    Sure, most people dont watch in 4k yet, but its coming quick.

    1TB is approx 27 hours worth of 4k content. You could use that up in 2 days.
    Reply
  • TMTOWTSAC
    18717010 said:
    First take 1TB and mulitply by 0.8 for overhead. So you are left with about 800GB of usable data.

    4k video @ 60 fps is ~60 megabit/second = 7.5MB/s = 27GB/hour

    So you get about 29 hours of 4k video. Youd use up your terabyte in less then a week if you watch any tv/movies/youtube.

    Sure, most people dont watch in 4k yet, but its coming quick.

    1TB is approx 27 hours worth of 4k content. You could use that up in 2 days.

    You don't even need to watch 4k.

    Step 1: Buy Gears of War 4 with Play Anywhere and download to your Xbox and PC...
    Reply
  • Wolfshadw
    4K Video is probably why they are implementing this right now. They know/claim that the increased data usage of 4K video will bog down their networks and restrict usage for everyone else. So if you *REALLY* want to watch a ton of 4K streaming, cough up the extra $50/month which, of course, will go towards improving their infrastructure so they may continue to provide you with the excellent service you've come to know and expect from Comcast/XFinity.

    -Wolf sends
    Reply