In mid-March, as it became clear that extended isolation was in everyone’s future, both AT&T and Comcast made a decision framed as being of service for home-bound customers — both companies suspended their data caps.
AT&T did it first, saying the suspension of its data caps was for an “indefinite period.” Comcast followed after a coalition of lawmakers called on all internet providers to drop the caps, though Comcast’s suspension is only for 60 days.
Temporary? Indefinite? No. Providers should drop them permanently. Stick a fork in ‘em. Data caps are done.
Providers have fior years argued caps are a necessary tool for managing their networks. They said this while at the same time admitting that customers who breach data limits are an extremely small percentage of users. If data hogs are so few, how exactly do they threaten the overall health of the network?
Both Comcast and AT&T said their networks are doing just fine, thank you, as more people stay home and either work remotely or use the internet for entertainment via gaming or video streaming. Surely the tiny percentage of megabit gluttons are having a field day, too, slurping data like there’s no tomorrow?
It turns out no. During a Monday conference call with journalists, Tony Werner, Comcast’s president of Technology, Product and Xperience, said the number of people exceeding the terabyte limit doesn’t appear to be increasing, though the median per-month usage has gone up slightly.
Journalists and pundits who have followed the ISP business for any length of time said caps are more of a revenue-generating tool than one that has value for network management.
Some analysts — and, of course, ISP executives — argue that people who use more data should pay more, but broadband billing has long been based on speed tiers, not data used. Home internet consumers have resisted the data-based tiers used by mobile providers, so caps with overage fines are the next best thing. Then again, if the number of abusers is actually so small, caps can’t be generating that much cash, can they?
The coronavirus crisis has put the lie to ISPs’ arguments about data caps. It also has them making other moves that are pro-consumer. That’s even been true for cell-service companies.
BEEFIER WIFI: Stuck at home? Get your internet primed
Under cajoling from the Federal Communications Commission, ISPs and telcos have agreed not to terminate service for those who cannot pay, a humane move given the number of layoffs and furloughs in the U.S. They’ve also expanded or launched low-cost service plans so people who struggle to afford internet access have a better shot at signing up. That’s particularly critical as schools are closed and students are relying on distance learning.
And T-Mobile has gone so far as to drop usage caps on all its mobile service tiers. Everyone’s on unlimited data, at the moment.
This is an opportunity for broadband and wireless providers to rethink the way they treat customers, and put the lessons learned in challenging times to work when normalcy returns — whenever that happens.
[This story originally appeared in Dwight Silverman’s Release Notes newsletter. Sign up to receive it at houstonchronicle.com/releasenotes.]
- The Year the Internet Thought I Was MacKenzie Bezos – WIRED
- Easy ways to get the fastest internet connection possible in your home – Komando
- Elon Musk says Starlink internet private beta to begin in roughly three months, public beta in six – TechCrunch
- Verizon is canceling home internet installations during the pandemic – The Verge
- Ethiopia’s internet shutdowns are disrupting millions of lives – Quartz Africa
- How to check if your service provider is throttling your internet – CNET
- 8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19 – Pew Research Center
- How to boost your home internet speeds while you’re stuck at home: Tech Support – Yahoo Money
- Welcome (Back) to the Appointment Internet – New York Magazine