Comcast said today it is rolling out Gigabit service to Atlanta, where it will compete with Google Fiber.
Comcast won't impose its widely disliked data caps on Gigabit subscribers in Atlanta, provided they sign three-year contracts for 1 GB service priced at $70 a month. Otherwise, the company will charge $139.95 a month for 1 GB speeds with a 300 GB cap. People who pay month-to-month and exceed that cap will be charged $10 for each 50 GB overage, or can pay $35 for unlimited data. The company also is offering 2 GB speeds for $299.95 a month.
Google, which doesn't cap the amount of data that subscribers can consume, intends to offer stand-alone 1 GB service for $70 a month in Atlanta, and stand-alone 100 Mbps service for $50 a month. Google also will offer a combined TV and Internet option for $130 a month.
Comcast obviously is hoping to sign up customers before Google arrives in Atlanta. That might make sense from a business point of view, but the move calls into question Comcast's justification for any data caps. After all, if it's capable of offering unlimited data without experiencing congestion on its network, why would caps ever be necessary?
Digital rights groups have raised that same question. Earlier this month, Public Knowledge called attention to Comcast's data caps in a Federal Communications complaint. The advocacy group asked the FCC to order Comcast to stop capping broadband data, or alternatively to stop exempting its stand-alone TV service, Stream, from the caps.
Comcast isn't the only company experimenting with pricing structures for unlimited data. AT&T said earlier this year that it will once again offer unlimited mobile data plans, but not to cord-cutters. The telecom said in January that it will sell unlimited data to smartphone users, provided that they purchase television packages from DirecTV (acquired last year) or U-Verse.