Here's the good news for Comcast subscribers: The company has upgraded its network to the point where congestion no longer poses a problem for the company. As a result, the broadband provider no longer manages traffic by throttling users.
"Our network and consumer devices have evolved to a point that our old congestion management system is no longer necessary," a company spokesperson says. "Congestion on individual channels is no longer an issue that needs to be managed."
But here's the bad news: Comcast has no intention of lifting its arbitrary data caps.
Currently, Comcast caps many users throughout the country at 1 terabyte of data per month. People who exceed that amount can purchase unlimited data for an extra $50 a month.
Comcast defends its data caps by arguing they're based on "fairness," with people who consume more paying more.
This argument is problematic for a few reasons. First, as Comcast itself acknowledges, there's currently enough bandwidth for all subscribers to use as much data as they like, without causing congestion for anyone else. Also, there's no clear connection between the cost Comcast incurred to improve its network and the overages it charges to some subscribers after the network has been upgraded.
So why would Comcast cap data? Derek Turner, research director at advocacy group Free Press, offers one explanation. "They're chiefly concerned with preventing cord cutting, to protect their TV empire," he posits.
In other words, Comcast's data limits and overage fees could one day make it more expensive for people to access video via Amazon Prime or Sling than by simply purchasing a cable subscription from Comcast.
For now, some Comcast subscribers appear to have the capability to access online video services without exceeding the 1-TB limit. The company says that fewer than 1% of its customers go over the cap -- which it says is generous enough to allow people to stream between 600 and 700 hours of HD video. But even data caps that are sufficient for most homes can be onerous for others -- particularly if several people in the household want to stream ultra high-def video, play video games and conduct video chats.
In the past, the Federal Communications Commission said it would take a case-by-case approach to whether Internet service providers used pay-per-byte pricing in ways that hindered competition. Last year, the FCC found that AT&T and Verizon were violating then-existing net neutrality rules by exempting their own material from people's data caps.
But the current FCC views the matter differently. One of Chairman Ajit Pai's first acts was to endorse decisions by AT&T and Verizon to impose data caps, and then exclude their own video from those caps.