Dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers are calling on Comcast to rescind its plan to charge home Internet users extra fees for exceeding monthly “data caps.”
“We strongly urge Comcast to discontinue this plan, and to reconsider any future attempts at imposing a data cap,” 71 state senators and representatives said in a letter to Comcast this week.
Subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity home broadband service will have to pay extra if they use more than 1.2 terabytes of data per month. While the new fees will technically take effect Jan. 1, Comcast is waiving them for several months to prepare customers.
The caps apply to Xfinity users in Massachusetts, 11 other states in the Northeast, and the District of Columbia. Customers who exceed the cap will be charged an additional $10 per month for an additional 50 gigabytes of data, or they can pay $11 per month for unlimited access.
While 1.2 terabytes sounds like a lot, it’s likely that a growing number of households are crossing the superuser threshold because of the pandemic. Parents and children alike spend hours in online conferencing apps like Zoom. And people stuck at home are spending more time streaming movies, playing online games, and uploading gigabytes of original video content to YouTube or TikTok over their household networks.
Comcast says that only about 5 percent of its subscribers are likely to be affected by the cap, but added that those users consume about 20 percent of their network’s capacity.
“Our data plan is structured in a way that the very small percentage of our customers who use more than 1.2 terabytes of monthly data and generate the greatest demand for network development and capacity pay more for their increased usage,” said a company statement. Comcast offers these “superusers” the option of unlimited data access for an extra monthly fee of $11.
Xfinity will waive the fee for the first two months of 2021, to help customers adjust to the new policy. It will also waive the fee for one month every year going forward. This means customers can avoid the fees during the first three months of 2021, but will have to pay up beginning in April.
State Representative Andy Vargas, a Haverhill Democrat, said there shouldn’t be any data caps.
“We just think it’s really unfair, number one, to do this during a pandemic where people are relying on the Internet even more,” Vargas said. “But number two, there really isn’t any reason to be increasing prices based off of data usage . . . Comcast themselves have said they have plenty of bandwidth.”
Vargas cited comments that Comcast executive Tony Werner made in a March conference call. While COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were boosting Internet traffic, “it has all been within the capability of the network,” he said. Vargas said this shows there’s no need for data caps to prevent the network from being overwhelmed.
Vargas said that if Comcast doesn’t back down, lawmakers will consider legislation to regulate broadband prices.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.