Public Knowledge: Comcast's Data Caps Harm Online Rivals

Advocacy group Public Knowledge is urging the Federal Communications Commission to prevent Comcast from continuing to test pay-per-byte broadband pricing.

Public Knowledge argues in a new FCC filing that Comcast's usage-based billing program violates a condition of its merger with NBC. When the FCC approved the merger, it prohibited Comcast from using “unfair methods of competition” to hinder online video providers.

Comcast said earlier this month that it will start rolling out usage-based billing in Central Kentucky, Savannah, Ga., and Jackson, Miss. Subscribers in those markets will be capped at 300 GB of data per month, with each additional 50GB costing an extra $10.

But Public Knowledge says that people who want to replace cable video with streaming offerings in HD would need at least 684 GB of data per month. For that reason, Comcast's 300 GB data cap makes some “competitive offerings impossible,” Public Knowledge says.

The group says in its letter that the FCC “has an obligation to show that the conditions it imposed on the merger were more than mere window dressing.”

Public Knowledge first complained to the FCC about Comcast's pricing one year ago. At the time, the group took issue with Comcast's decision to exclude data streamed to the Xbox from the caps. "Comcast’s practice of counting all unaffiliated, but not its own content against a customer’s data cap significantly hinders an [online video distributor] from providing content to customers," the group argued in its initial complaint. "A customer could watch Xfinity-delivered online video 24 hours a day for an entire month and not run into a problem. With any other online video service, a customer could hit her cap before the end of the first week."

Public Knowledge says in its latest letter that the FCC's failure to act on the prior complaint “not only increases the likelihood of harm to consumers, but also undermines the public's confidence in the Commission's willingness and ability to enforce merger conditions in the future.”

"Meter" photo from Shutterstock.

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