Broadband services

Comcast Puts a Price on Unlimited Data Plans

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.)

Want to know more about pay-TV market trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.

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

Phil_Britt 9/7/2015 | 6:36:02 PM
Re: Must Get Paid The problem with the power users is that they put much more strain on resources than an extra $30 a month would cover. A "stepped-cap" with ever increasing prices for higher data usage would make more sense from a business perspective.
TonyDassow 9/3/2015 | 11:42:53 AM
Re: Must Get Paid And ISPs do not like power users, at least not in the unlimited model. In the capped model do power users become good customers.
danielcawrey 9/3/2015 | 1:53:57 AM
Re: Must Get Paid I don't like this idea at all. 

In addition, I didn't even know companies like Comcast were doing this. I can see how they would envision caps as a potential moneymaker, but it's not really a smart idea. All this is going to do is anger power users. 
Ariella 9/2/2015 | 2:45:05 PM
Re: Must Get Paid @DaveZNF In my area, we don't have any option other than Verizon Optimum, and their base rates are higher. Though we constantly get mailings for promotional rates for Verizon bundles, calling to inquire always yields the answer that it's not avaialble in our area, or else they add on a lot of additional fees that make the offer a lot less attractive. 
Mitch Wagner 9/2/2015 | 2:13:49 PM
Unlimited Presumably there are contract specifics on this plan to keep people from sharing one account with their entire apartment bullding. 

Maybe service providers should just name these plans "Nearly Unimited" or "Oceans o' Data" or something similar, to reduce controversy when "limited" turns out not to mean "infinite."

The idea is to convey that look, you and your family can watch 4K videos simultaneously until your eyes bleed and never bump up against the limit -- unless you're polygamous and yout "family" is the size of a small town. But for 99.99999% of people, it's unlimited. 
DaveZNF 9/2/2015 | 1:41:30 PM
Must Get Paid I think we'll see more caps and more creative ways for the Internet providers to get paid... especially as streaming video continues to expand. They're going to have to recoup lost cord cutter revenue by getting those guys on the backside as they stream their newly ad-free Hulu shows.

As to this specific offer, $30 seems reasonable for folks with heavy data needs... assuming there is minimal fine print. Somehow I doubt that. Tiers or buckets may make more sense. 

In any event, Comcast's inconsistency in caps and pricing across their footprint the last few years is one reason why I've stuck with FiOS.
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