Comcast Corp. on Thursday announced trials to expand its Internet data thresholds and suspend enforcement of its current usage cap in markets where it is not testing the new approaches.
In both pilot programs, the Philadelphia-based cable TV and broadband giant is expanding its data cap from 250 gigabytes to 300 GB.
Comcast executives emphasized they were not expanding the cap because many customers are nearing their limits. To the contrary, medium usage is only 8- to 10 GB, representing four percent of the cap, said Cathy Avgiris, Comcast cable executive VP and general manager for communications and data services.
"Our goal with this improved approach, these consumer trials, and our continued investment in our network is to create products that meet the needs of all of our residential customers (even the heaviest user) and provide everyone with a choice," Avgiris wrote in a blog.
Under one new approach, Comcast will offer allowances that incrementally increase usage allotments for each tier of broadband service from a current threshold starting at 300 GB. Anyone who consumes more data at each of the three tiers can buy more data in increments of $10 per 50 GB.
Under the second trial, customers will start off with 300 GB and can buy more data in the same increments as above.
Comcast didn't reveal the details on the precise timing of the trials or specific markets where the changes would occur. However, the company revealed it would go to trial in the next few months.
In a media call Thursday with Comcast, some journalists seemed perplexed that the company was raising its data limits when the majority of customers don't even come close to the current cap.
Comcast executives underscored they want to be more flexible for consumers and encourage them to access all lawful Internet content, including services that some analysts say compete with Comcast such as the streaming video services offered by Hulu and Netflix.
"It's a matter of messaging way more than it's a matter of capacity," said Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, who indicated Comcast has no projection that a significant number of customers will soon approach the data cap.
Comcast recently faced claims from Netflix's CEO, Reed Hastings, that the company discriminates on its network potentially in violation of Federal Communications Commission rules.
Seemingly in response to such criticism, Cohen told reporters the company would continue to manage data usage "in a fair and non-discriminatory manner consistent with FCC rules." Cohen also pointed out that Netflix itself revealed on an earnings call that Comcast's 250 GB cap doesn't interfere with the streaming video service.