Now that unlimited data plans have fallen out of favor in the wireless world, Comcast wants to give them a try.
Starting in Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla., Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is testing a new Unlimited Data Option that gives subscribers an opportunity to avoid overage fees if they go over the company's usage cap of 300GB per month. That privilege comes at a cost, however. As first reported by DSLReports, any subscriber signing up for the Unlimited plan has to pay an additional $30 per month, no take-backs allowed. If a user stays under the 300GB threshold one month, there's no refund on that extra fee.
In regions where Comcast has implemented usage caps, customers are charged an extra $10 per month for every additional block of 50GB that has to be added to the bill. In other words, when a user goes over the 300GB threshold, that's an extra $10; over 350GB, that's $20, etc.
Comcast gives this example in the frequently asked questions list on its website:
"If you enroll in the Unlimited Data Option and use 530 GB in a given month, you will only be charged $30 for choosing to enroll in the Unlimited Data Option. If you do not enroll in the Unlimited Data Option, you would be on the 300 GB plan and therefore would be charged $50 for the additional 250 GB (five blocks of additional 50 GB) provided on top of the 300 GB plan."
Currently, Comcast's usage cap is only active in select markets. These include: Huntsville and Mobile, Ala.; Tucson, Ariz.; Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla.; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga.; Central Kentucky; Maine; Jackson and Tupelo, Miss.; Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; and Charleston, S.C.
Usage caps and overage fees do not apply to Comcast's Extreme 505 service, or its new multi-gigabit Gigabit Pro service, both of which already cost several hundred dollars per month. (See Comcast Trots Out Gigabit Pro… at a Price.)
Fixed-line Internet service providers have trotted out data cap trials and commercial deployments on several occasions, usually followed by a large backlash in the press. As users stream more content online, however, the appeal of data caps is likely to grow, even if users are less than sanguine about the idea.
One question to consider is whether new network and service virtualization technologies could open up new pricing options beyond the data cap approach. With New IP capabilities that make it easy to turn up and turn down throughput, service providers could test out alternatives to overage fees, such as offering bandwidth at different rates during dynamically determined peak and non-peak usage times.
There's no guarantee that users would like a peak pricing strategy any better than usage caps, but it could provide more flexibility for customers who are able to plan out their high-bandwidth activities.
One thing is for sure, service providers are likely to continue experimenting with pricing models as bandwidth consumption continues to rise.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading