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If Comcast gets TWC, three out of four Americans could get a broadband cap

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As regulators attempt to sift through the possible public harms and benefits of Comcast’s(s cmsca) $45.2 billion plan to buy Time Warner Cable(s twc), we thought it was worth showing that if the deal takes place it could lead to a significant jump in the number of broadband subscribers getting a data cap. If we add Time Warner Cable’s 11.6 million broadband subscribers from the end of 2013 into the mix of customers with caps, the total percentage of U.S. homes that have some type of cap or other limit on downloads rises to 78 percent up from 64 percent today.

That’s a significant jump, especially after the number of homes with caps plateaued after 2011 when AT&T hopped on board the bandwagon that Comcast started driving in 2008. A side note for data nerds: The percentage of capped consumers could be a bit higher because the Leichtman Research Group data we use to calculate subscribers only accounts for 93 percent of the total number of broadband subscribers.

Now, it’s not to say that we will definitely reach that 78 percent, given that Comcast has pledged to divest itself of 3 million pay TV subscribers in order to help get the deal through regulatory screens. However, it’s unclear which markets might be divested and whether or not those markets would go to a buyer that also has a cap. Of the major cable providers in the U.S. only TWC and Cablevision(s cvc) don’t have caps. And even if you take out those 3 million broadband subscribers entirely, we’re still looking at 74 percent of the U.S. broadband subscribers hitting a cap.

As a Time Warner Cable customer who currently doesn’t have a broadband cap, I can’t say that I view this deal as a good thing. I imagine that the 10 to 13 percent of U.S. homes who would join the capped majority would feel the same. There’s still time for the FCC to take a harder look at caps — or as Comcast calls it, a data threshold.

For those who want to see who’s capping their broadband, check out our chart from November 2013.

31 Responses to “If Comcast gets TWC, three out of four Americans could get a broadband cap”

  1. This is a non-issue. I’ve been a Comcast customer since they bought AT&T Broadband, and I’ve never received any notice that I was downloading too much. And I use Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Vudu and don’t use any Comcast On-Demand stuff. The current Comcast limit is 300 GB/month, up from the initial 250 that was forced on them by the Florida attorney general. It’s not actually a cap as it’s possible to exceed it for two or three months in a row before they complain, if they ever do.

    If I were a TWC customer, I’d be more interested in the top-end package going up from 50 Mbps to 105 than about any hypothetical cap.

  2. AwaitingModeration

    The government wet itself in anger over the nations 3rd and 5th largest airlines merging, requiring massive divestitures and asset sales in the name of “Promoting Competition”.

    Meanwhile,when the nations largest and second largest cable companies unveil plans to merge and create a monopoly in countless markets,the government is busy doing other things.


  3. Alexander Wood

    Caps are bad. However, the headline of this article is sensationalist, and the article itself is highly misleading, as Comcast has never really had caps, except in a couple of “trial” markets. Their initial caps existed for some people in some markets when they had completely insane (at the time) usage over extended period of time. Once they went to the 300GB cap with overages, they immediately suspended it almost everywhere, and that’s how it’s been ever since. My roommates and I use 500-700GB/mo, and we have no issues with Comcast. Luckily for us, we do have a competitive cable overbuilder offering 55mbps services vs. Comcast’s 110 mbps service, but with no caps. Or we could get business class if we really wanted to keep our consumption that high on Comcast.

    The big question is if Comcast is going to actually implement the caps that they are trialing. They are in a weird position, as they compete directly against FIOS, with it’s 10TB cap in many markets, but don’t compete against a provider that’s credible competition in many others. Buying TWC further complicates it, as Verizon is the middle of a massive FIOS buildout in the biggest TWC market of them all, NYC.

    • AwaitingModeration

      “Competitive Cable Overbuilder”?

      Try not using industry buzzwords if you’re going to attempt to pass yourself off as one of the unwashed masses about to get borked by this merge.

  4. Dorothy Willett

    comcast has already bought & paid for all of the congressional & senatorial votes needed to complete this deal. You & I both know this was wrapped up long before they announced the deal. Comcast is the most greedy, cut throat, slimiest corporation the world. Any competition they can’t buy they starve out of the market. They make Standard Oil look like a pup. “X” ed
    to infinity.

  5. So you’re against consumption based pricing and therefore suggest a single price for Internet where a one person household with a causal user should pay the same as a family of six with teenagers streaming movies and music every day? Exactly how is that fair?

    There are no “caps” when you can buy as much as you want, but I can see why you rely on rhetorical terms and populist hit pieces as it would be a much harder sell to get folks worried that someone may charge you based on what you want to consume and won’t have to cover the cost of the folks next door that dwell in their basement, spending their days blogging and streaming Golden Girls reruns on Netflix all day.

    You’re against paid peering, for extreme Net Neutrality, against usage based pricing, and against sender pays data. Someone might be able to make logical sense of all of this if you connected them with the outcome you think these will deliver. Absent that, it just sounds like stale collectivist drivel that scores high on ideology and contempt, but low on logic and fact and basically indefensible in any sort of informed discourse.

    We are still waiting eagerly for the blog to lead by example and lift its “cap” of 1K ad impressions and forcing its customers to buy more inventory if they want more inventory. When is the unlimited advertising service launching?

    • spixleatedlifeform

      Really? That’s what you are thinking?
      Try this: My Republican Congressperson Herrera-Beutler uses ten times the franking privileges as others do yet has roughly the same number of constituents and sends the same number of “letters”, regardless of content or lack thereof. Her explanation? She has a lot of “rural” subjects in her District. She uses the United States Postal Service to deliver the same number of pieces of mail as her fellow Representatives. Last I heard, every piece of domestic mail cost the same to deliver no matter where it came from or where it gets delivered.
      By your reckoning, Comcast (or any other cable enterprise) should charge not by the data lot but by the distance from the source of distribution to the connection of the user since the expense of laying and maintaining the lines is the primary expense of the whole operation. They ought to charge a premium for the cable company’s OWN owned content as opposed to the outsourced content such as Netflix or YouTube, et al.
      In reality, the cable companies ought to be deemed utilities, be well regulated by national rules regardless of size, own ZERO content, and reveal exactly who among the politicals and lobbyists they’ve paid to get their way.
      You know as well as anyone the “signals” of their “static” portions cost them the same whether they are viewed or go to absolutely no watchers. When the cable companies only dedicate one or two channels among the thousands they have available to internet usage, their claims of internet usage being bottlenecked by video users runs a little dry. If they were being honest about it, they could dedicate a hundred times the channels currently designated for internet usage and the speeds could increase a thousandfold and their costs would be far better amortized.
      I guess all those conservatives think alike; rural minds really DO have too much to think about, right? Or are their minds too small for today’s concerns?


      • SPLF says “Last I heard, every piece of domestic mail cost the same to deliver no matter where it came from or where it gets delivered.”

        Actually, that’s not true. With the USPS you can get bulk rate shipping, first class shipping, overnight, and you pay for larger/heavier packages. You can even send advertising and have the post office print the card. And you have to pay for what you send. Nobody has unlimited pieces of postage for one rate. Here are some of the rates .

        Sounds like you, like this blogger, are also against paying for what you use. What do you suppose happens when a majority of users want someone else to cover their costs? Have you thought that one through in terms of pricing, performance, and capacity outcomes?

        • spixleatedlifeform

          A tried and true Republican Teanut Gallery response.
          Change the subject. If that won’t float, change the definition. If that doesn’t work, change the perspective into an irrelevant aspect.
          “Franking Privileges” have NOTHING to do with “package shipping” and YOU KNOW THIS! They concern ONLY a letter or postcard-sized single sheet communication from a member of Congress (as a Representative or Senator), neither of which require special containers and must weigh under one ounce. The term “Domestic Mail” ONLY concerns those two categories and as First Class. Otherwise, IT IS PARCEL POST and it is the same distinction that the Reagan Administration allowed the UPS, FedEx, etc. to “steal” that more profitable segment of postal services since none of those “services” require the carrier to stop at EACH and EVERY address EVERY SINGLE DAY service is offered. None of the residences (and those are the only places Franking Privileges cover the postage for) in Herrera-Buetler’s Congressional District are RFDs. If any of her constituents choose to have post office boxes that is THEIR choice and THEY pay for it. Herrera-Buetler does not nor does her Franking Privileges.
          You did not address any of my points directly. Hmm. Does that imply you own shares in one or more cable company stocks or work for any? Perhaps as management or as a hired gun poster, maybe? Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.


