Commentary

Comcast Forges Ahead With Pay-Per-Byte Pricing, New Data Caps

Comcast is moving forward with a new pricing plan that could discourage subscribers from cutting the cord.

The company's new model imposes data caps that range from 300 GB to 600 GB, depending on the subscription package. Users who exceed the limits will be charged $10 per 50 GB. The broadband and cable provider has already started imposing the new caps in Nashville, Tenn., and intends to start rolling them out next month in Tuscon, Ariz.

In some ways, the plan marks an improvement from Comcast's prior practices. Until May, Comcast imposed a data cap of 250 GB per month for residential users, and suspended service to some users who exceeded their data caps. Currently, most users don't come close to the caps; median data use tends to range from 8 GB to 10 GB, the company said recently. But that's bound to change as more video becomes available online.

Although the new caps are higher and more flexible than the old system, the plan is still drawing plenty of criticism. Comcast hasn't said why it's imposing data caps at all, but consumer groups suspect that the company hopes to prevent cord-cutting by making it more difficult for people to watch unlimited video online. Public Knowledge's Michael Weinberg points out in a statement that the new caps are "still below the 648 GB per month required to replace cable television with Internet-delivered video." (That figure is based on the assumption that people would want to watch eight hours of high-definition video a day.)

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Free Press adds that data caps aren't a good way to manage network congestion -- which is a lot rarer these days than several years ago, thanks to recent upgrades. Joel Kelsey, legislative director at Free Press, says that even if Comcast's networks occasionally got bogged down, the company could manage traffic in a more targeted fashion. "There's no reason that a grandmother in Indiana should be capped because they experience congestion in a Philadelphia suburb," he tells MediaPost.

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