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Comcast’s 1TB Usage Cap Goes Live, Replaces Old 300GB Usage Allowance

1024gbAfter four years of a gradually expanding “beta test” no customer wanted to be part of, Comcast’s never-ending data cap trial has increased data allowances for the first time since 2012.

xfinitylogoComcast customers in data cap trial areas tell Stop the Cap! their Comcast usage meter now reflects the new 1,024GB allowance Comcast promised back in April (some customers in Atlanta seem to have gotten a 2,048GB allowance for an unknown reason). It’s a major improvement over the old 300GB cap many customers endured with expensive overlimit fees that applied when they exceeded their allowance. Comcast will continue to bill those overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB increment of excess usage over the allowance, but now plans to cap those overlimit fees at $200 a month.

“The new meter showed up June 1st in southern Florida, and it’s about time,” said our reader Javier from Miami. “But wouldn’t you know, Comcast screwed us out of one more month of paying their $30 extortion fee to keep unlimited.”

300GB was not enough for many Comcast customers.

300GB was not enough for many Comcast customers.

Javier is referring to Comcast’s unlimited usage insurance plan. For $30-35 extra, the cable company removes your data cap and you face no overlimit fees. But since Comcast bills one month ahead, a customer enrolled in the insurance plan paid for an unlimited June on their May bill. Now that usage allowances have more than tripled, Javier wanted to cancel his insurance for this month because he doesn’t come close to Comcast’s new cap.

No dice, replied Comcast, who canceled his unlimited insurance plan effective July 1.

“Once you begin a new month, you cannot stop the charges until the following month,” Javier explained, even though he canceled the plan on the 1st of the month. “They told me it was too late.”

Javier is still glad he canceled the insurance.

“If I didn’t, they planned to auto-enroll me in their new unlimited option, which costs a ridiculous $50 a month,” said Javier.

Not all Comcast service areas are subject to data caps. Comcast issued broad clarifications about the usage cap trial changes on its website:

A terabyte still isn't enough for some customers. (Image: NAM)

A terabyte still isn’t enough for some customers. (Image: NAM)

New Data Usage Trials

On June 1, 2016, we will be migrating all customers currently in usage trials to a new 1 Terabyte plan, and the following is an overview. For more details on this trial plan, see Questions & Answers About Our Data Usage Plan Trials. For a detailed list of trial locations, see Is my area part of the data usage plan trials? For trial start dates, see Where will these plans be launched?

In the markets of Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Tucson, Arizona; Little Rock, Arkansas;Fort Lauderdale, the Keys, and Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Houma, LaPlace, and Shreveport, Louisiana; Maine; Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi;Chattanooga, Greeneville, Johnson City/Gray, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee;Charleston, South Carolina; and Galax, Virginia, we will increase our monthly data usage plan for all XFINITY Internet tiers to 1 terabyte (1,024 GB) per month and will offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB, up to $200 each month). You will also be able to choose to enroll in an Unlimited Data Option for an additional recurring flat fee of $50 per month. Under this option, the 1 Terabyte data usage plan will not be enforced on your account. For more information on the Unlimited Data Option, see What is the Unlimited Data Option?

If you are an XFINITY Internet Economy Plus or Performance Starter customer, you can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on your monthly bill if you reduce your data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option. For more information on the Flexible Data Option, see What is the Flexible Data Option?

Expired Data Usage Plans

Important Note: These data usage plans, which Comcast previously had in place, expired on June 1, 2016, and have been replaced with the new plans described above

In the markets of Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Fort Lauderdale,the Keys, and Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Houma, LaPlace, andShreveport, Louisiana; Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi; Chattanooga, Greeneville, Johnson City/Gray,Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; and Galax, Virginia, we have increased our monthly data usage plan for all XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB per month and will offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB). In this trial, you can also choose to enroll in an Unlimited Data Option for an additional recurring flat fee (e.g., $30-$35 per month). Under this option, the 300 GB data usage plan will not be enforced on your account. If you subscribe to Economy Plus or Performance Starter XFINITY Internet, you can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on your monthly bill if you reduce your data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option.

In the markets of Central Kentucky and Maine, we have increased our data usage plan for XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB per month, offering additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB). In this trial, XFINITY Internet Economy Plus customers can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on their monthly bill if they reduce their data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option. Currently, the Unlimited Data Option is not available in these markets.

