Comcast Urged To Abandon 'Inconceivable' Plan To Impose Data Caps During Pandemic

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are asking Comcast to revoke its “inconceivable” decision to impose broadband data caps during the current pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the internet essential for all,” 70 Massachusetts state legislators say in a letter to Comcast's Mark Reilly, senior vice president of government and regulatory relations. “It is inconceivable that Comcast would choose to impose this 'cap and fee' plan during a pandemic, when many Massachusetts residents are forced to work and attend school from home via the internet.”

The officials are responding to Comcast's announcement in late November that it planned to extend new data caps on subscribers in 14 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. Comcast's customers in those states who consume more than 1.2 Terabytes of data per month will be charged an extra $10 per 50 Gigabytes, after the new usage-based billing scheme takes effect.

The lawmakers are “strongly” urging Comcast to abandon the plan, and “to reconsider any future attempts at imposing a data cap or any perversion of the principles of net neutrality in Massachusetts.”

Comcast already deploys usage-based billing across around two-thirds of its footprint, but not in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic -- where the broadband carrier faces competition from Verizon's Fios.

The Massachusetts lawmakers say network capacity “is not an issue for Comcast or a valid excuse to charge customers more.”

In March, Comcast executive Tony Werner reportedly said during a conference call that the company's network had been able to handle increased traffic experienced during the pandemic.

Consumer advocacy groups have long objected to data caps, arguing that the caps are arbitrary and amount to a price hike. Advocates also say cable providers like Comcast have an incentive to price broadband at rates that will discourage people from replacing their cable video packages with streaming services.

Comcast says 5% of its customers use more than 1.2 TB of data per month; those subscribers account for 20% of the traffic on Comcast's network, according to a spokesperson. 

The company says 1.2 terabytes is “a massive amount of data,” adding that its billing system “is structured in a way that the very small percentage of our customers who use more than 1.2 terabytes of monthly data and generate the greatest demand for network development and capacity pay more for their increased usage.”

Subscribers who want unlimited data will have two options: They can purchase a plan without caps for an extra $30 a month, or can subscribe to XFinity Complete, lease a modem for $14 a month, and pay an additional $11 a month for unlimited data.

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