Comcast’s testing of Internet data limits for residential customers is taking place in other parts of the country, but users in Northeastern Pennsylvania worry the limits will be imposed everywhere.
And a Comcast executive recently said as much.
While Frontier Communications has no plans to impose limits and Service Electric imposes limits during certain hours, Comcast is testing a 300-gigabyte-per-month limit for residential customers in certain parts of the country. It’s part of its new monthly data usage plan for XFINITY Internet Service. The testing is occurring in Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; the state of Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina, and Tucson, Arizona. Atlanta is the biggest market for the company, said spokesman Charlie Douglas of the Comcast corporate office in Philadelphia.
“Only customers in those areas are part of a data plan trial,” Douglas noted. “The rest of the country stopped having a static limit.”
But while just certain areas are affected now, David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, said at a conference on May 14 that in five years’ time, the company will have “a usage-based billing model rolled out across its footprint,” according to money.cnn.com.
Cohen said the company would aim to set a limit where “the vast majority of our customers” wouldn’t be affected. He estimated that limit at 350 GB or 500 GB per month.
In the markets where Comcast is now experimenting with the 300-GB data limits, the company will impose a $10 charge for each additional block of 50 GB, Douglas said. The company also is offering a 5-GB “flexible data” option for light users. Comcast came up with those options after it canceled its 250-GB monthly cap in 2012.
“We’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of testing with our customers,” the spokesman added.
“What we found was that having a static limit was not what our customers wanted. We looked for a more flexible plan so we looked at raising the data plan to 300 gigabytes a month.”
Readers speak out
Our story on the subject, posted on the timesleader.com website and The Times Leader news Facebook page on Thursday, generated a number of comments, none in favor of such limits.
Among the comments on the website, “Tom Sawyer” posted, “The internet has become so important in just about everyones daily life the govt should now get involved and consider it like a utility and regulate it to make sure everyone has equal access to it at fair prices and excellent service. I think everyone can see how private companies will only evolve to become more powerful at the expense of the people they serve. Without competition or govt intervention this is going to end badly.”
“Darryl Licked” said, merely, “Split-up the monopoly Comcast.”
On Facebook, Aggie Lee Malinowski of Plains Township offered this opinion: “So the 20-50 dollars I might have left over to buy a shirt or a pair of shoes for my family…you want that too?? The billions you make in profits just is not enough huh?”
Jennifer Logan Haddick of Dupont offered, “Ummmm…didn’t we already fight this battle in the mid to late 90s? AOL was king and limits were imposed. I can’t imagine this taking hold again.”
Responded Robert E. Gray Jr.: “They would be dropped in a heart beat.”
“And go where?” asked Brandon Jackson of Mansfield. “Verizon, Frontier? Both slower and have caps too.”
Pat Amendola of Frontier Communications said, though, “There no plans at this time to impose data limits on residential Internet customers.”
Frontier has customers in 27 states. It serves 127,381 phone and broadband, or Internet, customers in Eastern Pennsylvania, from the Northern Tier to the Maryland border, said Amendola of the company’s Dallas, Pennsylvania, office.
She noted there was no separate number available for just Internet customers.
Douglas said he did not have a number for how many customers the company serves in Luzerne County, but only 2 percent of the company’s residential Internet customers overall use more than 300 GB a month.
“Even the trial markets where we do this, 98 percent of the people are not affected by our trial in any way,” he said.
“We surveyed heavy data users and we asked which is more fair: a static cap that they can’t go above or the more flexible plan,” Douglas said. “Eighty percent favored a trial market approach.”
You can monitor
The company offers data user meters and alert systems to let customers know when they reach 50 percent or higher levels.
What does 300 GB get you?
“Depending on your compression stream, it could be more than 230 hours of high-definition movies, or also 575 hours of standard-definition movies, 40,000 to 93,000 ebooks a month, 585 million tweets,” Douglas said. “If you use less than 5 gigabytes of data a month, you could opt into program and save $5 a month.”
That plan includes a $5 credit if a customer uses up to 5 GB for the month. However, if the customers in the plan use more than 5 GB in a month, they would not receive the $5 credit and would be charged $1 per GB over the 5 GB limit.
Douglas said the company sees the limit as fair.
“It was set high because we want to provide the best user experience to as many of our customers as possible,” he said. “We have to have some way to manage our network. The static limit prior to 2012 was 250 gigabytes. If you went over two months in a row, we called. Sometimes you have a bot or malware on computer or some type software you weren’t aware of.”
The company contacted the users who were going over the limit to warn them and ask them to moderate their usage.
“In most cases, they would do so,” Douglas said. “These were customers using way above 250, and we said they could face termination of their account.”
He said Comcast was experimenting with the data limits because unlimited use by customers could affect the company’s ability to manage its network resources to ensure all customers get their fair share of the network.
Douglas said other companies have limits, as well, especially those based in Canada and Europe.
AT&T has a 150-GB and 250-GB limits for different tiers of service. Verizon plans to force existing subscribers on its unlimited data plan into a tiered shared-data plan, according to a May 19 report on cnet.com. The report stated that move likely will eventually lead to higher prices for wireless consumers.
Wilkes-Barre Service Electric customer service representative Alyssa Katsaros said the company had imposed a 250-GB limit a few years ago for all hours, but late last year cut it back to usage between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m.
“There used to be those who go over, but not recently since monitoring changed before the new year,” she said of the company, which serves customers in the Wilkes-Barre area.