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FCC Requesting Comments on Charter Data Caps

A few days ago the FCC issued a public notice that it’s opening an additional comment period for the public to weigh in on whether Charter should be able to set data caps on users and also charge video services network-interconnection fees.

Why Now?

A ruling last Friday by the US Court of Appeals eliminated some conditions from the 2016 Time-Warner/Bright House/Charter merger.

The eliminated conditions are:

  • Charter provide free network interconnections to large video providers (like Netflix and Youtube).
  • Charter not impose data caps on customers.

These conditions were set to expire in May of 2023, but Charter petitioned the FCC to let them expire two years early (May 2021). In response to Charter’s petition, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai chose not to defend the merits of the merger in court. This means that these prohibitions are basically tossed out.

Charter Says We Love Data Caps

Right now, Charter says they don’t have any plans to impose data caps or charge providers interconnection fees (Hah!). But they also say plans with data caps are popular (HAH!). From Charter’s initial FCC filing:

Contrary to Stop The Cap’s assertion that consumers “hate” data caps, the marketplace currently shows that broadband service plans incorporating data caps or other usage-based pricing mechanisms are often popular when the limits are sufficiently high to satisfy the vast majority of users.

The Stop The Cap’s assertion can be found in this letter to the FCC.

What Charter neglects to mention is if there are any comparable non-data cap plans equally available in the “marketplace” that Charter is referencing.

Additionally, who gets to decide the limits are “sufficiently high”? Charter sells cable TV service, and setting low caps allows them to collect overage fees and push people into cable subscriptions. And with a lack of street-level competition, consumers have no recourse.

Back to Charter’s filing:

There is also evidence that some consumers—either those who do not consume a lot of data and/or those who are looking for a lower-cost plan—may want a service where prices are based on the amount of data used.

To my knowledge there is no home ISP that refunds consumers if they use a small amount of data. I’m sure many consumers want cheaper plans, but this idea feels like it was just pulled out of a hat.

Charter is the second-biggest cable provider in the US (after Comcast) and sells under the Spectrum brand name. I have Spectrum – not because I want to, but because it’s one of the only options. I longed for Google Fiber, but that disappeared long ago.

What to Do?

If you want your voice heard, you can send your comments to the FCC here. Just click the link, and then clock on “+ Express” in the left-hand column to leave your comments.

It may not do much good (especially given the fake/fraudulent comments used to support the net neutrality repeal), but we definitely need to let our voices be heard.