          • So do you think consumer should have the right to pay for what they individually need and want to consume, or are you in alignment with this blogger in advocating a single price for everybody, regardless of usage or household size?

            the ISPs win either way, and they will make more under your single price scenario because nobody will have the choice to pay less, so accusing me of being a shill for the cable companies doesn’t really make any sense.

  6. Duratecdave

    Anything they divest they will find a way to buy back later. They divested areas to buy Adelphia and now they want to buy those areas back. Seems anticompetitive.

  7. RoKphish

    Comcast data caps are all about controlling how you watch TV and preserving the cableTV “bundle”. Those caps are designed to limit consumers’ ability to watch streaming video over services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, thus keeping people tied to cable for video. That benefits Comcast- … no one else.

  8. crookcast

    I work at Comcast and they do have caps the only people affected by it are those who stream HD video or do a lot of downloading. If you stream 2 hours of HD video a day you’ll go over the cap monthly. I have seen internet only customers bill go from 63.95 to almost 300 a month, due to the fact that they prefer Netflix and Pandora in house of 2 internet users. The limit is 300gb a month and 10 extra per addl 50gb so in a 3 roommate situation who all stream it’ll be cheaper to sign up for cable and internet then just having internet alone.

    • Which is exactly what Comcast wants, you to have an internet/cable TV bundle or suffer for just having Internet. Honestly I hate cable or satellite TV rather have the internet so i can actually choose what i want to watch not have it per-programmed for me with lousy programs. I am a Time Warner subscriber and believe me im watching this merger and hopping it will NOT go through as we will be paying far more than the $70 per month that we are already paying. Many more people are switching to Internet only and Caps are just a way for the companies to make more money. Honestly the actual cost of the extra bandwidth dose not even come close to what they charge, how else do you explain TW still being in the black and profitable? Now look at Comcast which has all this extra capitol floating around to buy Time Warner out, that’s your overage fees at work! Get big and rip off your customers, or die (just like the Airlines. If a company is profitable and making a dividend for there investors especially if they are already HUGE they shouldn’t be allowed to merge in the first place it creates Monopolies, i thought this was American where we respected a diverse market and COMPETITION to keep cost low, not the Soviet Union that allowed only one company and one policy to rule and gouge their customers just because they now own the market.

  9. spixleatedlifeform

    Well glad to see the barest of truth come to light on this matter.
    Any data-capped folks out there in cable internet land really understand what’s actually going on?
    For instance, you may be using a browser and security programs that block such things as pop-up ads, banner ads, video ads, a whole host of other things that used to really crowd out what you can see with that browser, but guess what?
    They get counted towards your data total even though you don’t even see them. It’s AFTER they come through the pipe into your device, regardless of what kind of device it is that they get blocked. Yup, every single bit of data that make up those pestiferous eye mongers that your browser or security software cut out from the screen display. YOU ARE STILL PAYING FOR THEM. Imagine that!
    These things also affect all your data plans on those 150 million smart phones you pay monthly fees for with data plans attached.
    And if you’re truly interested, perhaps you ought to investigate why the malicious destruction of the share prices on the former company On2 Technology were manipulated into the ground for years prior to being purchased by a company that shall be nameless for the moment. On2 Technologies had the most efficient for the bandwidth consumed CODECs for video over the internet. The now monopolized CODECS owned by the syndicate known as MPEG-LA are total bandwidth hogs, consuming two or more times the data necessary for the same quality video as the product releases of On2 Technologies.
    Then you might ask why the regulatory and enforcement agencies, both public and private have never done any investigating of this in spite of having the proof handed to them on a silver platter.
    Consider–150 million data plan smart phone users in the US, plus some 50 million cable internet users with data caps that get extra charges if exceeded–each month! Then you get to all the other capped and/or data planned devices–ipads, ebooks, mini’s, etc. and you start talking about real money. SERIOUS money. Billions of dollars each and every month. Unnecessary excesses collected and taken out of the pockets of those who work for a living. Billions–how many palms do THOSE dollars grease?
    Why only here? This does NOT happen in Europe. This does NOT happen in Japan, Korea, Australia. Dozens of other countries.
    Can you say, “Anti-Regulatory Politics?” How about, “Anti-Enforcement Politics?”
    Billions each month.
    Secret, numbered, off-shore tax-haven bank accounts those same “Anti’s” refuse to allow to be investigated with Federal or State funds.
    Time for you to, “Go Figure”, eh?


