Comcast pausing data threshold fees until August for Mass. customers

BOSTON — This month, some Comcast customers with Xfinity broadband service, began getting notices warning they’re reaching a new data threshold. And, starting in March, if they exceed that cap, they’d be charged extra.

Comcast announced late last year it was imposing data threshold and fees for its’ internet customers in Massachusetts.

Comcast told anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh on Wednesday that the company has decided not to change anyone’s bill until August.

But, some state lawmakers have their own plan. Kavanaugh spoke with State Rep. Andy Vargas says these caps aren’t fair during a pandemic in which so many people rely on online for work, school even doctor appointments.

The Democrat from Haverhill says that’s why he’s filed legislation that would prevent them, for now.

Kerry Kavanaugh: “Explain if you could, and your summary, what Comcast is doing to residents of Massachusetts.”

Rep. Andy Vargas: “So what Comcast has rolled out is what some people call a data cap, which basically says if you go above a certain amount of data usage, we’re gonna charge you more money for using more data. And the number that they set that data cap at was 1.2 terabytes. And so, there are they estimate that only 5% of residents in Massachusetts are going to be affected 5% of their customers. But candidly, this past weekend, that’s not what we’ve seen on the ground, at least here in my district, and certainly, across the Commonwealth. I’ve even heard from folks outside of my district. And the reason it’s frustrating is that there really is no engineering or business case, reason for why you would create a pricing structure that way. You might say, Well, people were using more data, they should pay more money because that costs Comcast more money to deliver all that data. But the experts have said that that’s not true.

Kerry Kavanaugh: The messaging is, hey, you’re bumping up against that limit, you got to control your data.”

Rep. Andy Vargas: I can imagine, you know, a family of four, you know, two parents working from home and to kids, they’re definitely coming up to or, you know, way over that 1.2 terabytes. And that’s what we’ve heard from many of my constituents over the past weekend.

Kerry Kavanaugh: “So, what would your legislation do?

Rep. Andy Vargas: “The legislation that we’re exploring filing this week would pertain to a public health emergency and essentially, say, during a public health emergency, there shall not be any data caps or usage fees that could inhibit access to the internet during a public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We did this with utilities, you know, we think you can’t have any shut-offs for gas or electricity. And it’s evident that the internet is just as important. Look, I mean that 30% of Latino families in the Commonwealth, have issues with internet access and affordability. If 30% of families had access issues to water, we would be up in arms, right if they had access issues to electricity or gas would be up in arms. And the internet is just as important as those utilities.”

Boston 25 News reached out to Comcast about the legislation. A spokesperson would not comment on that.

But here’s the statement they provided about the data threshold in full.

“1.2 terabytes is a massive amount of data that enables consumers to video conference for 3,500 hours, watch 1,200 hours of distance learning videos, stream 500 hours of high-definition video content a month, or play more than 34,000 hours of online games. Our data plan is structured in a way that the very small percentage of our customers who use more than 1.2 terabytes of monthly data and generate the greatest demand for network development and capacity pay more for their increased usage. For those superusers, we have unlimited data options available.”

Goodman added that customers would begin receiving these notices once they consumed 75% of their data. And, he says they are working with their customers so that they have a better understanding of how much data they are consuming month to month.