Cable Tech

Comcast extends delay on debuting data caps in the Northeast

Comcast said it will hold off implementing data usage and capping policies in its Northeast division until 2022, a move that extends an earlier commitment to delay implementing those policies until July 2021.

"We recognize that our data plan was new for our customers in the Northeast, and while only a very small percentage of customers need additional data, we are providing them with more time to become familiar with the new plan," Comcast said in a statement.

Comcast originally activated its usage-based residential broadband data policy in its Northeast region, which includes parts of 13 states and Washington, DC, on January 1. Amid pressure from lawmakers about the introduction of the policy during a pandemic, Comcast agreed to delay charging broadband overage data fees in the region until July 2021, following a set of commitments brokered by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The agreement with the Pennsylvania AG also has Comcast waiving early termination fees for customers who opt out through December 2021.

Comcast, which recently raised speeds for its Internet Essentials program for low-income households and accelerated the deployment of Wi-Fi "Lift Zones" for students, will now delay implementing usage-based policies in the Northeast, where it competes with Verizon's uncapped Fios broadband service in some areas, until next year.

Comcast recalibrated its data policies in July 2020

Comcast currently has data usage policies in place in its Central and West divisions.

Following a multi-month suspension of its usage-based policy during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Comcast restored and updated its data usage policies in July 2020, raising the monthly limit to 1.2 terabytes – 200 gigabytes more than the 1TB limit that was in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Under the revised data plan, residential broadband customers who exceed 1.2TB of data per month are charged $10 for each additional bucket of 50GB, up to a maximum of $100 per month (Comcast's maximum data overage charge prior to the pandemic was $200). Comcast also sells a standalone unlimited data option that costs an additional $30 per month.

Comcast isn't alone in feeling pressure from lawmakers about data policies during a pandemic that has made broadband connectivity increasingly critical as millions have been forced to work and school from home.

Other US ISPs around the US are also under pressure from the US House Energy & Commerce Committee for the use of data caps and/or for raising prices during the pandemic. Expect ISPs to also be reluctant to implement big broadband-focused policy moves amid a new Biden administration that is anticipated to direct the FCC to pursue network neutrality rules that were rolled back under the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, recent studies and data continue to show that broadband consumption continues to surge during the pandemic.

According to OpenVault's Broadband Insights Report (OVBI) for Q4 2020, 14.1% of weighted average subscribers consume over 1TB per month, up 94% from 7.3% in Q4 2019. Additionally, "extreme power users" – defined as broadband customers who consume at least 2TB of data per month – now represent 2.2% of all customers, a 184% increase from OpenVault's Q4 2019 study.

Meanwhile, peak upstream speeds on US cable networks has surged 50.6% since March 2020, and peak downstream speeds have climbed almost 30% during that span, according to the NCTA's COVID-19 Dashboard, which tabulates data from several major and independent US cable operators.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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