Comcast is Adding Data Caps, and Why You Should Be Pissed

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

It looks like Comcast is up to its old shenanigans again.  Ever since 2012, Comcast has been slowly rolling out data caps on their broadband internet service to various markets across the United states.  Comcast just announced that in January of 2021, it will be implementing a data cap of 1.2 TB for the rest of its US broadband customers.  With these data caps, once a customer has used more than 1.2 TBs of data, they will be charged an additional $10, and this will keep happening every additional 50 GBs up until they reach a maximum charge of $100.  

According to Comcast, the reason for the added caps is that they want to protect the integrity of their network.  Their argument is that, from their data, they see that a small subset of their users (around 5%) are accounting for 20% of their total network traffic.  The logical assumption is that the caps will dissuade these data hogs from using as much data, or that the super users will continue to go over and be charged, thus helping to pay for additional network upgrades.  The thing is this is all just a farce.  

Data caps on wired internet make no sense.  

Let’s take a look at their argument about these super data users, shall we?  Let’s take Comcast at their word on the usage numbers.  Honestly 5% of people using 20% of the network actually sounds pretty believable.  The thing is, it also doesn’t sound like a problem, but more like an interesting statistic.  If it were a problem, we would have been seeing internet outages galore across the country this year.   With all the Zoom calls for work, school and to replace social gathering, plus the uptick in streaming and gaming, the total Internet traffic has gone through the roof this year due to the drastic changes of most people’s lives from the pandemic. Yet despite the traffic increases and data hogs, we’ve all stayed connected without massive service outages.  

The truth of the matter is that if Comcast thought that their networks could not handle the dataload, it’s their responsibility to upgrade the network.  That is the very reason that they continue to charge each of their users massive amounts of money monthly.  If they felt that upgrades were needed, they could use some of their mountains of profit to do something about it.  In 2019 Comcast made a little over $34 billion in profit ( see Comcast SEC 2019 10-K report).  But while stating that continuous upgrades to their network is a part of their job, I also want to repeat that there has been no real danger to their network due to a super user subset.  In fact, from the beginning of the pandemic till about July, Comcast waived the data cap fee for those regions who had it, and during that time Comcast boasted that their network was rock solid despite all the added traffic.  Long and short, all of this data cap business is just a dirty, underhanded money-grab.

Why we should all care

Ok, now for the meat and potatoes of it all: why should we all care?  Comcast normalizing data caps on home internet is horrible mainly because Comcast is the largest internet service provider in the United States.  The decisions that they make will be seen and emulated by other major ISPs.  This will not be the end of it.  Since introducing data caps is most likely just a means to increase profits for shareholders, then what will happen the next fiscal year?  Need to bump profits a bit?  Just make a public statement saying  “something, something, too much traffic…” and lower data caps a bit, and watch profits go up.  You might think that that would never happen, but really what’s stopping them?  A lot of customers in most cases have a choice of two broadband providers at most, and if the other ISP is following suit with Comcast then customers will see similar caps on the other side as well.  None of this looks good in the long run for your average customer.  While Comcast is slowly turning up the heat on us, the least we can do is notice it and let them know that we don’t like being cooked.   

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Additional reading on the subject can be found at Ars Technica.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *