Comcast is trying out a new fee that offers an all-you-can internet upgrade to customers with data caps. The so-called “Unlimited Data Option” allows you to use the internet as much as you want. The fee is $30, in addition to what customers are already paying for service. Wait, what?
This is just a test. It’s important to make it clear that Comcast is conducting a trial of this option in nine states, and the details vary by market. However, it’s just the latest in a series of moves that make no-limit internet a thing of the past—or at least a more expensive thing in the future. The telecom giant’s been testing data caps across the country over the course of the past few years. The plans generally charge customers $10 for each addition 50-gigabytes after they’ve hit their limit.
The newly adjusted plan includes 300-gigabytes worth of data, but the $10 meter starts running once you’ve blown through that. The new unlimited option provides a pricey way around the data cap. Customers in select markets can pay $30 a month upfront, and they get unlimited data.
Wait, so that means Comcast took away their all-you-can internet options and imposed these data caps and fines. And now Comcast is reintroducing all-you-can internet for $30 a month.
That seems like a trick! That seems like a mean trick since many Americans have no choice but Comcast, and especially since many of the country’s other carriers—namely Time Warner Cable—don’t have data caps (yet). It’s like the telephone company allowing you to call anyone for free, and the started charging a fee for certain kinds of calls, unless you paid a little extra for the all inclusive package. Well, come to think of it this new tiered broadband service seems a lot like the old world of telephones.
In that sense, it all makes sense. Our demands on internet service providers have increased in age of watching Netflix and streaming Spotify. The impending era of 4K video and cloud-powered everything suggest that our thirst for data will continue to increase. So naturally the companies that control the pipes will want to squeeze a little more money out of subscribers. If nothing else, it’s good business. It sucks for customers! But not for stockholders.
At least that’s how Comcast has talked about its data caps in the past. One executive described the fees as a business matter earlier this month. When asked why data caps were so low, Comcast’s vice president of internet service said that he had “no idea” since he’s only “involved in the engineering side and [doesn’t] weigh in on the business policy.” That makes it seem like an economic opportunity for Comcast rather than a consequence of limited infrastructure.
That’s basically fine. Businesses are allowed to make money so long as they stay within the limits of the law. (It’s worth mentioning here that the Government Accountability Office has urged the Federal Communications Commission to take action against data caps, since it stands to be an easy way for telecom companies to jack up prices.) Customers should also be allowed to pick which company gets their business. Unfortunately, for now, the Comcasts and Verizons and Time Warner Cable enjoy natural monopolies in their respective territories. Just imagine if the country’s biggest cable companies were to merge and make data caps a national past time. Cordcutters might find that paying for cable is cheaper that using up your data plan on streaming TV shows.
But again, this is just a test. Well, the data cap thing is real, and it’s been going on for a long time. If you’re a data hog and a Comcast prisoner, you’ll probably enjoy the new unlimited plan if it goes nationwide. It’ll be just like the internet you used to know, only a lot more expensive.