COVID Is Over, Apparently: ISPs Are Bringing Back Broadband Data Caps

Broadband companies got rid of data caps to help people stay at home and work at home during the pandemic. The crisis is still raging, but the caps are coming back.
June 29, 2020, 6:22pm
Screen Shot 2020-06-29 at 2
Image: John Rensten/Getty Images

Major internet service providers will resume data caps on broadband and data usage, as commitments to remove them in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire.

This is occurring as the coronavirus continues to spread, and many workers and students are still working remotely in an effort to curb the virus’s spread through social distancing. Many Americans are still using high-bandwidth video chat software such as Zoom, Facetime, and Google Hangouts to keep in touch with loved ones and to do their jobs.

Commitments to remove data caps by ISPs were originally made in March, as part of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, an initiative launched by the Federal Communications Commission urging broadband and telephone companies to take steps to keep the country connected during the pandemic.

Suggested steps included not terminating services due to a customer’s inability to pay, waiving late fees, and opening up Wi-Fi hotspots. Nearly 800 service providers joined the agreement, with many taking additional steps to help expand connectivity during the pandemic.

As reported by Motherboard in March, AT&T became the first major ISP to confirm it would suspend all broadband usage caps—with similar moves later taken by companies like T-Mobile and Comcast.

Data caps occur when limits are placed by an ISP on the amount of data a user can use. Once these limits are hit, a penalty is incurred. Comcast’s website lists the monthly cap normally at 1 TB—after which a user is charged $10 for each additional 50 GB block of data, up to $200.

In a report by Motherboard in March, experts said data caps having nothing to do with congestion or capacity constraints, but rather are a billing practice used to charge customers more in uncompetitive markets.

As first reported by PC World, many of these data caps are set to resume once the Keep Americans Connected Pledge expires on June 30.

In an email to Motherboard, a spokesperson for Comcast said the company will keep public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots open through the end of the year and continue working with customers who are unable to pay their bills and need flexible payment options.

“Nothing to share about our data plans at this time,” the spokesperson said regarding data caps.

Neither AT&T nor T-Mobile responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.

In an email to the Motherboard, a spokesperson for the FCC sent a press release regarding a letter FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently sent to Congress, in which he asked for legislation that would help consumers and small businesses stay connected after the Keep Americans Connected pledge expires.

The press release made mention of calls between Pai and broadband and telephone service providers, in which providers committed to take further steps such as pro-rated payment plans, continued access to Wi-Fi hotspots, and deferred device payments.

No specific mention of data caps was made in the release.