Consumer Complaints About Broadband Caps Are Soaring

Consumer complaints to the Federal Communications Commission about broadband data caps rose to 7,904 in the second half of 2015 from 863 in the first half, notes a new report by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency to obtain the data on complaints, which have spiked as a growing number of fixed-line broadband providers apply caps and overage fees to already pricey connections.

According to the Journal, the FCC has received 10,000 consumer complaints about data caps since 2015.

The Journal quotes a number of customers who say they’ve had to cut back on or cancel streaming video services because they’ve begun running into these caps — which is of course the broadband industry’s precise motivation for imposing them:

Scott Jones, a 31-year-old Comcast customer in Fayetteville, Ga., says he dropped Netflix in March because his two young children s streaming practices were putting him over his cap. I love Netflix but it makes no sense for me to pay for Netflix when I m going to get charged by Comcast two or three times that as a result, Mr. Jones says.

Comcast meanwhile tells the Journal it is “actively considering substantially increasing its usage caps, which in most of its “trial” areas currently sits at 300 GB per month — and hasn’t changed in years. The company also trots out the now-all-too-familiar excuse that what it’s doing isn’t just an aggressive price hike on uncompetitive broadband markets, it’s an act of fairness:

Comcast says its aim is to ensure the heaviest users are paying more than lighter ones, since 50% of its bandwidth is consumed by just 10% of its customers. Comcast set up the trials to show people who are consuming the most should carry more of the bill rather than raise everybody s bill by the same amount, says Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president of consumer services at Comcast.

Comcast’s justifications just don’t hold water. Most of the company’s costs to provide broadband are fixed or dropping. And if heavy use is a serious problem by a tiny fraction of users, those users could be pushed on to business class tiers. Instead, Comcast is erecting a new pricing paradigm that impacts all its users. Why? Again, so it can protect legacy TV revenues from Internet video.

It’s likely the FCC, which so far has been useless and mute on the subject of usage caps, hasn’t even begun to see a full range of complaints from consumers. Not only are users now paying more money than ever for the same connection, regulators don’t monitor whether meters are accurate, resulting in constant instances of users saying their own networking hardware doesn’t match the ISP’s reported usage. And as large ISPs like CenturyLink, AT&T and Comcast continue expanding their usage cap ambitions, complaints will only grow exponentially.

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