Comcast: Data Caps Will Save You Money, Except You Won’t Actually Pay Less

Now that Comcast isn’t trying to acquire anyone and doesn’t have to kiss regulatory/legislative derriere to make a merger happen, the company is expanding its push on using data caps and overage fees. Last week, leaked internal documents showed that these limits have nothing to do with network congestion, but that Comcast employees were to explain the caps as being in the name of “fairness.” Even though that sounds like a risible claim to anyone familiar with Comcast, the company is really sticking with it.

Speaking to Fierce Cable, a Comcast rep explained that the whole idea of the data caps — where users either have to pay for gigabytes over a monthly allotment of 300GB, or pay $30-35 on top of their bill for “Unlimited” access — is to “create a more fair approach, where the heaviest data users pay a little more and the light data users get to pay a little less.”

This statement was a bit of a headscratcher to DSL Reports’ Karl Bode, who noted that “The problem with that narrative continues to be that nobody gets to ‘pay a little less’ under Comcast’s new pricing model.”

Unlike Comcast’s previous attempt to offer a $5 discount for people who only drove their Internet to church every other Sunday, this model only penalizes the biggest users.

The Comcast rep does mention that the overage charges mean that “heavier data users will pay a little more for us to re-double capacity on our network every 12 to 18 months,” but that’s not really the same as light users paying less. That’s just an explanation of how Comcast intends to use the additional revenue.

Meanwhile, like a gas company encouraging drivers to go on really long drives with their air-conditioners on and the windows down, Comcast eggs consumers on to consume more data.

The advertising for its Xfinity broadband service plays up all the data-heavy videos, gaming, and messaging you can use it for. Then there are the multiple Comcast-owned NBC Universal online services, not to mention its stake in Hulu, all of which encourage more data use.

Comcast is also actively deploying fiber service in some markets that is twice as fast as Google Fiber, and is planning to test new tech that will allow it to offer even faster connections over existing cable lines. With faster access comes more data use.

Yes, you’ll be able to quickly download a brand new full-length video game and a 4K ultra-HD movie in almost no time, but you could be looking at more than 80GB for just those two downloads. Four days like that in a month and you’ve hit your Comcast limit, even though you were just doing what Comcast has encouraged you to do.

Being the nation’s largest cable company and broadband provider, and being one of its biggest content producers for TVs and movies, along with its involvement in services like Hulu, Comcast can see — probably as well, if not better, than any other U.S. company — that the 300GB monthly limit will soon be a commonly hit ceiling for many consumers.

Putting the caps in now, when — according to Comcast — only around 8% of its users cross the current threshold, is really about preempting the backlash that AT&T and Verizon felt after having to shutter unlimited wireless data plans.

Some companies have already been using data caps throughout their networks. As Fierce Cable notes, SuddenLink’s CEO has acknowledged that tiered pricing as resulted in “significant” revenue for the company.

Perhaps “revenue” is industry-speak for “fairness”?