Comcast quietly expands data usage trials to four additional markets

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) has quietly expanded tests of its billing based on usage caps to include four new markets, despite continued controversy over the effort.

According to a Comcast FAQ -- unearthed by DSLReports -- the MSO plans on Dec. 1 to also include Little Rock, Ark.; Houma, LaPlace and Shreveport, La.; Chattanooga, Greenville and Johnson City, Tenn.; and Galax, Va. in its tests. These additional areas join a host of previously announced trial regions, including markets in Arizona, Florida and Georgia, that were already part of the trials.

Comcast broadband customers in these areas are subject to additional charges on their monthly bills if they exceed a 300 GB usage limit. For each 50 GB they go over, they're charged an additional $10. Users can pay a flat fee -- $30 - $35, depending on the area -- to avoid the caps altogether. 

It's essentially the same strategy that wireless companies have employed for years, but Comcast's troubled consumer reputation appears to have hobbled its efforts to move to usage-based billing. "Comcast's Holiday Gift To Subscribers: Data Caps Coming To More Users December 1," said watchdog site The Consumerist.

Comcast may push forward regardless. "If Comcast decides it's working, other markets where the 300 GB data cap is in place could start seeing similar offers, and it's not crazy to think the plan might someday roll out nationwide," said the Washington Post's Brian Fung. 

Responding to the Post earlier this week, a Comcast spokesperson described the company as being "early on the learning curve" in terms of making long-term decisions and conclusions about its trials. 

In the meantime, Comcast is trying to re-assure affected customers that the trials are no big deal. In its FAQ, for example, the MSO notes that the average Xfinity broadband user only consumes about 40 GB a month.

Of course, as DSLReports aptly noted, the growth in usage of Internet video -- and the emergence of 4K/HDR -- will likely increase that medium benchmark dramatically over the next five years.

As Comcast plunges ahead with tests of what could prove to be a very unpopular pricing model, it's doing so on its own.

During Charter Communications' (NASDAQ: CHTR) third-quarter earnings call last week, for example, Charter President and CEO Tom Rutledge was asked if his company is considering usage-based pricing. He was brief and emphatic in his response.

"With regard to usage-based pricing, we don't do it," Rutledge said. "We don't do it because we want to sell more services, and that's our business model."

For more:
- read this Comcast FAQ
- read this DSLReports story

Related articles:
Comcast customers in Atlanta to pay $35 a month to get rid of usage caps, report says
Comcast takes wireless-style 'data usage trials' live in Florida
Comcast testing $30-a-month unlimited data option