In the Tucson, Arizona, market, we have increased our monthly data usage plan for Economy Plus through Performance XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB. Those customers subscribed to the Performance Pro and Blast! Internet tiers receive 350 GB in their data usage plan; Blast! Pro customers receive 450 GB in their data usage plan; and Extreme customers receive 600 GB in their data usage plan. As in our other trial market areas, we offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks of 50 GB for $10 each in the event the customer exceeds their included data amount. Currently, the Unlimited Data Option and the Flexible Data Option are not available in this market.

In Fresno, California, Economy Plus customers have the option of enrolling in the Flexible Data Option.

TDS Gets Tedious With 250GB Usage Cap

tds cap

TDS DSL customers have a 250GB data cap in their future.

Arch, a Stop the Cap! reader in eastern Kentucky, just received a notification letter informing him his Internet access is about to be rationed, and unless he buys additional usage before June 1, TDS is likely to charge him penalty overlimit rates.

tds cap optionsLike some data caps of the past, TDS is giving customers a small break by remaining unlimited during the overnight hours, but for many customers, it won’t be enough to prevent a higher broadband bill.

“We are writing to you inform you TDS s implementing data-usage allowance plans in your area,” reads TDS’ letter. “Beginning with the June billing period, data usage will be measured during peak time (6am-midnight CST). Data usage during non-peak time will be unlimited. In June and thereafter, if your monthly data usage exceeds the 250GB allowance you will be assessed a $20 overage fee for every 250GB exceeded (up to $60).”

TDS advises Arch that based on his prior usage, he’s very likely to exceed his cap and face overlimit fees.

“My mother got a similar [letter],” writes Arch. “Mine states I am likely to be affected by the cap and my mother’s letter says she will likely not be affected.”

Of course, customers can make the usage cap less of an issue by agreeing to buy more usage up front:

  • a 500GB Data Allowance runs $10 extra a month;
  • 750GB costs an extra $20 a month;
  • 1TB (1,000GB) is priced at an additional $30 a month.

TDS does not offer any justification for their data caps, but it doesn’t have a lot to fear imposing them.

“TDS has no competition at all in my area except for fraudband satellite,” Arch reminds us.

That is also likely true across many other TDS service areas, where the company’s 1.2 million customers live in more than 150 different communities, many rural or suburban.

Time Warner Cable Maxx Coming to Cincinnati

twc maxxTime Warner Cable will upgrade its Cincinnati area customers to Time Warner Cable Maxx service offering broadband speeds up to 200Mbps by this summer.

The Cincinnati Business Courier was the first to report on the upgrade, which has yet to be officially announced by Time Warner Cable, but has been confirmed by a company spokesperson.

The upgrade started Feb. 15 and is expected to be complete in some areas by June, in part thanks to the fact Time Warner’s network in northern Kentucky was inherited from Insight Communications, which Time Warner acquired in 2011. Insight had previously upgraded most of its facilities to all-digital service. Elsewhere, Time Warner has to first upgrade customers to all-digital cable television, which begins with a notification to customers that they will be losing analog television service and will need a set-top box or other equipment for each cable-equipped set in the home.

The conversion to all-digital service frees up bandwidth to boost broadband speeds, giving customers considerably faster service at no extra cost. Standard customers now subscribed to 15Mbps service will be upgraded to 50Mbps. Customers currently frustrated by Time Warner’s top speed of 50Mbps in Ohio will get an upgrade to 300Mbps. Former Insight customers will be the first to get the faster speeds, starting in March. Other Cincinnati area customers may have to wait until summer or fall before the new speeds arrive.

Some Time Warner customers may need to replace their current cable modem, including those now leased by the company for $10 a month.

To ease the transition, Time Warner Cable will provide existing TV customers with one or more digital adapters at no charge through at least June 29, 2017, provided they order an adapter by Oct. 22, 2016. Customers can consult Time Warner’s website for local updates and ordering information.

Nationwide Energy Takes Comcast to School on Monopoly Rate Gouging

nepEvery once in a while, a brazen utility service company will come to our attention that is so egregious in its conduct and pricing, it makes Comcast’s business practices resemble Amateur Hour.

Not for lack of trying, Comcast’s worst abuses pale in comparison to the conduct of a nasty little firm called Nationwide Energy Partners (NEP). No customer that endures this pseudo-utility will likely ever forget its name, or the $500+ utility bills the company is known to send to renters in Ohio.

