Regulators should reject Charter Communications' request for autorization to impose data caps on broadband subscribers, advocacy group Public Knowledge and a nonprofit behind the streaming service Locast urge in a new filing with the Federal Communications Commission.
“Data caps are simply another way to hike prices on consumers while continuing to advertise lower rates than what people actually pay,” Public Knowledge and the Sports Fan Coalition write.
They add that Charter's request is particularly ill-timed, given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left consumers reliant on broadband for everything from remote learning to telemedicine to ordering online groceries.
It's "hard to imagine a worse time for Charter to ask for permission to hike prices on consumers and restrict broadband service,” the groups write.
“During the pandemic, broadband has shown itself to be an essential utility service,” they add. “Broadband is essential for public safety agencies to communicate with the public, as well as essential for allowing people to access emergency services and telemedicine. Broadband also promotes public safety in that it makes it possible for people to accomplish more things while staying at home, which is essential for slowing the spread of this dangerous virus.”
The groups are responding to Charter's petition for early termination of two conditions of its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable. When the FCC approved the merger, the agency required Charter to refrain from imposing usage-based billing or interconnection fees for seven years.
Charter argued in a petition filed last month that the growth of online video services justifies ending those conditions by next year.
Consumer advocacy groups often argue that data caps on wireline service are often arbitrary, and that they give people an incentive to purchase cable TV packages, instead of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Public Knowledge and the Sports Fan Coalition note in their filing that bandwidth caps don't solve network congestion issues, because caps apply regardless of the state of the network.
“They apply whether a user is trying to watch Netflix at 7 p.m., download podcasts at 7 a.m., hop on a Zoom call at 3 in the afternoon, or running automated backups at 3 in the morning,” the groups write.
Some local chambers of commerce and other organizations -- including ones that say they've received support from Charter -- are backing the company's request.
Among others, the Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady, The Loisaida Center in New York City, and Literacy Rochester urged the FCC to grant Charter's petition.
Loisaida says it received $50,000 in equipment and grants from Charter, which the organization used to “outfit our tech center and launch our program that connects historically underserved Latino families with modern technology and the many new learning and developmental opportunities that come with it.”
Literacy Rochester says it received $125,000 in grants from Charter in 2018, while the Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady says it received around $75,000 in grants from the company.