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How Generous: Comcast Slaps the Caps Back On, Ups Allowance to 1.2 TB a Month

Phillip Dampier July 1, 2020 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Data Caps No Comments

Comcast has switched back on its data caps and overlimit fees, but is upping allowances 20% — to 1.2 TB, after several years of a 1 TB allowance. Earlier this week, less stingy Cox boosted its caps by 25% to 1.25 TB.

But what Comcast giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. Previously, customers that found themselves over the limit had two ‘get out of overlimit fees free’ cards per year, which meant overlimit fees did not apply. Now the company is reducing that to just one free pass per year. But be careful. If you exceed your allowance two or more times during a 12-month period starting with your first instance of going over your allowance, you will receive no more free passes, ever. If you have already exceeded your allowance during 2020, don’t worry, Comcast is resetting their counter to zero this one time.

Exceeding your allowance is costly. Comcast will bill you $10 for each 50 GB you exceed their cap, up to a maximum of $100 a month.

There are three ways to avoid Comcast’s data caps:

First, you can live in a state where Comcast does not cap internet usage. Most of those states are in the northeast. Unfortunately, most states are now data capped by Comcast: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Western Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Southwest Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Note, data caps do not currently apply to Xfinity Internet customers on Gigabit Pro service, Business Internet customers, customers on non-upgradable Bulk Internet agreements (condos, apartments, etc.), or customers with Prepaid Internet.

Second, you can choose the xFi Complete option for a costly $25/month. It includes unlimited data, whole home Wi-Fi service, and a xFi Gateway, including “Advanced Security” to block certain malicious website activity. If you bought these separately, it would cost $44/month. If you already lease a xFi Gateway, you can upgrade to xFi complete for an additional $11/month.

Third, you can purchase Unlimited Data for $30/month if you own and use your own cable modem and router. Existing customers can upgrade to the Unlimited Data plan now by calling 1-800-Xfinity or clicking here.

Data caps, allowances, and overlimit fees are completely arbitrary and do not reflect the actual cost of usage. Comcast argues that heavier users should pay more, even though their cost is nearly the same regardless of usage.

Internet Providers Get Ready To Cut Off Past Due Customers Unless They Agree to Payment Plans

Internet providers are preparing to cut off late-paying and non-paying customers as early as June 30, as the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep America Connected” pledge expires next week.

In March, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai invited providers to agree to waive late fees and put off disconnections and usage overlimit charges for several months as a result of the sudden economic shutdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. As the pledge expires, Pai is asking providers not to immediately disconnect customers who are past due, if they agree to enroll in payment plans to pay off accrued balances. But Pai ultimately stood on the side of the nation’s multi-billion dollar phone and cable companies as he expressed his understanding why some customers will be cut off anyway and turned over to collection agencies as early as next week.

“Broadband and telephone companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time; no business in any sector of our economy could,” Pai said in a statement.

Some customers have accumulated past due balances of over $1,000 in the past four months, when one combines wireless, cable-TV, internet, and landline charges. As a result, some large providers recognize the need for long-term repayment plans if they hope to preserve customer relationships. With unemployment over 13%, even their most loyal customers may find it difficult to keep up on bills that often exceed $100 a month, and are often much more.

Those customers that lose service for non-payment may forfeit future participation in low-cost internet programs for those on public assistance, and cannot restart service without coming to terms on past due balances. That could leave desperate customers at risk of losing access to job-seeking information, education, and news about the ongoing pandemic.

Some providers are gradually announcing new programs designed to keep service on, but only if customers contact providers and agree to commit to a repayment contract.

AT&T: The company disclosed 156,000 customers are currently enrolled in Keep America Connected-related programs. AT&T expects full payment of past due charges as early as June 30, or up to 90 days after the first past-due notice was issued, whichever is later. Customers can also keep service turned on by contacting AT&T and setting up an alternate payment arrangement.

Charter/Spectrum: The company has announced it will forgive a portion of past due balances and not require full repayment, if the customer or his/her job was directly impacted by the coronavirus. Spectrum’s offer of 60 days of free internet service introduced in March was accepted by at least 400,000 customers. But for most, the offer has since expired. Spectrum has worked to convert those at the end of the free offer into paid customers, but won’t disclose how much success they have had.