Ohio’s deregulated utility market has opened the door to speculators, multi-level marketing scams, and the new and growing practice of “submetering,” — rebilling renters for utility usage charges on behalf of the property owner. The epicenter of some of the worst abuses is in Columbus, where two “submetering” companies with dubious records and close ties to property developers are getting rich charging customers up to 97% more than other Columbus households pay for basic utilities.

columbusFour families are now taking NEP to court, alleging the company is lying about its rates, overcharging customers, and engineering a monopoly business model that does not allow customers to switch utilities, leaving them captive to the threat of eviction and property liens for those that fall behind on their bills.

Ralph Cantore in Columbus is well-acquainted with NEP. It’s the utility company that has billed him $4oo-525 a month for electricity and water service for his three-bedroom apartment.

“I really enjoy the location,” Cantore told The Columbus Dispatch about Olentangy Commons apartments. “I enjoy everything about it, except the ridiculous energy bills.”

Courtney VanSickle, a registered nurse, says her bills have been as high as $450 a month at her two-bedroom apartment.

Those are two of approximately 30,000 customers served by NEP, many in central Ohio where renters served by these third party companies are often shocked by astronomical utility bills. Another firm, American Power & Light, was founded in 2003 by property developer Don Kenney, Sr. The “energy company” shares office space with Kenney’s other ventures, including Ardent Property Management, Village Communities and Metro Development. Kenney’s companies have built more than 35,000 apartments or condominium units, many coincidentally relying on AP&L as the monopoly provider of utility service.

Nationwide Energy founder and CEO Mike DeAscentis Jr., was frank with investors about the real aim of NEP in a 2010 presentation: “How we make money is we buy power at a commercial rate and we resell it at the residential rate and there is arbitrage in the rate structure,” he said, according to a transcript obtained by The Dispatch.

aplDeAscentis isn’t an energy man from way back. He’s the CEO of Lifestyle Communities, an apartment developer, which coincidentally contracts with NEP for utility services.

NEP pays developers, owners, and/or managers of condominiums, apartment buildings, and multi-family dwellings for contracts offering exclusivity to provide gas, electric, water, and sewer service to tenants. Tenants are informed at closing or move in that NEP is the only utility service provider available to them and they must sign a service agreement with NEP to obtain basic utilities.

NEP is well aware of the favorable position this puts the company, telling customers on its website:

“At NEP we know you choose us because you have to.”

Under Ohio’s deregulation strategy, utilities are still supposed to be mildly regulated to guarantee quality of service, establish proper disconnection policies, and follow basic guidelines to help manage the competitive market. Except NEP was created at the outset to skirt those rules.

puco“NEP is the new utility,” DeAscentis said in the 2010 presentation. “We do everything that a utility does except generate power. NEP builds electrical-distribution systems for residential communities, and we were very deliberate when we started the business 10 years ago to put it in a place where it was not regulated.”

That is what has allowed NEP to effectively operate as an unregulated monopoly. If customers can’t or won’t pay, the normal protections extended to customers for utility services that protect life do not apply. NEP and AP&L can cut service at will for non-payment, even during winter when a customer’s safety could be at risk. If residents are late with payments, American Power will sometimes evict them, even if the consumer’s rent is up to date and even though American Power is not the landlord. Another contract provision allows companies to place liens on personal property for non-payment. Both companies have sought hundreds of evictions since 2002. Nationwide appeared to have stopped seeking evictions in 2011.

“Once you enter this slippery slope, where a third party has the ability to order evictions, that’s shocking,” Emily Crabtree, a lawyer with Columbus Legal Aid who has defended American Power customers, told The Dispatch in 2013.

The centerpiece of the Ohio lawsuit is the allegation NEP charges residents substantially more that what regulated or municipal providers charge their customers. A 2013 investigation by The Dispatch found that once all the fees and surcharges were calculated, customers paid up to 94% more than if they had an account directly with the regulated or municipal utility serving the area.

“This rate arbitrage is how NEP makes money,” the lawsuit claims.

The plaintiffs claim NEP won’t disclose its energy charges, making it difficult for customers to compare what they are paying for service in contrast with their non-NEP neighbors.

“NEP’s website falsely states that ‘NEP is contractually bound to match the rates of the host utility for both electric and water,’ that ‘rates [customers] are charged by NEP are the same residential rates that are charged by [their] current utility provider,’ and that customers ‘will not pay a higher rate for [their] electric and water as a NEP customer.'”

Ironically, NEP’s CEO stated that NEP “adds value” to services traditionally provided by public or private utility companies.

