Comcast brings cell-phone-like data charges to home Internet users

The "Dear John" letter from Comcast explaining the new usage fees for home consumers.
The “Dear John” letter from Comcast explaining the new usage fees for home consumers.

Get ready for your home Internet to feel like your smartphone — bound by data caps, a large overage fee waiting to happen.  Comcast gave some users the bad news Thursday — not surprisingly before a long weekend. Consumers who exceed 300 GB in a month will have to pay for overages at $10 per 50 GB tier.

Not surprisingly, they have the option to pay an extra $30 to get the service they have currently, without caps.

Internet service providers like Comcast have been chomping at the bit to change their business model and charge consumers by the bit the way wireless providers do.  Comcast’s initial allowance seems generous — some notes sent to users say it’s unlikely they will hit the cap based on their prior usage — but it’s easy to imagine that’s temporary. The Internet keeps birthing high-bandwidth applications like streaming HD video.  Users will ultimately run into these caps. And there’s nothing to prevent Comcast from lowering the limit going forward.

“An important update about your XFINITY Internet service,” the email reads. “We’re writing to let you know that we will be trialing a new XFINITY Internet data plan in your area. Starting October 1, 2015, your monthly data plan will include 300 GB. We will also trial a new “Unlimited Data” option that will give you the choice to purchase unlimited data for $30 per month in addition to your monthly Internet service fee.”

The news comes with some “courtesy” concessions from Comcast.

“We’re … implementing a three-month courtesy program. That means you will not be billed for the first three times you exceed the 300 GB included in the monthly data plan,” the email says. “If you are on the 300 GB plan, we will send you a courtesy “in-browser” notice and an email letting you know when you reach 90%, 100%, 110%, and 125% of your monthly data usage plan amount.”

If you haven’t seen one of these emails, you can learn more about the data usage trials at Comcast’s website.

On its frequently asked questions page about the new usage fee, Comcast describes it as a trial, and says it impacts consumers in the following areas: Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Tucson, Arizona; Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Maine; Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi; Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Want to see if you are part of the experiment? Here’s a page listing all the unlucky zip codes.

If you are in the unlucky zone, please let me know. I’ll be curious if Comcast users in these areas have competitive options like Verizon’s FiOS.

For some time, Comcast has been including usage statistics on consumers’ monthly bills, which hinted at this move.

Tolled home usage is bad news for consumers who end up being forced to download streaming video they don’t want, like auto-play videos from sites like  That data, which already eats into consumers’ mobile data limits, will now eat into the limits they face at home.  (I’ve complained about this before; it’s something the FCC really needs to examine.  When consumers paid for cell phone minutes, telemarketing calls to cell phones were banned.. This situation is identical.)

Here’s what Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said to me about the change:

“These trials are based on principles of fairness and flexibility. With ten percent of our customers consuming half the data that runs over our network, we think it’s fair that those who use more data pay more and that those who use less data also have a chance to save some money . For light data users on our Economy Plus tier, the can opt in to a program that gives them a $5/month discount if they use less than 5 GB of data per month.

“And these trials are flexible too, so customers who want to consume more data than the 300 GB included in the plan now have two options. They can purchase as many 50 GB buckets of data that they wish for $10 each. Or, they can opt for the peace of mind of locking in a predictable, flat rate of $30 per month for unlimited data use (as long as that use remains consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.)

“And to put this all in perspective, our national median customer data use is 40 GB per month and 92 percent of our customers don’t consume more than 300 GB of data in a month.”

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About Bob Sullivan 1582 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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