Comcast recently expanded the company’s hugely unpopular broadband caps into all company markets, falsely claiming such restrictions are about “fairness.” But lawmakers in Massachusetts say the restrictions are arbitrary, technically unnecessary, and unfairly harm vulnerable populations during an historic economic and health crisis.
Under the limits, customers that consume more than 1.2 terabytes a month pay $10 for each additional 50 gigabytes consumed—on top of their existing monthly bill. The surcharges are capped at $100 per month, though users can avoid them entirely by signing up for a $30 more expensive unlimited data plan.
But even Comcast’s own leaked documents have shown that the restrictions serve no technical purpose, and aren’t helpful to manage congestion. Experts, executives, and consumer groups have long argued the caps are little more than glorified price hikes on the back of captive customers trapped in uncompetitive US broadband markets.
In a letter sent to Comcast, twelve Massachusetts lawmakers complained that Comcast’s decision to impose the new penalties during a pandemic was both tone deaf and callous.
“It is inconceivable that Comcast would choose to impose this 'cap and fee' plan during a pandemic, when many Massachusetts residents are forced to work and attend school from home via the Internet,” the lawmakers wrote.
Lawmakers like State Representative Andy Vargas pointed to recent comments by Comcast executives, who stated the surge in internet activity during the Covid crisis was easily handled by the ISP’s network.
“Network capacity is not an issue for Comcast or a valid excuse to charge customers more," the lawmakers wrote. “We strongly urge Comcast to discontinue this plan, and to reconsider any future attempts at imposing a data cap or any perversion of the principles of net neutrality in Massachusetts.”
Comcast has repeatedly attempted to claim the restrictions are about “fairness” and only impact a small portion of customers. But there’s nothing fair about imposing unnecessary, costly, and confusing new restrictions on US broadband subscribers that already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world due to captured regulators and limited competition.
With the Trump FCC having neutered its authority over telecom giants with the net neutrality repeal, and most Americans having no competing ISP to flee to, there’s very little penalty for US telecom monopolies who routinely engage in price gouging via all manner of spurious surcharges, dubious additional costs, and sneaky fees.
It’s clear Comcast is eager to have the public bogged down in conversations about whether a terabyte of data is “fair,” obscuring the fact the restrictions shouldn’t exist in the first place.
An estimated 179 U.S. ISPs impose usage caps, some of which are as low as a few gigabytes per month. Not only are the caps unnecessary, ISPs like Comcast and AT&T have exploited the restrictions anti-competitively, imposing them on customers that use a competing service like Netflix or Disney+, but not if they use AT&T’s own streaming offerings.
While many ISPs struck a voluntary agreement with the FCC last March to temporarily suspend the arbitrary limits, ISPs like Comcast and AT&T have moved quickly to restore the spurious surcharges despite an accelerating pandemic, with no penalty for doing so.
"Massachusetts has experienced the largest relative increase of food-insecure individuals in the nation due to COVID-19, and has suffered some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation,” the lawmakers wrote. “The last thing our constituents need is to worry about paying more for the same quality of Internet service."