Comcast Kills Its 250GB Data Cap, Is Testing More Flexible Data Plans

Comcast announced today that it is doing away with its 250 GB data cap, and will be moving to test out new plans will charge customers based on usage, rather than cutting them off.

Since 2008, Comcast has had a data usage cap of 250GB for all its broadband plans. At that time, the cap was mainly meant to deter users from abusing the network, largely by downloading or distributing pirated video files. But times have changed, streaming media is now a thing, and services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and TV Everywhere services like Xfinity TV and HBO Go are using up massive amounts of data for some customers.

“Four years after we put it in place, we don’t think a static, non-flexible data cap is the best approach,” David Cohen, EVP of Comcast, said on a call with press.

Comcast’s response is to cancel its 250 GB data cap and to test out different approaches to dealing with broadband data management. That starts with increasing everyone’s data plan to 300 GB, and putting into effect two new plans in test markets.

The first test will start its minimum broadband plan — Internet essentials, which is priced at $9.95 a month — at 300GB and will gradually increase the amount of data available to customers who buy higher-speed broadband plans. The second test will provide all broadband customers with 300 GB, regardless of data plan, and charge them more — say, $10 per 50 GB — on an incremental basis for data used over and above that.

For those who don’t live in the test markets, the 250 GB threshold will disappear completely, and customers will no longer be cut off if they hit the old cap. Comcast will still contact those who come close, if only to ensure that customers aren’t getting hit by botnets or other malware.

The goal for Comcast is to make sure it’s not cutting customers off who are reaching that 250 GB limit — and to also make sure that customers who are using a huge amount of data pay their fair share. The company is also hoping to allay concerns from customer concerns that they might hit those caps due to using services like Netflix, or even TV Everywhere services.

Comcast wouldn’t get into specifics about what percentage of customers bump up against the current threshold, but said that median broadband usage is around 8-10 GB per month. That gives most customers a lot of leeway with 300 GB, but the new plans remove any hypothetical threat of disconnection due to usage.

At the same time, one of the main reasons that the data cap discussion came about was due to criticism Comcast received over its Xbox Live streaming VOD service. That service, while delivered via IP, wasn’t being counted toward its cap. That won’t change going forward, and Xbox streams still won’t count against its customer broadband usage.

[Image via Flickr/Kevin Burkett]