Faced with growing complaints about its broadband policies, Comcast said this week that it will increase consumers' caps to 1 Terabyte a month, up from the current limit of 300 Gigabytes a month.
That threefold-plus jump will take effect June 1, in markets where Comcast currently imposes caps. As of now, the company caps data across 15% of its broadband footprint. People who consume more than 300 GB in those areas are charged $10 for each 50 GB overage, or can pay $30-$35 a month for unlimited data.
Comcast has said that around 8% of households subject to data caps exceed them. But that group, while relatively small, has increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with the limits.
Last year, after Comcast expanded the use of data caps, thousands of unhappy customers complained to the Federal Communications Commission. Many of those people said 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 to the FCC last October. "I have no choice but to pay the fees due to there being no other adequate Internet service provider in Miami."
Several weeks ago, consumer advocacy groups accused Comcast and other Internet service providers of implementing data caps in ways that undermine net neutrality rules.
In Comcast's case, the advocates focused on Stream -- a relatively new $15-a-month service that gives broadband-only subscribers access to many of the same programs that cable customers can watch. Videos watched through Stream are exempt from the data caps.
For his part, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the agency is currently undertaking "policy reviews" of data caps and their exemptions.
Wheeler sent an even stronger signal to ISPs earlier this week, when he said that Charter would have to refrain from imposing data caps for seven years as a condition of its merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.
Comcast's new data cap policy will probably stem some criticism -- at least for now -- given that very few people currently use more than 1,000 GB of data each month. The company says in a blog post that more than 99% of customers "do not come close" to using a TB of data each month. Comcast adds that one TB is enough to stream 700 hours of HD video, play 12,000 hours of online games, and download 60,000 high-res photos.
People who go over the 1 TB limit will be charged $10 for each 50 GB overage. Consumers who want to purchase unlimited plans will be charged an extra $50 a month.