Comcast's recent expansion of its data cap tests have spurred thousands of the company's broadband customers to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, according to a new report by CutCableToday.com
A good portion of the complaints obtained by CutCableToday seem to come from customers who are newly subject to Comcast's pay-per-byte billing plan, which only allows people 300 GB of data per month. After they reach the cap, they're hit with overages of $10 per 50 GB. Comcast began testing that system two years ago in parts of Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi, and has been broadening its test markets ever since.
Currently, 15% of the company's subscribers must pay extra fees after they consume 300 GB of data. Of that group, 8% exceed the cap.
Many subscribers to contact the FCC say they rely on Comcast because it's the only high-speed Web provider in their neighborhoods. "There are 6 people living in my household who use the internet daily so we go over the limit pretty fast," one subscriber wrote in an October complaint. "I have no choice but to pay the fees due to there being no other adequate Internet service provider in Miami."
Others note that the billing scheme seems designed to discourage cord-cutting. "I'm paying more for faster speeds to get to a Data Cap faster and the only way to prevent going over is to limit my use of Comcast's competitors (Netflix/Hulu, YouTube, etc.)," writes a Fort Lauderdale resident. "It's the absolute definition of a money grab and it's beyond unfair to consumers when these giant companies are already making trillions."
Not everyone weighing in relies on the Web for entertainment. Some of the criticisms came from people who say they need to go online for work or school. A Hermitage, Tennessee resident says the pay-per-byte billing "makes it hard on families like mine who take college courses online."
"In the house we use around 900 GB monthly since I am a masters students and my classes are online and I am required to use online data base at all time," says one disgruntled Miami customer.
Others are questioning whether Comcast's meters are correct. "There is no accurate or instant bandwidth meter available, so I have no way to monitor it like you can a electric meter or water meter," says a Friendsville, Tennessee customer.
Notably, at least one subscriber wants the FCC to prohibit "forced video ads," which potentially burn through data. "The caps will be exceeded even by moderate users of the internet due to forced video ads on pretty much every single web page that one loads into a browser," the subscriber writes. If they are going to meter our internet usage like an electric power company then we should be charged only for data that we call up. This means a ban on all forced internet advertising."
For his part, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts recently defended the caps by comparing broadband use to electricity or gasoline consumption. "The more bits you use, the more you pay," he said at a recent conference. A company spokesperson adds that when Comcast surveyed its heavy data users, 80% thought the new system was "fairer" than the company's pre-2012 prior approach, which was to disconnect people who used more than 250 GB per month.
But critics counter that broadband networks, unlike gas or electricity, aren't consumable resources.
Comcast's customers aren't the only ones voicing concerns to the FCC. Advocacy groups like Public Knowledge also have long called for regulators to investigate whether the company is using data caps to harm rival online video distributors. So far, the FCC hasn't said whether it intends to do so.