“The only entity that benefits from NEP’s business model is NEP,” the lawsuit claims.

The Columbus Dispatch investigated submetering back in 2013, and the large spike in consumer complaints that resulted from the practice. (4:24)

Consumers, when they find out about the submetering practice, are shocked to discover it is completely legal under Ohio law.

Guy Fulcher, a former American Power customer who now lives in Galena, got the pass-the-buck treatment when he complained.

“The attorney general back then was Richard Cordray, and his office just rolled over and said, ‘We don’t regulate that,’” he said. “They said to go to [Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission]. PUCO said, ‘We don’t regulate that.’”

When other renters have complained to regulators, attorneys representing submetering companies argue the complaints should be ignored or rejected for lack of standing.

“This complaint should begin and end with the determination that Mr. Whitt lacks standing to bring a complaint concerning utility services (at his condo) because he is not the utility customer,” said Howard Petricoff, attorney for Nationwide Energy, in a filing.

According to the company, the true customer is the condo association, not each resident, reported the newspaper. Nationwide Energy has a long-term contract with the association to act as the exclusive reseller of utility services.

AE&P spokeswoman Terri Flora said the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of renters.

“As people make choices to rent in an apartment, they need to be fully aware of what that choice involves,” Flora told the newspaper about the possibility of paying higher prices with a submeter company. “It’s a different environment than consumers are used to.”

Customers in other states beyond Ohio should also be on the lookout because submetering is legal in several other states. Where money can be made, submeterers are sure to expand. NEP is already active in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Submetering, with an allowance for charging a substantial markup, was legal in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Washington as of 2013.

Time Warner Cable Quotes Rural Ky. Resident $410/Mo + 5 Yr. Contract for Broadband

green acresIf residents in rural Kentucky want Time Warner Cable to offer broadband service, they better be prepared to pay for it.

As Time Warner customers consider the company’s latest rate increases, which now include a $10 modem rental fee and an increasingly common $4.99 “Wi-Fi Fee” if you don’t use your own wireless router, there are other customers signing contracts for residential Internet service from Time Warner at prices as high as $410 a month.

Jack Prindle lives in the Big Bone community near Union, Ky., — close enough to Cincinnati to be a suburb, but rural enough to be bypassed for broadband. Two dozen of his neighbors live along a nine-tenths of a mile stretch of Big Bone Church Road, which isn’t exactly a priority for Time Warner Cable. The families have spent a decade trying to entice anyone to offer broadband Internet access. Insight Communications (Time Warner’s predecessor) and Cincinnati Bell have never shown much interest. Time Warner Cable, however, has been engaged in a type of cat and mouse game, offering service at ever-escalating prices only to change its mind at the last minute.

“Within the last year, I have signed contracts with Time Warner for Internet service starting at $300 a month, with a three-year contract, only to have them come back and raise it to $350 for five years, and then $410 a month with a commitment of five years,” Prindle wrote in the Community Recorder. “Then only to be told a month later they were not going to provide Internet. Others of the 24 have similar bizarre stories concerning Time Warner and Cincinnati Bell.”

“Prindle’s story is an example of what is wrong with rural broadband in the United States,” writes Cynthia Rawley, who shared the story with Stop the Cap! “Unchecked cable and phone companies get federal dollars and the benefit of a fake broadband map that has no relationship to reality, leaving many to believe there is no rural broadband problem to solve. But there is.”

Union, Ky.

Union, Ky.

Rawley points out the FCC’s official National Broadband Map shows the two dozen homes around Prindle are all provided 5-50Mbps broadband service by both Time Warner Cable and Cincinnati Bell, despite the fact neither offers any broadband service to anyone in the vicinity.

“Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore wrote to inform the FCC of this error and failed to get a response,” Prindle noted. What bothers him even more is his tax dollars have paid to subsidize rural Internet service he cannot get at any price.

“Some basic research reveals that Time Warner has received millions of taxpayer dollars to provide broadband Internet in rural areas,” Prindle notes. “The commonwealth of Kentucky has given over $100 million to Internet providers alone to provide broadband Internet in rural areas alone. Opensecrets.org reports that Time Warner spent $4,950,000 in lobbying efforts of federal, state, and local governments in 2015. With this amount of money changing hands, the conspiracy theorists among us see a 20/20 episode coming.”

Prindle better have his rabbit ears ready to watch, because at the rate providers are not expanding rural broadband, he will have a long wait before being able to watch that 20/20 episode online.

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