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Comcast Increases Data Caps

May 17, 2012

Comcast announced on Thursday it was raising the amount of data its broadband customers can use without having to pay a penalty. It said it would eventually roll out tiered pricing for those who want to use additional data beyond even the new threshold.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said that under its new initiative, the company would raise the amount of data all its customers can use from the 250-gigabyte per month limit it set in 2008 to 300 gigabytes. It also would experiment on rolling out additional tiers that would allow consumers to pay more for higher data usage thresholds. Customers who go beyond even the limits set by the tiers could buy additional data for $10 per 50 gigabytes.

Data limits are often aimed at customers who stream a lot of movies or do other things online that eat up a lot of bandwidth and slow down the network.

"The market has clearly evolved since 2008 when we put in a data usage cap," Cohen told reporters during a conference call. He noted that most customers do not approach anywhere near the 250 byte cap now and that the medium amount of usage is between 8 and10 gigabytes per month. Still, the company believes the new approach is "pro-consumer, pro-innovation and provides [its customers] with more choice and flexibility."

Comcast has come under fire in recent months by some content providers such as Netflix for exempting its own Xfinity Xbox app from its data caps, while continuing to apply the limits to competitors such as Netflix. Critics say this discrepancy may violate the Federal Communications Commissions' network neutrality rules, which bar broadband providers from discriminating against Internet content that flows over their networks.

"The only difference between the Xfinity Xbox data and Netflix Xbox data is the Xfinity data is favored by Comcast exempting it from the cap," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a letter last month to investors. "Comcast could raise the cap and make it apply equally or just eliminate the caps. Net neutrality principles mean a level playing field for all Internet applications."

Comcast says it will continue to exempt its Xbox app from the data limits while applying it to others. Cohen argued that the company's new approach on data usage is not tied to this controversy. However, he noted that by increasing its data threshold by a minimum of 20 percent, "we're relieving any hypothetical pressure on usage that might have existed."

A Netflix spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Comcast's move. Some public interest groups called on Comcast to get rid of any limits on their customers' data usage.

"While the move to increase its caps are overdue, the notion that Comcast would charge an exorbitant rate for additional bandwidth, while continuing to exempt its own traffic under its Xbox deal, illustrates that Comcast is really trying to discourage subscribers from experimenting with online video alternatives," Free Press Policy Adviser Joel Kelsey said in a statement. "We call on Comcast to drop the caps and these exorbitant overage fees entirely."

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