Cable science experiments

Apparently the Wall Street Journal has noticed the same thing about ISP data caps and how they affect cord cutters that I speculated about in November.1

My thinking was (and still is) that Comcast is conducting science experiments with their data caps, suspending them in some areas, and raising them slightly in others with the addition of a more expensive unlimited option.

What do these numbers look like? Comcast’s data caps in the past were set at 250GB per month of bandwidth. That cap that is currently not enforced, so in some areas, there is effectively no bandwidth limit at the moment. They also have a 300GB cap that is being enforced in some parts of the country, and if I recall correctly, those areas also have an option for unlimited bandwidth that costs an additional $35 per month.

In other words, at the moment, some people can download or upload as much as they like, while others have to stay under the 300GB threshold or pay extra to be able to use however much bandwidth they need.

Some of the differential in treatment may be due to regional market differences (perceived competition, etc.), but personally I think Comcast is just trying different things to see how much data people really use when unfettered with restrictions, and on the other hand, how many people fall afoul of a 300GB cap in the era of cord cutting.

Are they doing this so they can implement more realistic caps, or so they can figure out how to appear reasonable while still being able to charge heavy users and cord cutters more for Internet service? Comcast would probably claim the former, based on this excerpt from the WSJ article:

Comcast is “now actively considering substantially increasing” its data usage thresholds, a company executive says.

I’m curious about what “substantially increasing” means to Comcast. Since canceling cable tv, my family has blown past the 250GB (unenforced) cap every month: 654GB, 525GB, and 705GB for the first three months, and 343GB so far this month with a week left to go.

I also think it’s a little of A, a bit more of B. Comcast has to know people are tired of the expensive fat bundles and the ever increasing cable tv rates. When I called to cancel our tv, they barely put up a fight. That has never happened before. Anytime I’ve ever called customer retention to get my bill lowered again or cancel my service, they’ve gone out of their way to try and make sure I wind up with just as much as they can possibly unload on me. I have a feeling a lot of people are calling and telling them to axe it all except the HSI.

It’s no surprise that online video streaming services think Comcast is out to hurt their business, nor is it surprising that Comcast denies it:

Sling TV executives say many former customers tell the company they dropped the $20-a-month streaming service because they were being charged so much in extra broadband fees that it was cheaper to simply go back to cable TV. The over-the-top service—meaning it is delivered over the Internet—offers a slim bundle of pay-TV channels, such as AMC and CNN.

Broadband companies’ “incentive is to sabotage over-the-top services, and data caps is a primary tool in order to accomplish that,” says Jeff Blum, deputy general counsel at Dish Network Corp. DISH 3.45 % , which owns Sling TV. “It’s competing with their bundle.”

Comcast denies its data caps are targeted at stifling online video rivals. “We everyday contribute to the use and the growth of the Internet,” Mr. Jenckes says. “There is absolutely no anticompetitive belief or objective.”

Both sides have their own interests at heart, clearly. But I’ve never seen anything from Comcast that convinces me they just want what’s best for their customers. They do provide reliable, quality service, in my experience. Their TV product is good, and their internet service has been fast and reliable for us for years. Even their customer service has improved to the point I have no complaints there either. The pain with Comcast for me is always solely financial. Justifying the ludicrous amount of money it took to keep both cable tv and Internet became impossible.

This topic isn’t going away anytime soon. Comcast has one opinion, Netflix, Sling TV, and Hulu have their own opinions, and the FCC has its own set of thoughts on the issue. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out for consumers going forward. I suspect things will get more painful before they get better (assuming they do).

  1. I’m referring to people who have cancelled their cable tv service, but not their internet service.