Effective immediately, Comcast is going to stop enforcing its 250-GB-a-month bandwidth allowance for its broadband subscribers. When Comcast resumes with a bandwidth management policy, all of its broadband subscribers will have an allocation of at least 300 GB a month, with the option to pay for additional gigabytes consumed.
The shift is subtle but, to Comcast, significant. The 250 GB per month was a hard limit. When the new policy goes into effect – at some indeterminate time months from now, after market testing concludes – the 300 GB per month will be a threshold value, explained executive vice president David Cohen.
In the past, the very few Comcast subscribers who exceeded the cap might have been threatened with a suspension of service. Comcast’s message, according to Cohen, is that the company is done threatening service cessation simply because someone used a lot of bandwidth.
“We don’t want to talk any more about cutting people off,” he said in a conference call on Thursday.
The company plans to test at least two variations of a new bandwidth management policy. One will set a 300-GB-a-month allowance for all customers. The other will give subscribers in the lowest bandwidth tier 300 GB a month and will provide increasingly larger bandwidth allocations through each successive tier. In either case, should a subscriber exceed his or her allocation, the company would offer additional increments of bandwidth for a price, perhaps an additional $10 for 50 GB, for example.
Comcast hasn’t worked out many of the details yet, including identifying the test markets, what the tiers might be, what the charges might be – although Cohen said there are no plans to change current tier pricing.
Cohen and Cathy Avgiris, executive vice president and general manager of communications and data services, said that very, very few customers got anywhere near the 250 GB cap. Median usage, Avgiris said, is still only 8 GB to 10 GB a month.
Cohen repeatedly said that the change in policy is meant to do one thing – eliminate discussions about cutting off service – but he opened the door for uncomfortable questions when he allowed that the maneuver might “take some of the noise out of other discussions.”
The allusion was taken by journalists on the call to refer to questions about the company’s Xfinity TV service for Microsoft’s Xbox game console.
Comcast does not count bandwidth consumed by Xfinity for Xbox against subscribers’ bandwidth allocation, while bandwidth consumed by non-Comcast TV services – Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, etc. – does count. Many consider that unfair, including former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.
Though Cohen himself apparently raised the issue (and though Avgiris invoked Xfinity for Xbox in her blog post explaining the new policy), his response to repeated questions about Xfinity for Xbox and the new bandwidth allocations had nothing to do with each other.
Asked if the new policy signaled a move toward providing its own over-the-top services, Cohen said, “The short answer is no.”
He went on to say that the company had no plans for providing OTT out of Comcast’s geographical footprint.