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Comcast exploring reimplementation of internet usage caps for customers

Cable giant Comcast will implement data caps for its residential internet customers within the next five years.
Cable giant Comcast will implement data caps for its residential internet customers within the next five years.Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As Comcast continues to find more ways to make money by creating pay-by-hour hotspots in the homes of its customers and lobbying to charge content providers for "fast lane" access, the media giant will set its sights on high-usage consumers.

Comcast's Executive Vice President David Cohen revealed yesterday that he expects the company to bring back monthly data usage caps for all its residential customers by 2019. Residential customers would be given a monthly allowance, estimated by Cohen to be between 350-500 GB a month, and any customers that exceed the cap would be charged extra.

While most internet providers in the United States currently use a data cap system, Comcast hasn't used data caps in most of its markets since 2012. The company implemented one of the first versions of the data cap system in 2008 for its residential internet service, which simply warned users about excessive usage. After Comcast suspended the system-wide program, it experimented in some test markets with charging overage fees for users that exceeded the data cap as well as providing higher data caps for customers who paid for faster internet speeds.

In its current test markets, the company offers a 300 GB data cap and charges $10 for each additional 50 GB overage. Cohen said he anticipates less than two percent of its user base will experience any problems with the new data caps, but the growing digital distribution business coupled with expanding streaming services makes that prediction less certain five years down the line.

Critics of data caps argue that the move puts many online online activities at risk. Users digitally downloading games via Steam or game consoles as well as those who download software digitally will have to monitor usage. Customers who frequently use Netflix may find themselves up against the cap, especially as the company explores higher-bandwidth 4K programming options. At the same time, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime could be at a competitive disadvantage as those services will be subject to a data cap while Comcast may exclude its competing service, Xfinity Streampix, from similar restrictions.

The revelation comes in the midst of Comcast's attempted acquisition of Time Warner Cable. The merger of the two largest cable companies in the country, if approved by federal regulators, would give Comcast access to one-third of American homes.