Comcast: Customers enrolled in the Xfinity Assistance Program are being given the option of repaying past due amounts in up to 12 equal monthly installments. After a repayment arrangement is made, some customers are persuaded to downgrade service to more affordable plans until past due amounts are repaid. Comcast’s offer of 60 days of free internet service has ended for most customers that enrolled shortly after it was introduced. Comcast has not announced a date when its 1,000 GB usage cap is scheduled to return in most service areas.

T-Mobile: For many, service will terminate if an account is well past due. Customers who want to keep their service must call T-Mobile to make payment arrangements, but T-Mobile did not disclose any formal repayment plans or payment forgiveness. It is imperative that customers call and discuss past due accounts before service is switched off.

Verizon: Verizon will continue service for “hundreds of thousands of customers” that enrolled in the Keep America Connected pledge program, as long as they agree to make regular payments as part of a special repayment plan that will be introduced for these customers in July. Customers will be billed a portion of their past due amounts along with current service charges until repayment has been made in full.

Of the country’s largest providers, only Charter/Spectrum has agreed to forgive some past due balances outright. Others will expect to be repaid and are likely to suspend service quickly if repayment plans also fall past due.

Cable Companies See Large Gains in Mobile Customers During COVID-19 Pandemic

With record-breaking unemployment and an economy in tatters, consumers are abandoning high-priced mobile plans and switching to lower priced cable operator mobile plans.

Comcast, Charter/Spectrum, and Altice USA saw dramatic customer gains of 547,000 new customers in the first quarter of 2020, primarily at the expense of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, according to Wall Street analyst firm MoffettNathanson. The four largest wireless carriers saw a collective 1.3% drop in subscribers, which counts as the worst performance the traditional wireless sector has seen since 2014. But their loss was the cable industry’s gain, with three cable operators achieving a 130% increase in new mobile customers during the first quarter of the year. The three cable companies now have a combined 3.7 million wireless customers.

Comcast and Charter contract with Verizon Wireless for 4G LTE and 5G service, while Altice USA provides its mobile customers with access to Sprint’s network. The cable operators keep costs down by favoring Wi-Fi connections wherever possible.

Two factors are driving the growth of cable industry mobile plans:

  1. Price: Altice USA sells its mobile service at just $20/mo per line. Comcast and Charter both sell unlimited data, talk and text plans for $45 a month per line and a “By the Gig” plan option that includes 1 GB of data bundled with unlimited calls and texting for a flat $14/per gig at Charter and $15/1 GB or $30/3 GB or $60/10 GB at Comcast. With unemployment numbers high and consumers worried about the future of the job market, economizing expenses matters.
  2. Network: Comcast and Charter both rely on Verizon Wireless, recognized as one of the strongest wireless performers in terms of coverage and signal quality. Customers can switch to a cheaper cable company mobile plan without sacrificing network coverage.

MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett noted that the COVID-19 pandemic closed most wireless retail stores, and there was a wide belief that wireless industry sales would be anemic at best during the spring as people stayed home. Instead, the cable industry heavily marketed its wireless plans and expanded the number of pre-owned devices qualified for “Bring Your Own Device” switching, allowing customers to swap SIM cards instead of being forced to buy new devices.

“Given the levels of economic hardship that have accompanied the lockdowns, one can reasonably imagine that these kinds of hyper-aggressive pricing plans won’t have much trouble breaking through to capture market share,” Moffett said in a research note.

Moffett predicts the second quarter will show an even greater number of customers dropping traditional mobile plans in favor of plans provided by their local cable company. Some customers report saving over $100 a month by switching.

One potential downside: customers must subscribe to other products sold by their cable provider to get the best price on wireless service. Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile applies a $20 per line monthly charge if the customer does not maintain at least one of the following: Xfinity TV, Internet or Voice service. Spectrum customers that cancel internet service with the cable company will pay an additional $20 monthly charge per line, have Spectrum Wi-Fi speeds limited to 5 Mbps, and are not allowed to add any additional mobile lines.

