It’s not a cap, but it is Comcapstic

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A snippet of the internal documents leaked from Comcast on Reddit.

A snippet of the internal documents leaked from Comcast on Reddit.

Comcast, what are you on about?

Apparently using more than 300 GB of broadband at home in a month is too much. Comcast is expanding the markets in which it’s “trialling” a 300 GB soft-cap past which users will be charged $10 per 50 GB of usage.

And it’s telling customer service not to call it a “data cap”.

Well, technically, it’s “not a cap”. The customer service training materials originally leaked via Reddit aren’t lying when they say, “We do not limit a customer’s use of the Internet in any way at or above 300 GB.” But there’s a fine line between a cap and price discrimination. In either case, customers who use more data every month end up paying more.

Thing is, it probably doesn’t cost Comcast (or any other ISP) much, if anything, to provide 3 TB of bandwidth over the course of a month instead of 300 GB. It certainly doesn’t cost them $10 / 50 GB = 20¢ per GB. A decade ago, the cost per GB for an ISP was around a penny. There’s no way the price hasn’t gone way down since then, but even if it hasn’t the markup is around 20x. (Read this Reddit comment thread for more on the numbers)

And while it’s technically not a cap, it is a form of limit. For an extra $30 or $35 per month, the 300 GB threshold goes away. It’s ridiculous, as -jackschitt- explains.

I’ve seen arguments that this is intended to reduce streaming, because Comcast is also a cable company and they don’t like cord-cutters using Internet bandwidth to watch video they could be buying from the cable TV service. I’ve seen arguments that they’re trying to discourage torrenting, or watching YouTube, because those entertainment options also compete with Comcast’s cable business in a way.

But I see this as simple corporate greed. Does Comcast have a right to make a profit? America hasn’t decreed (yet) that ISPs are public utilities, so I’d say they’re entitled to some healthy profit margins. Thing is, the extra usage costs Comcast practically nothing. They have to maintain their network no matter how much data flows through. It’s not like there’s extra strain on the equipment. Routers and cables are engineered to be used at or near peak capacity as much as possible.

Let’s put it this way: Remember when cellular text messages were 25¢ each? That was also back in the era when bandwidth cost ISPs roughly 1¢ per GB. And those text messages cost essentially nothing to deliver, because SMS was built on the inter-node signaling architecture that was already part of the cellular network architecture—built in because it’s an integral part of how the network functions. American cellular carriers figured out that they could use idle time on those communication channels to make an obscene amount of money on text messages.

Need more convincing that Comcast is just in it for the money? There’s allegedly a policy of forgiving the first three overages. According to at least one customer in a trial area, Comcast actually charges for those outages in advance. If that’s true, and Comcast still bills that way in the trial service areas, even customers who don’t ever go over the limit still end up paying for it.

Internet service in America is already far more expensive than comparable service in other countries. PBS NewsHour published a report earlier this year showing a comparison between a number of cities both within the US and internationally, rating the speed and cost of Internet access.

Even though the Internet was invented in the United States, Americans pay the most in the world for broadband access. And it’s not exactly blazing fast.

For an Internet connection of 25 megabits per second, New Yorkers pay about $55 — nearly double that of what residents in London, Seoul, and Bucharest, Romania, pay. And residents in cities such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and Paris get connections nearly eight times faster.

PBS NewsHour, April 26, 2015

If this pisses you off—and it should—submit complaints to the FCC describing how anti-consumer Comcast’s trial is. If enough people write in, the FCC will be able to investigate and—hopefully—step in to regulate it.

But at least Comcast isn’t claiming that they need to experiment with caps to “manage congestion” any more.


I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

One Comment:

  1. When I moved to NJ, I had my choice of Comcast and Verizon.

    First I set myself on fire.

    Then I chose ¬(Comcast)

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