After a multi-month suspension of its usage-based policy during the pandemic, Comcast has restored and updated its residential data plan with a new twist that raises the monthly data ceiling to 1.2 terabytes, about 200 gigabytes more than the 1TB limit that was in place before the US outbreak.
According to the updated policy, Comcast is now extending one courtesy month for customers who exceed their monthly data thresholds before overage charges are applied, versus an earlier version of the plan that allowed for two courtesy months. Under the updated policy, customers won't be billed the first time they exceed the monthly limit.
Once that courtesy month is burned up, residential customers who exceed more than 1.2TB of data per month will be charged $10 for each additional bucket of 50 gigabytes, up to a max of $100 per month. That updated $100 maximum is effectively half of the $200 max that was part of Comcast's pre-pandemic policies.
Comcast has also reset the courtesy month counter to zero for residential broadband customers, even those that might have exceeded their limits in the early part of 2020. Comcast expects to again reset the courtesy month counter at the start of 2021.
The cable giant has also tweaked its unlimited data options in part by reducing the overall costs. The standalone cost for unlimited is now an additional $30 per month for customers who own their own modem, down from an earlier cost of $50.
Comcast bundles unlimited data in a newly branded "xFi Complete" package (it was formerly known as "xFi Advantage") that also bakes in whole-home Wi-Fi, Comcast's xFi Gateway and cybersecurity services for an additional $25 per month. Comcast has opened up xFi Complete to all of its residential speed tiers, not just its fastest ones.
The MSO has been proactively crediting customers on unlimited plans in recent months.
Notably, Comcast's usage-based pricing and unlimited policies don't apply to residential customers in some of its Northeastern US territories, where it runs up against Verizon FiOS service. Comcast's usage-based policies also don't apply to its business-class broadband service.
Comcast estimates that about 95% of its residential broadband customers don't reach or exceed the new 1.2TB data plan even when pandemic-level data usage is applied. According to Comcast's most recent stats, the cable op has seen a 32% increase in upstream traffic and an 11% increase it downstream traffic growth during the pandemic.
The cable company points out that 1.2TB is enough data to stream between 480 and 560 hours of HD video a month, more than 150 hours of 4K video a month, stream more than 21,600 hours of music and spend nearly 3,500 hours on videoconferencing services/apps such as Zoom, FaceTime and Google Duo.
Though there's little evidence that data caps and usage-based policies offer much help in the way of easing network congestion, Comcast continues to center its argument for the policy on "fairness."
"This data plan is based on a principle of fairness. Those who use more Internet data pay more," the FAQ reads.
Even as Comcast restores and tweaks its data plan, the operator is also extending some other pandemic-related commitments past the June 30 expiration date of the FCC's Keeping Americans Connected Pledge. That includes the extension of a 60-day free offer of Comcast's Internet Essentials service for low-income households through the end of 2020, and free access to Comcast's 1.5 million Wi-Fi hotspots for the rest of the year.
Comcast has also extended flexible payment plans for up to 12 months for customers who need help paying their service bills during the pandemic. Comcast estimates that about 80% of customers in its assisted payment programs have already been moved to a plan that fits their budget.
The temporary relaxation of usage-based data policies was not a core component of the Keeping Americans Connected Pledge, but it was something being urged by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Other ISPs adjust their caps
Comcast isn't the only US ISP to alter or tweak its usage-based data policies amid the expiration of the FCC's connectivity pledge. Here's a representative snapshot of how some other ISPs with usage-based policies prior to the pandemic are moving forward:
- AT&T has waived its home Internet data overage charges through September 30, with the caveat that it applies only to customers on the telco's AT&T Fiber and U-verse service tiers. The extended waiver excludes AT&T's DSL, fixed wireless and mobility services.
- Antietam Broadband has eliminated its usage-based plans after determining that customers started to shift to speed tiers that reflected their usage levels.
- Cable One/Sparklight has boosted the majority of its residential Internet data plans by an additional 50GB to 300GB for no added cost (depending on the customer's data plan) starting July 1.
- Cox Communications has raised data allowances across the board by 25%, to 1.25GB.
- Mediacom Communications has extended its COVID-19-related initiatives through the July and August billing cycles, including a pausing of monthly data allowances across all of its broadband service tiers.
- CenturyLink has eliminated data caps for residential and small business customers until August 1, according to Ars Technica.
- Charter Communications does not support a usage-based policy for broadband, but it recently petitioned the FCC to consider dropping a condition imposed on its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks that prohibits Charter from implementing data caps. Charter is asking the FCC to sunset that condition on May 18, 2021.
- Comcast beefs up network capacity, uses AI to keep data demands in check
- Cable One will boost data plans, but not scrap its cap
- Small US cable op scraps its data cap
- Emergency Broadband Connections Act enters frame as pandemic drags on
- FCC chairman seeks help to keep the broadband flowing
- Comcast extends free Internet Essentials offer through end of 2020
- Charter asks FCC to drop restrictions on data caps, network peering deals
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading