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Cable One will boost data plans, but not scrap its cap

Cable One is extending several COVID-19-related measures through the end of 2020, but has opted not to relax its data plans and usage-based broadband overage policies beyond June 30.

Cable One, which now operates under the consumer brand of Sparklight, announced this week that it will permanently boost the majority of its residential Internet data plans by an additional 50 gigabytes to 300 GB for free (depending on the customer's data plan) as of July 1.

At the urging of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Cable One and many other US ISPs have relaxed their data plans and usage-based data policies temporarily as part of his primary Keep Americans Connected Pledge, aimed at keeping consumers online during the pandemic even if they had trouble paying their bills.

Prior to putting its data usage policies on ice, Cable One's policy was to charge $10 for each extra bucket of 100 GB when customers exceeded their monthly limit. The MSO also sells an unlimited data plan for an additional $40 per month and has indicated that 20% of new broadband customers have been taking that option.

During its Q1 call in May, Cable One CEO Julie Laulis hinted that the operator might tweak its data plans when usage-based policies resumed, adding that Cable One evaluates its data guidelines on an annual basis, anyway.

"Given recent usage patterns, we are also evaluating our existing data plans and anticipate adjustments when we resume our standard service," she said then, noting that the majority of Cable One's residential broadband customers don't go over their monthly data plans.

Though the relaxation of Cable One's data policies won't be extended past June, the cable operator said it will extend other relief measures through the rest of 2020 that were set to expire on June 30. For example, Cable One will continue to offer its 15Mbit/s residential Internet plan for $10 per month for the first three months and provide free access to its public Wi-Fi hotspots. Cable One will also continue to waive late fees through July 31 and offer flexible payment plans.

Will other ISPs tweak their data policies?
It's not yet clear how many other US cable operators intend to alter their legacy usage-based broadband policies starting in July.

On one extreme, Antietam Broadband of Maryland has already abolished its usage-based pricing for good, holding that the policy was no longer necessary as customers started to shift to speed tiers that reflected their usage during the pandemic.

Comcast and Cox Communications have both paused their respective data plans and usage-based policies through June 30, providing all customers with unlimited data for no added charge (Cox has also temporarily dialed down upstream speeds to 10 Mbit/s in select neighborhoods where it's seeing "excessive usage").

Comcast said Thursday it had no update to its data plans to announce. Cox is making some changes to its usage-based data policies and expects to announce them later today, an official said.

Update: Citing increased Internet use due to coronavirus, Cox announced it will make it easier for more customers to stay within their data plans by raising data allowances across the board by 25%, to 1.25 terabytes starting this week.

"Since the start of the pandemic we provided unlimited data to all customers because we did not know the impact that learn and work from home might have on our customers. After reviewing data consumption since the Coronavirus crisis, we know that nearly 90 percent of customers would not have been charged for going over their 1TB data plan," a Cox official said via email.

Meanwhile, Mediacom Communications announced this week that it 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 and continued complimentary access to its public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Charter Communications currently 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, which is asking the FCC to sunset that condition on May 18, 2020, told Ars Technica that it currently has no plans to implement data caps, but instead seeks a "level playing field" and the flexibility that other US broadband service providers enjoy.

With his already-extended pledge set to expire at the end June, Pai recently urged Congress to push legislation that will ensure consumers and small businesses remain connected to broadband services in the coming months, and help to compensate ISPs for lost revenues linked to pledge commitments.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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