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Cable Tech

Comcast to bring broadband data plan to Fios territory

Comcast confirmed it will activate its usage-based residential broadband data policy – recently set at 1.2 terabytes per month before overage charges are applied – in its northeast region starting next year.

That region, which includes markets where Comcast grapples with Verizon's non-capped Fios Internet service, covers portions of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, West Virginia and Washington, DC.

As first reported by the Stop The Cap website, Comcast's 1.2TB data plan, along with access to the cable operator's unlimited data option, will begin to take effect in those markets in January 2021.

However, Comcast is taking measures to ease the transition to the new policy in its northeast division. For starters, Comcast will essentially offer a two-month grace period, as it will credit back any charges associated with data overages or unlimited data for January and February 2021. Additionally, customers on Comcast's data plan get one courtesy month during every 12-month period, so it's possible that some customers in Comcast's northeast division could get a reprieve until April 2021.

The extension of the policy in the northeast division will effectively provide Comcast with uniform national coverage, matching it up with policies that are currently in place in its central and west divisions.

Comcast restored and revised its data policies in July

Following a multi-month suspension of its usage-based policy during the pandemic, Comcast restored and updated its data plan in July, raising the monthly limit to 1.2 TB, 200 gigabytes more than the 1TB limit in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the terms of the updated plan, residential broadband customers who exceed 1.2TB of data per month are charged $10 for each additional bucket of 50GB, up to a max of $100 per month (Comcast's maximum data overage charge prior to the pandemic was $200).

Comcast's standalone unlimited data option costs an additional $30 per month (Comcast sold its unlimited option for an additional $50 prior to the pandemic).

Comcast residential broadband customers in the northeast who sign up for unlimited data or "xFi Complete" (a package that bundles in unlimited data along with the operator's xFi Gateway, an xFi Pod Wi-Fi extender, if necessary, and cybersecurity services for an additional $25 per month) are eligible for a special offer of free unlimited data through June 2021. Customers in that region who sign up for unlimited data or xFi Complete in February or March 2021 won't be charged for unlimited data until April 2021.

Comcast's home broadband data plan does not apply to business service customers, Gigabit Pro customers (Gigabit Pro is a symmetrical 2Gbit/s service delivered over fiber-to-the-premises lines), Comcast's prepaid Internet customers, or customers getting service from the operator through non-upgradeable bulk Internet agreements.

Critics of data caps and usage-based policies are quick to point out that they do little to ease network congestion and argue that they are unnecessary tools used by certain ISPs to artificially bulk up the average revenue per user (ARPU).

Comcast maintains that 95% of broadband customers across its base use less than 1.2TB of data per month – even during a pandemic period that has seen network utilization surge – with median usage at about 308GB per month. The operator estimates that 1.2TB provides enough data for customers to stream 500 hours of HD video, play online games for 34,000 hours or video chat for 3,500 hours.

Big broadband gains

Comcast is coming off a banner quarter with respect to broadband. The cable op added a record 633,000 residential and business broadband customers in Q3 2020, ending the period with 30.06 million. Comcast, which saw high-speed Internet revenues rise 10.1% to $5.2 billion in Q3, has also identified broadband as one of three "core tenets" driving its strategy (content aggregation and scaling its streaming technology/platform are the other two).

Comcast has not broken out how its broadband data usage policies have impacted the service's ARPU. Cable One's unlimited plan, which costs an extra $40 per month, is a "major contributor" to the operator's ARPU growth, Cable One President and CEO Julie Laulis said on the company's Q3 2020 call.

Charter Communications currently does not cap its broadband service, but has asked the FCC to lift restrictions tied to its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks that ban Charter from implementing usage-based data policies or striking paid network peering deals. Charter has said it has no plans to alter its policies, but has likewise argued that such conditions are unnecessary given the rise and success of the OTT video marketplace. Charter also believes that it should have access to the same options as its competitors.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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