Cox Communications has extended its controversial data caps to four new states -- Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Cox's broadband subscribers in those states -- as well as nine others where the company previously imposed bandwidth caps -- are now charged overages if they consume more than 1 Terabyte of data in a month. (That figure increases to 2 TB for consumers with Gigabit speeds.) Cox's system is similar to one used by Comcast, which imposes a 1 TB cap in some markets, and charges $10 for each 50 GB overage.
A Cox spokesperson says 98% of customers use "far less" than 1 TB per month of data. He adds that later this year, the company plans to offer an unlimited plan for an additional fee.
On the surface, 1 TB of data is fairly generous. When Comcast began imposing that limit, the company pointed out that 1 TB is enough to stream 700 hours of HD video, play 12,000 hours of online games, and download 60,000 high-res photos, according to Comcast.
But caps are still controversial for a few reasons. First, bandwidth caps that appear to be sufficient today can very quickly hinder people's use of the web. That's because more and more applications and services -- including ones that require a great deal of bandwidth, like 4k video -- are still surfacing online.
Even more significantly, broadband providers don't need to impose hard data caps in order to manage traffic on their networks -- especially given that the caps are always in effect, regardless of whether the networks are congested.
Many observers suspect that the real reason broadband providers data caps is to discourage subscribers from canceling their cable video service in favor of over-the-top services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Netflix itself appears to believe that's the case. Last September, the company asked the Federal Communications Commission to rule that data caps like Cox's may "unreasonably limit Internet television viewing."
The online video company argued in its filing that data caps (as well as pay-per-byte billing) don't seem to have any purpose other than to make online video more expensive for consumers.
At the time, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler appeared to be receptive to those arguments. But the current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has made clear that he doesn't see any reason for the agency to prohibit data caps.
"When the government forbids usage-based pricing, it is requiring Americans who use less data to subsidize those who use more data," Pai stated last year, when the FCC conditioned Charter's merger with Time Warner and Bright House on a promise to avoid data caps. "The elderly woman on a fixed income who uses the Internet to exchange e-mail messages with her grandchildren must pay more so that an affluent family watching online HD video for many hours each day can pay less. This isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t progressive."