As regulators attempt to sift through the possible public harms and benefits of Comcast’s $45.2 billion plan to buy Time Warner Cable, 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 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.