GCI Tries New Twist On Usage-Based Broadband

GCI of Alaska has booted up a new set of “No Worries” broadband plans that’s designed to eliminate surprise charges by enabling customers to manage their data consumption through a set of options that become available when they exceed their monthly allotments -- buy buckets of extra data for $10 based on their speed plans, upgrade to a faster tier, or temporarily move to a sub-broadband level of service. 

While operators such as Comcast, Suddenlink Communiations and Mediacom Communications are testing or have rolled out usage-based policies that let subs buy a fixed amount of data when they surpass their monthly consumption thresholds (typically $10 for a bucket of 50 Gigabytes), GCI’s new plan lets customers purchase additional gobs of data that are adjusted (in the range of 5 Gigabytes to 30 GB) based on the speed of their current level of service.

By tier, here’s how GCI’s new plans stack up: 

-R:10 (10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up for $59.99): 40 GB  of fixed monthly usage, with option to buy additional 5 GB data data buckets for $10.

-R:50 (50 Mbps/2 Mbps for $84.99): 150 GB fixed data, and bucket of 10 GB for $10.

-R:100 (100 Mbps/5 Mbps for $134.99): 300 GB fixed data, and bucket of 20 GB for $10.

-re:D (250 Mbps/10 Mbps for $174.99): 600 GB fixed data, and bucket of 30 GB for $10.

Buying extra data isn’t the only option available to customers who reach their monthly ceiling. They can also upgrade to a plan that offers more data, or stay on their current plan until their next billing cycle at a “more basic level of service.”  Update: According to the FAQ (hat tip: DSL Reports), that means "less than 1 Mbps." 

Under that last option, “the connection will no longer be at broadband speeds,” GCI marketing exec Shahid Butt explained via email.  “Consumers will be able to surf the net, check emails, shop online, etc. Consumption of real time entertainment may necessitate the customer adding a bucket or going to the next higher plan.”

The FCC currently defines “broadband” as 4 Mbps down by 1 Mbps upstream, but will soon vote on a proposal to raise it to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has urged the FCC to tread carefully on the idea. The FCC is also working on new network neutrality rules, with a vote on its proposal expected to tak place in February. 

GCI said its new plans and new policies, introduced last week, were developed based on a series of customer surveys and focus groups over the past several months, finding that customers wanted to have greater control and certainty over their monthly bill.

To help customers keep track of their data consumption, GCI, Butt noted, notifies customers via email when they have reached 80%, 90% and 100% of their monthly data allowance, and provide the same message at 90% and 100% via a browser-based message. GCI, he added, has also introduced an online tool that helps customers track their usage.

“With these new plans, customers pick a speed and data package combination, and if they need additional data usage customers can chose to add a data bucket,” GCI SVP and GM of consumer services Paul Landes said in a statement. “Since customers will make the choice to add a data bucket, there should never be a situation where their monthly bill is a surprise.” 

GCI ended the third quarter of 2014 with 117,000 residential cable modem subscribers.