Comcast to Expand Usage-Based Internet Trials

Comcast is preparing to expand new monthly data usage plans targeted to heavy and light broadband customers  in Central Kentucky; Savannah, Ga., and Jackson, Miss.

The trials, set to launch September 1, will apply usage-based policies Comcast is already testing in other markets, but this appears to be the first Comcast trial to combine a monthly 300 Gigabyte plan that charges customers extra if they exceed that threshold alongside an opt-in plan for lighter users that caps monthly usage at 5 GB.

Comcast has posted detailed information about the new, upcoming trials here. A DSL Reports user also shed light on the new policies Thursday in this message board post

Comcast is calling the coming expansion a “consumer trial,” adding that it could modify or discontinue it at any time. However, if the trials are deemed a success, they could set the stage for usage-based policies that could be rolled out nationally.

Similar to a trial Comcast has underway in Nashville, Tenn., the new pilot markets will implement a plan that caps monthly usage at 300 GB of data, and charge $10 for each additional, incremental block of 50 GB. The 300 GB cap applies to all speed tiers.

Those customers can track usage via a meter supplied by Comcast. The MSO will also send in-browser and email alerts when customers reach 80% and 90% of their monthly 300 GB limit, and again when they exceed the cap.

Comcast customers in these new test markets will get what amounts to a grace period to help them adjust to the new policy.

“In order for our customers to get accustomed to the new data usage plan, we will be implementing a program that gives you three courtesy months for exceeding the 300 GB in any 12-month period. That means you will only be subject to overage charges if you exceed the 300 GB for a fourth time in a 12-month period,” Comcast explained. “On the fourth (and any subsequent occurrence), you will be notified that you have exceeded your 300 GB via an email and in-browser notification, that an additional 50 GB has automatically been allocated to your account, and that applicable charges will be applied to your bill.”

Comcast is also testing a similar usage-based broadband policy in Tucson, Ariz., that adjusts monthly usage caps based on the speed of the tier the customer is on. For example, customers who take the MSO’s 105 Mbps tier are capped at 600 GB per month, while those on a 50 Mbps tier have a monthly usage ceiling of 450 GB before additional usage fees apply.

‘Flexible-Data Option’ Extended to New Test Markets

Comcast high-speed Internet customers in Central Kentucky; Savannah, Ga.; and Jackson, Miss., will also have the option to sign up for the MSO’s “Flexible-Data Option.” Tailored for light Internet users on the MSO’s 3 Mbps Economy Plus tier, monthly usage on that policy is capped at 5 GB per month before customers are subjected to per-gigabyte fees.

Customers who do not exceed the monthly 5 GB cap will receive a $5 credit, but will be charged an additional $1 per GB consumed beyond the monthly 5 GB ceiling. Comcast recently revealed that it also plans to test its Flexible-Data Option in Fresno, Calif., starting in “late August.”  Depending on the market, Comcast’s Economy Plus tier sells for $29.95 to $39.95 per month.

Comcast announced last June that it would begin to trial “improved data usage management approaches” while suspending enforcement of its original monthly 250 GB usage cap/policy.

Although critics claim usage-based Internet plans aim to suppress competitive over-the-top video services, the FCC’s Open Internet order expressly allows usage-based pricing. But, as Broadcasting & Cable reported last June, the Justice Department had been contacting MSOs as part of an investigation that will look at the competitive effects of Internet data caps, TV Everywhere services and most favored nation clauses, among other policies.