Executive VP David Cohen told investors Wednesday that Comcast will seek to implement monthly data caps -- also called usage-based billing -- in all of its service areas by 2019. Comcast, the largest Internet service provider (ISP) in the U.S., has already begun to roll out data caps on a trial basis to some of its 20 million subscribers.
Data caps are among the most despised restrictions in the telecommunications industry as far as consumers are concerned and while not all ISPs have them, many of the largest do. In some U.S. markets where consumers only have one major ISP to choose from, data caps are an even larger issue.
Merger Won't Matter
Another concern for people who dislike data caps is what will happen at Time Warner Cable (TWC) if it is acquired by Comcast. Consumers had hoped that if Comcast were to merge with Time Warner Cable, part of that deal would involve getting rid of data caps.
But, according to Cohen, data caps are not likely to play a role in the talks between the two companies. However, he added that the issue of data caps could come up as the Federal Communications Commission drafts its new net neutrality rules "because people have tried to make this an open Internet issue."
Cohen was also quick to point out that even though Comcast wants to expand the data caps, it will be trying to raise the limit on data usage so that most people will not go over the limit.
"I would also predict that the vast majority of our customers would never be caught in the buying the additional buckets of usage, that we will always want to say the basic level of usage at a sufficiently high level that the vast majority of our customers are not implicated by the usage-based billing plan," said Cohen. "And that number may be 350 -- that may be 350 gig a month today, it might be 500 gig a month in five years."
Escaping The Caps
Depending on where you are located, it may not be possible to avoid data caps any longer, at least if you want a fast connection. One of the main issues in the Internet service provider industry is the lack of competition, particularly in some parts of the country where Comcast, for example, may be the only viable option.
ISPs like Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Cablevision do not restrict data usage at the moment, even though some are trying to do so. Time Warner Cable recently introduced a 30GB limit that reduces a subscriber's bill by $5, though most people are choosing to stick with the unlimited plan. At the very least, larger ISPs like Comcast are raising their limits on data usage and for people who live in markets with more than once ISP, then there is likely one that does not limit data.