Comcast raises monthly data cap after customers complain

Comcast Center

Last year, Brittany Golden thought she would lower her monthly Internet charges by switching from EPB to Comcast.

"I was paying about $180 a month for my service with EPB when a Comcast representative knocked on my door and told me he could get me a similar plan for only $160 a month," Golden recalled Friday. "I was told it would never go above $160 - and he even threw in HBO service for a while."

But in March, the Comcast bill totaled nearly $400 because Golden and her boyfriend had exceeded a data cap Comcast imposed on local customers in December. Golden said she never knew about the data cap because the notice came to a Comcast email she never knew existed.

"It's been an absolute nightmare and I'm sorry I ever switched from EPB," she said.

In response to such concerns, however, Comcast is more than tripling the amount of data its Chattanooga Internet users can access without paying extra fees. Effective June 1, Comcast will allow Internet customers to use up to a terabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes of data, each month before they must pay extra fees.

Golden said that higher limit should meet all of her usage needs, which are much greater than most households because she has several smart TVs that access Netflix and other streaming video services in her home, in addition to their Comcast set box.

Comcast imposed a data limit on Internet usage last December in Chattanooga for the first time, requiring anyone using more than 300 megabytes of data a month to pay an extra $35.

Sara Jo Walker, director of public relations for Comcast in Tennessee, said Comcast agreed to raise its basic monthly data cap this year after testing out the lower threshold idea in different markets over the past four years.

"In our trials, which cover about 14 percent of our customers, we are experimenting with different offers, we have listened to feedback and learned a lot," she said. "We have learned that our customers want the peace of mind to stream, surf, game, download, or do whatever they want online. So, we have created a new data plan that is so high that most of our customers will never have to think about how much data they use."

Comcast estimates 99 percent of its customers will never hit the monthly terabyte limit. For those that do, Comcast will charge an additional $50 per month for unlimited service, or allow consumers to buy 50 gigabyte buckets for $10 each.

Comcast said their typical customer uses only about 60 gigabytes of data in a month - or only 6 percent of a terabyte.

Only about 8 percent of Comcast customers were hitting the previous basic data cap of 300 megabytes. But those who were have complained about the cap.

Comast customer Misty McNeel said she was I was hitting the caps every month until she switched to an unlimited data plan in February.

"I've had it for two months now and yes, my bill is lower because I'm not paying the overages, but my internet drops randomly and now my wireless devices will not connect to Wi-Fi," she said in a Facebook post Friday. "The whole point of signing up for the unlimited plan was because that's all we use is Wi-Fi and now we can't. What's the point?"

Comcast said it will continue to offer a data usage meter to help customers know how much data they have consumed from their movie watching, downloads and live streaming activities.

But most Comcast customers aren't likely to hit the cap.

What can you do with a terabyte? You can stream about 700 hours of HD video, play 12,000 hours of online games, and download 60,000 high-res photos in a month.

Rival EPB, which has grown over the past five years to become the No. 1 Internet provider in Chattanooga with 82,785 local customers of its fiber optics service, does not impose any data caps on its plans "and we never will," EPB spokesman John Pless said.

"We want our customers to enjoy their fiber optic services without any worries about limitations or added fees and we're strong proponents of net neutrality," Pless said.

Comcast agreed to the higher data cap after boosting its net income and its video subscriber base in the first quarter of the year. The Philadelphia-based cable TV giant reported a first-quarter profit of $2.13 billion, or 87 cents a share, in the first quarter - up from 84 cents per share a year ago and eight cents a share better than analysts' forecasts. Comcast added a net increase of 269,000 subscribers during the quarter, appeasing fears about "cord-cutters" who get rid of cable subscriptions in favor of video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

The company posted revenue of $18.79 billion in the first three months of 2016, also surpassing Wall Street forecasts.