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Comcast’s data cap and overage fees return tomorrow after 3-month break

Illustration of a water hose with Internet data trickling out of it, represented by 1s and 0s.

Comcast is scheduled to reinstate its home-Internet data cap tomorrow, July 1, after more than three months in which customers were provided unlimited data to help them through the coronavirus pandemic. AT&T, by contrast, announced today that it is “continuing to waive home-Internet data overage charges for AT&T Internet customers through September 30.”

Comcast and AT&T suspended their data caps and overage fees in mid-March, initially promising two months of unlimited data. The companies later extended that pledge to June 30, but Comcast hasn’t granted any further extensions. We contacted Comcast yesterday but didn’t receive answers to questions about its data cap, and Comcast’s website still says the data-cap waiver only goes through June 30. While Comcast didn’t answer the data-cap questions, a spokesperson pointed out that the cable company extended other pandemic offers for college students and people with low incomes beyond June 30, and it is keeping its Wi-Fi hotspots open to the public for free for the rest of 2020.

Many US states are taking steps toward reopening their economies, which might reduce usage of home-broadband networks. But the pandemic is far from over, as the CDC reported over 40,000 new daily cases in the United States each day from June 25 to June 28, including the highest-ever daily count of 44,703 on June 27.

The Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” Pledge—in which about 800 home and mobile telecom providers promised to waive late fees and not disconnect customers who can’t pay bills because of the pandemic—is also expiring after today. The FCC pledge didn’t include anything about suspending data caps, but Comcast set its data-cap holiday to expire on the same day as Keep Americans Connected. ISPs say they will move customers to payment plans instead of disconnecting them right away.

Comcast imposes cap in 27 states

Comcast and AT&T are the two largest home-Internet providers that impose data caps. Combined, the two companies have over 44 million households subscribing to their home-Internet services. Comcast imposes a 1TB monthly cap and charges $10 for each additional block of 50GB, or $50 extra a month for unlimited data. Comcast imposes the cap and overage fees in 27 states but not in the Northeast US—that’s where it faces strong competition from Verizon’s un-capped fiber-to-the-home FiOS service.

AT&T imposes monthly data caps of 150GB on DSL, 250GB on fixed wireless, and 1TB on most of its faster wireline services. AT&T overage charges are also $10 per 50GB, with an option to get unlimited data by paying an extra $30 a month or by subscribing to gigabit broadband or by purchasing an Internet-and-TV bundle from AT&T. Again, AT&T won’t be enforcing its cap until at least October 1.

US ISPs and their trade associations have boasted that broadband networks performed well under the strain of more people staying home. As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Ars in March, the pandemic made it clear that “data caps weren’t necessary to manage network loads” and that “even after the COVID-19 emergency passes, ISPs should do away with unnecessary data caps.”

Data caps clearly aren’t going away entirely, but AT&T’s additional three-month waiver isn’t the only good news. Cox, a cable company with about 5.2 million broadband subscribers, is apparently re-implementing data caps tomorrow but told Ars today that it is “raising data allowances across the board by 25 percent to 1.25TB.”

Mediacom said it is extending its data-cap waiver through July and August and that, for the rest of 2020, it “will provide up to 100GB of additional data to any broadband customer that exceeds their monthly data allowance for free.”

Mobile-data offers expire too

T-Mobile’s offers of unlimited smartphone data to all customers and an extra 10GB a month of hotspot data are also scheduled to end tomorrow. T-Mobile didn’t answer our questions about whether it will keep the unlimited-data and hotspot offers going after today.

T-Mobile already offered unlimited data as part of its standard plans, and it doesn’t charge automatic overage fees when customers exceed caps on plans that have monthly limits. On plans with limits, customers are either disconnected from the Internet or slowed to “up to 2G speeds” for the rest of the month after exceeding the allotment, but they have the option of purchasing extra high-speed data.

AT&T gave its mobile customers an extra 15GB of hotspot data per month and promised to waive mobile-data overage fees when customers suffer pandemic-related financial troubles and contact AT&T to request a waiver. That’s coming to an end tomorrow. “Our wireless offers formally expire after today but we are encouraging impacted customers to call us to discuss options,” an AT&T spokesperson told Ars.

Verizon provided an extra 15GB of mobile data for customers on limited plans and an extra 15GB of hotspot data a month for customers on unlimited-data plans. The company also promised to waive mobile-data overage fees if customers suffering financial hardship contact the company. The ability to get overage charges waived is apparently already over as it no longer appears on this Verizon COVID-response FAQ, and Verizon didn’t answer our question on the topic. Verizon’s offer of extra hotspot data ran out on May 31.

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