Broadband providers could be prohibited from imposing data caps on subscribers, under a bill introduced Thursday.
The Uncap America Act, unveiled by Senators Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), would ban internet service providers from capping data, as well as from pay-per-byte billing, except for “reasonable” network management purposes.
The measure would also task the Federal Communications Commission with developing regulations for reasonable network management.
Currently, some of the company's largest broadband providers impose usage-based billing on subscribers.
Comcast, for instance, caps broadband data at 1.2 Terabytes per month across two-thirds of its footprint. Customers who exceed the cap are charged an extra $10 per 50 Gigabytes, unless they pay extra for an unlimited data plan.
Consumer advocates have long opposed broadband caps, arguing that they are arbitrary, discourage cord-cutting, and hinder people's ability to engage in a variety of online activities -- ranging from distance learning to telemedicine to gaming.
Advocates have also noted that data caps (and pricing schemes that charge by the byte) don't help manage network traffic, unless they are directly tied to network congestion.
Some video providers have also opposed data caps, on the grounds that they can discourage people from accessing movies or TV programs online. Netflix, for example, said in a 2016 Federal Communications Commission filing that data caps (as well as pay-per-byte billing) don't appear to have any purpose other than to make online video more expensive for consumers.
Advocacy groups on Thursday expressed support for the proposed Uncap America Act.
“Data caps make life particularly difficult for consumers,” Public Knowledge senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff said in a statement. “Many consumers, particularly low-income ones, find themselves severely restricting their online activities so that they don’t hit their data caps.”
Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, separately stated that the bill “presents an opportunity to help reduce broadband costs for American families by eliminating the fears of unnecessary overage charges.”