Comcast Offers Xfinity Mobile Customers Access to Verizon’s 5G Network, Raises Prices

Comcast is now giving Xfinity Mobile customers access to Verizon’s 5G network, if a customer owns a suitable 5G-capable device and is willing to pay more in certain cases.

“From day one, Xfinity Mobile has been proud to be the only provider to empower customers to design a mobile plan that fits their needs, as well as have the flexibility to seamlessly switch between unlimited or per gig to save money,” said Rui Costa, Comcast’s senior vice president of innovation and customer value propositions. “We’re excited to now extend that benefit with 5G data plans.”

Comcast has diverged from Charter Communications, which has been offering access to Verizon’s 5G network to Spectrum Mobile customers since March. Xfinity Mobile customers paying “by the gig” or subscribed to unlimited service will both have access to 5G service. In contrast, Spectrum Mobile customers must have an unlimited plan to access 5G.

Existing Xfinity Mobile customers will need to opt in to 5G service through the Xfinity Mobile app, which will also raise your rates from $12/GB to $15/GB. If you don’t want 5G access and prefer paying $12 per gigabyte as you have all along, do not opt in to the new plan:

Xfinity Mobile Pricing (Effective May 18, 2020)

  • Discontinued By the Gig 4G-LTE: $12 per gigabyte (includes unlimited voice and texting)
  • New By the Gig 5G/4G-LTE: $15 per gigabyte (includes unlimited voice and texting)
  • Unlimited 5G/4G-LTE: $45 per month (includes unlimited voice and texting)

Comcast and Charter’s wireless offerings have seen substantial subscriber gains as customers discover they can access Verizon Wireless’ extensive network and pay substantially lower prices as well. Verizon’s own customers will eventually face a $10 surcharge per month for access to 5G.

Is Xfinity’s 5G “By the Gig” plan worth an extra $3 per gigabyte? Only if you live in one of 35 U.S. cities where Verizon offers millimeter wave 5G service in select neighborhoods. Verizon’s current 5G network is extremely limited, with most living and working outside of a Verizon 5G coverage area. That could mean upgrading to Xfinity’s 5G plan will only result in paying more money for the same level of service you already had.

Comcast Expanding Fiber Across Its Service Areas in Preparation for DOCSIS 4.0

Some Comcast customers are receiving notifications their service may be briefly interrupted as a result of ongoing network enhancements:

As you can imagine, customers are using our services more than usual, and in certain neighborhoods we are adding capacity to improve our network and your service now. Your area has been identified as a location that will benefit from network improvements, which is why it’s necessary for us to complete the work at this time, so you’ll continue to connect and enjoy the services you expect.

We are installing more fiber throughout our network by replacing some coaxial cable with fiber lines. This will include some construction in your neighborhood and will cause some intermittent interruptions to your service during the day.

In the future, we’ll be able to offer you even more reliable service, greater network capacity and more gig speeds to more homes down the line. This means more downloading, more streaming and more gaming.

Comcast is currently preparing its network for full duplex DOCSIS 4.0 service by adopting “node plus zero” network architecture, which in plainer terms means removing signal amplifiers from existing lines and replacing a significant percentage of its copper coaxial cable infrastructure with fiber optics. The fiber network upgrades are reportedly bringing more consistent and faster internet speed on a more reliable network as soon as the switch is complete. Most customers won’t see fiber cables replacing the current cable line coming into their homes, however. The upgrade is mostly taking place on utility poles and, in some places, underground as Comcast replaces copper wiring with optical fiber cables.

Sometime next year, Comcast is expected to start adopting Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX) 4.0, the newest cable broadband standard, capable of bringing identical upload and download speeds to customers. It is the only major American cable operator to favor FDX, which will place upstream and downstream traffic on the same block of cable spectrum. Other cable operators including Charter Spectrum, Cox, and Mediacom will support Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) 4.0, which is expected to be cheaper to deploy and will continue to keep downstream and upstream traffic confined to separate frequency bands, albeit larger ones capable of delivering much faster speeds.

 

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