Comcast, the largest Internet provider in the US, is rolling out a 1TB data cap on internet use for customers in 18 different states on Nov. 1.
What does that mean?
If you're a Comcast subscriber and you live in one of the states getting the cap (comprehensive list here), you will be limited to 1TB of internet data per month. For some customers, this is actually a boost — Comcast (whose subsidiary NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed) has been slowly rolling out data caps across the US for a while. Some states had a 300GB cap, but they're getting 1TB now, since, according to Ars Technica, some customers were exceeding the lower limit.
What this likely means in the long run is that data caps are officially a part of how Comcast plans to do business. In a world where people are connecting more devices with more and more data-hungry services (Netflix and chill, for example), this could bring the internet service provider in conflict with its subscribers.
Comcast insists 99% of its customers use less than 1TB a month, telling Wired the average Comcast subscriber uses 75GB per month and that only 10% of its customers even exceeded the previous 300GB cap. There seems to be a group of data 1 percenters: Last year the ISP told Ars Technica that 10% of its subscribers use 80% of all the data Comcast provided.
Take those numbers with a grain of salt, though.
Ars also found that the accuracy of Comcast's data meters is widely disputed; some users allege that the meters are off by full terabytes. The FCC also just fined Comcast $2.3 million — the biggest fine to a cable company ever — for charging customers for things they did not buy. In some cases, people declined the specific services they were later billed for. This all suggests Comcast isn't always precise about these kinds of things.
Some see Comcast's expanding data caps as a move against video-streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have been upping the quality of their videos in recent months. Higher-quality video, including 4K video, means more data usage. And Comcast, in direct competition with streaming services, also sells cable set top boxes, though it recently announced a deal that lets subscribers stream Netflix from their set tops.
So even if you're an average internet user, Comcast's data cap has big implications for the future. Back in 2012, experts were predicting that our demand for data would only increase, while the capacity to provide it could plateau. With the proliferation of high-intensity applications like VR, video conferencing, and 4K streaming, it's possible that we'll all be using a terabyte a month soon enough.
TBH, the data cap probably won't affect you right now. But take precautions...
1. Set your Comcast account to remind you.
Know when you're at 50%, 75%, 100%, and 125% of your monthly data usage. Knowledge is power.
1.5. Figure out how much data you typically use.
2. Don't beat yourself up about it.
Comcast allows for two months in a 12-month period to be over the 1TB limit. For the third month, Comcast will charge $10 for an additional 50GB of data, with a price cap of $200 for overages.
3. If you're mad pressed about your data, you can buy more.
You can purchase an unlimited data plan for $50 on top of your current subscription. Otherwise you'll pay overages when you max it out after your two grace months.
4. Watch Comcast's "What Can You Do With a Terabyte?" video.
Note the like to dislike ratio on the video. Note that Comcast has disabled comments. Laugh.
5. Recall that in many places, people have no option for internet service besides Comcast. You can find community in complaining.
The company consistently ranks among the worst across the US in customer satisfaction, so there are plenty of people kvetching along with you, even if it's just in principle. If you're angry about the data cap, you're not alone.
Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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