  10. Ken Bazzell

    It is my understanding that once you exceed the cap you are automatically charged a certain amount for another set amount (20 GB or whatever). I use a data meter they provide to monitor data consumption. I don’t think I’ve ever exceeded the allotted amount, but for the price I pay, 76 bucks for ONLY Internet, it’s annoying that I have to do so.

  11. KurtisEngle

    What exactly does an internet service provider provide?

    Why doesn’t every PUD lease every customer an 802.11s or better modem and a unique internet address?

  12. Patteeboy

    Hopefully this will get shut down from our government, just like a few years back when AT&T was trying to merge with T-Mobile, at the time, was a similar monopoly situation.

  13. Mcbeese

    Data caps are nothing more than a consumer rip-off. Comcast will tell you that caps are needed to keep the heaviest users from saturating the network and degrading the service for others. Here’s why that simply isn’t true:

    1. Switches. Ask Cisco and Juniper if their networking equipment is capable of shaping network load and throttling abusive interfaces during periods of peak traffic. Of course it is. Automatically. You can bet that Comcast positions that as a big plus when selling service to lucrative enterprise customers.

    2. A data cap doesn’t solve any problems. Every Comcast customer can be using 100% of their bandwidth during peak periods. Data caps don’t address that issue. Data caps don’t address any network issue. In the old days, the telephone companies would price long distance calls higher during peak periods in order to manage network load and ensure that lucrative business customers received the best service. They were solving a problem. Data caps don’t solve any network problems.

    We’re being ripped off. I guess it isn’t quite as offensive as the policy of the wireless carriers to charge us extra to use the data that we’ve already paid for in a tethered configuration, but almost. The FCC is letting us down when they allow these scams to exist.

    • I disagree. Caps work because consumers can easily understand them, and can moderate their network use accordingly. They just need to be marketed accurately. 300 GB/Month is about 1 Mbps around the clock. So, instead of marketing a 10 Mbps internet connection with 300 GB cap, they should market it as an uncapped 1 Mbps internet connection, but with a special “burst mode” that allows you to occasionally access much higher speeds, as long as you “borrow” that capacity from another time when you are idle. Most people would prefer to have this burstability rather than fixed capacity around the clock.

    • Quite honestly the best comment i’ve seen written on this subject. As a network engineer you are correct. Handling load and/or bursty traffic is what these vendors do best. If they couldn’t handle it then you wouldnt see thier equipment used in financial institutions which deal with just the kind of bandwidth you Comcast is talking about (heavy).

      A new policy shouuld be in place because it addresses a consumer issue. What consumer iss is data cap solving. Nothing. Even if you make the argument that grandma has her email coming in slower thats still not justification for everyone else to pay double. Ive seen studies where they say that the average consumer uses 400GB of data a month so technically a cap wouldnt hurt them. If thats justification then why do we have unlimited voice and text. Doesnt that burden the carriers infrastructure?

      At the end of the day, carriers really have poor reasoning and logic concerning caps. What would make a big difference is each of us make a stand and tell our reps to vote NO on this merger. The same way we as an Internet community spoke up about SOPA we need to it about this. This really affects everyone even if you are not in a TWC area because this will embolden their competition to do similar things. Speak up people I know I am.