Comcast announced that it will soon more than triple the data limit for broadband customers on its usage-based pricing plans, to 1 terabyte per month — a move that drew a thumbs-up from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who has tangled with the cable giant on bandwidth issues in the past.
With the 1-terabyte ceiling, Comcast customers will now be able to stream about 700 hours of HD video each month, according to the cable company. The change will take effect June 1 for all subscribers on usage-based plans, regardless of their speed tier; previously those users were capped at 300 gigabytes per month.
Of course, the Comcast caps don’t appear to currently apply to Hastings, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. The cable giant has rolled out the usage-based pricing model in about two dozen markets including Atlanta, Miami, Tucson, Little Rock, Ark., Nashville, Tenn., Charleston, S.C., and Maine. Comcast says it’s evaluating expanding the plans to other areas, but for now subscribers who aren’t in those markets do not have a usage cap.
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Still, Hastings’ comments on the Comcast shift are markedly different from the hostile tone Netflix took two years ago, when the streamer was fighting with Comcast over payments to guarantee network bandwidth for its video. “It is extortion when Comcast fails to provide its own customers the broadband speed they’ve paid for unless Netflix also pays a ransom,” Netflix said in September 2014.
Meanwhile, Netflix recently was embroiled in its own bandwidth-throttling brouhaha. Last month, it disclosed that has for years limited video delivered over wireless networks at 600 kilobits per second, with informing customers. Netflix says it will launch a new feature in May to let customers control how much mobile bandwidth they want to use to stream video.
The FCC remains concerned that broadband providers could thwart Internet video services by imposing data caps and usage-based pricing, although those are allowed under the agency’s so-called net neutrality regulations. In approving Charter Communications’ takeover of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the FCC among other conditions will prohibit the companies from charging broadband subs based on usage for seven years. (Charter already had pledged to not adopt caps or usage-based pricing.)
According to Comcast, more than 99% of its broadband users don’t come close to using a terabyte each month, with the typical customer consuming only about 60 gigabytes (or 6% of 1 terabyte). “We have created a new data plan that is so high that most of our customers will never have to think about how much data they use,” Comcast exec VP of consumer services Marcien Jenckes said in announcing the new policy.
For extremely heavy users who want more than a terabyte, Comcast will offer the option to sign up for an unlimited plan for an additional $50 a month, or choose to purchase additional data in increments of 50 gigabytes for $10 each.
Prior May 2012, Comcast had placed a 250-gigabyte monthly usage cap on all broadband users. It eliminated that restriction with the launch of the usage-based pricing trials.