Comcast said this week it would start charging more for heavy users of home internet in the Northeast, sparking complaints from some customers as the global pandemic keeps life online.
Home internet usage has skyrocketed during the pandemic as more people work from home and attend classes online, not to mention spend hours streaming TV and games.
Comcast initially responded to this trend by giving people relief from data caps, which have already been in place across the central and western U.S. for a few years. That reprieve ended in July, and now the company is expanding its controversial data thresholds to the new region starting next year.
Comcast Xfinity customers in New York, Virginia, Maryland and 11 other northeastern states, plus Washington, D.C., will be able to use up to 1.2 terabytes of data each month before they start getting charged more, regardless of what speed plan they use. After that, data will be charged at $10 for 50 gigabytes, up to a maximum of $100 additional each month.
Comcast says with that much data, you could stream five hours of 4K video every day for a month, or take part in 3,500 hours of video conferencing.
“I would think that companies should never be implementing nickel-and-diming measures — in this case at least, until the economy is back,” said Shashi Bellamkonda, a marketing executive and Comcast customer in Maryland, who joined many others in venting frustrations at the new caps online.
Comcast’s expanded data limits will also apply to customers in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia and parts of Ohio and North Carolina.
A way to avoid getting charged more is to sign up for an unlimited data plan, which costs between $11 and $30 more each month.
Comcast says most users won’t be affected. Company spokesman Joel Shadle said the vast majority of customers use less than 1.2 terabytes each month. The average customer uses 308 gigabytes, or about 25% of the cap, he said.
“We’re aligning our Northeast markets with the data plan that (the) rest of the country has had for several years, and 95% of our customers are not impacted by it even with the increased usage during the pandemic,” Shadle said in a statement.
It’s getting easier for households, especially with multiple people working from home, to hit new internet thresholds, however.
Bellamkonda and his wife are working from home, and their two kids attend classes online. And with that usage, they easily exceeded that limit in five of the past seven months. They used 2.4 terabytes, or 2,386 gigabytes, in both August and September as school resumed.
A study from broadband software and analytics company OpenVault found the number of customers using more than one terabyte of data doubled from the same time last year, though it hovers around only 8.8% of internet subscribers.
Comcast said these thresholds will not slow down internet speed — the data limits will not throttle internet access in any way but will instead result in more charges. The company will also send out multiple reminders as customers approach the cap.
Comcast is giving customers a grace period at the beginning of the year and will start charging extra for crossing the cap in April.