Friday, July 29, 2016

AT&T, Comcast Boost Usage Caps for Internet Access Customers

As with virtually everything else connected with Internet access, speeds keep getting faster, and usage (where there are any limits at all) allocations keep getting bigger, for U.S. customers of leading fixed network Internet service providers.

AT&T has used a variety of usage caps for customers of its U-verse Internet access service, with caps based on user access speed. Users at 768 Kbps to 6 Mbps had a 300 GB cap.

U-verse users on connections of 12 Mbps to 75 Mbps had 600 GB caps. Customers on anything between 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps had a terabyte (1,000 Gb) monthly usage cap.

But AT&T has bumped usage caps usage caps higher. But AT&T now appears to have bumped usage allowances up to 1,000 Gb for all customers on access connections of 768 kbps or faster.

As a practical matter, that means all U-verse customers, and customers of AT&T’s gigabit service have no caps at all.

Charter Communications, as a condition of the approval of its purchase of Time Warner Cable, will not be allowed to impose any usage caps for seven years.

In markets where it is testing usage caps for its Internet access customers, Comcast has raised the monthly usage from 300 Gb to 1,000 Gb (a terabyte).

Comcast says its typical customer uses about 60 gigabytes of data in a month.

To be sure, some advocate no caps or any kind, ever, arguing that there actually are not cost implications for unlimited use. ISPs would disagree, of course. All networks are dimensioned for some amount of expected usage, and further designed to support peak loads.

Capital has to be invested when peak loads grow substantially. So the amount of usage by typical and the heaviest users does matter.

The terabyte cap allows for viewing of 700 hours of high-definition video, or about 23 hours at is each day. No single person watches that much video, and even if shared between four people, that amounts to nearly six hours per day, per person.

Power users (less than one percent of Comcast’s high speed access customer base) who want more than a terabyte can sign up for an unlimited plan for an additional $50 a month, or they have the option to purchase additional buckets of 50 gigabytes of data for $10 each.

As a practical matter, nearly all of you who actually have kept track of data usage under both “unlimited” and data plans with large buckets of usage, would likely agree that, as a practical, a reasonably-sized usage bucket is virtually indistinguishable from an “unlimited” plan, as a practical matter.

Usage limits vary on U.S. mobile services as well. Sprint and T-Mobile US have been bigger proponents of unlimited usage than have Verizon and AT&T.

But AT&T recently has been offering unlimited mobile data usage for mobile customers who bundle their service with AT&T’s DirecTV service.

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