Comcast has slowly but surely been expanding the company’s usage cap trials since around 2012, largely focusing them on less competitive markets where annoyed users can’t vote with their wallets. In these seventeen (and counting) trial markets, Comcast broadband customers face a monthly usage cap of 300 gigabytes. After that, users need to shell out $10 for each additional 50 gigabytes of data consumed. The trials have expanded slowly but surely in the hopes of minimizing user backlash. Basically, Comcast is the hot water slowly coming to a boil, and you’re the frog.
It appears that Comcast has now added a new wrinkle to the mix, and has started charging these trial users an extra $30 if they want to bypass usage caps. The company’s FAQ for the new option tries to argue that the change is being made to provide consumers with greater “choice and flexibility”:
The Unlimited Data Option provides additional choice and flexibility for our customers who may make heavier use of the Internet. Enrollment is optional. The Unlimited Data Option costs the current additional fee of $30 per calendar month, regardless of actual data usage. The 300 GB plan will not apply to customers who enroll in the Unlimited Data Option.
Yeah, that’s bullshit. Back in 2012, users in these trial markets used to get uncapped Comcast broadband service as a matter of course. They now get to pay $30 more a month for the honor of avoiding Comcast’s totally arbitrary and unnecessary usage restrictions. And it’s all thanks, of course, to the painful lack of competition in most Comcast markets. While this “unlimited” option is currently only being tested in the Florida cap markets, Comcast has made it clear for years it hopes to impose this kind of punitive pricing system in all markets.
You’ll recall the cable industry used to claim usage caps on fixed-line networks were necessary due to congestion (fear the Exaflood!). But as bandwidth costs dropped and intelligent network gear offered far more sophisticated ways of managing network load, the cable industry finally admitted that congestion had nothing to do with it. And while the cable industry now tries to argue that usage caps are necessary due to “fairness,” they’re really about one thing and one thing only: taking advantage of limited competition and protecting legacy TV revenues from Internet video.
If you peruse the Comcast usage cap FAQ you’ll notice that Comcast doesn’t even really bother with an explanation or justification as to why the caps are necessary, since even the nation’s least-liked company knows any defense of this position is futile. This is about as close as Comcast gets to delivering a coherent explanation as to why these limits were imposed:
As the marketplace and technology change, we do too. We evaluate customer data usage, and a variety of other factors, and make adjustments accordingly. Over the last several years, we have periodically reviewed various plans, and recently we have been analyzing the market and our process through various data usage plan trials.
So yeah, we’re not a massive incumbent telecom exploiting uncompetitive markets and lazy regulators, we’re just experimentin’ and changin’ and what have you! Comcast has made it abundantly clear that it plans to keep expanding these usage caps (and charging you to avoid them) until either the competition fairy somehow materializes better broadband options out of the ether, or regulators wake the hell up and realize that usage caps on fixed-line networks are a predatory assault on captive customers, an affront to innovation, and an aggressive abuse of monopoly power.