Xfinity on Campus streams content onto various devices using WiFi.
Comcast Corp., one of the nation’s largest home broadband providers, has expanded consumer trials to 15 states that charge Xfinity Internet subscribers extra fees if they stream many hours of online video or run through vast amounts of data.
The Comcast trials have rekindled a debate over whether the cable and telco industries should impose "data caps" on Internet users.
Data caps punish heavy Internet video streamers, or Netflix and Hulu users, while protecting cable-TV bundles, critics say.
But Comcast and other broadband providers say they are charging "bandwidth hogs" for the burdens they place on their networks. Comcast has set its monthly usage cap at 300 gigabytes. The median Comcast Xfinity customer consumes about 40 gigabytes, the company says.
Over the last two months, Comcast began a trial of an option of charging Xfinity Internet subscribers in South Florida and the Atlanta area an extra $30 or $35 a month for unlimited data usage.
Comcast has separately experimented with charging subscribers $10 for every 50 gigabytes of data over 300 gigabytes a month – or, as some say, $10 for a 50-gig bucket.
The Philadelphia company describes the data cap trials as localized. But data on the Comcast website shows it has expanded trials to 1,303 zip codes in 15 states – a significant part of Comcast’s cable-TV franchise areas. On Wednesday, Comcast added several small towns and cities in Tennessee, Virginia and Louisiana to the trial.
Mostly, the trial areas are in the South and Midwest. There are no data cap trials in the Philadelphia area and, technically, no consumption limits on Internet usage, though that could change.
"When you have 10 percent of the customers consuming 50 percent of the network bandwidth, it’s only fair that those consumers should pay more," Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said Wednesday.
Comcast has surveyed customers on options and there "has been interest" in the all-you-can-eat unlimited option that was rolled out in September in Florida for an additional $30 a month and in Georgia this month for an additional $35 a month.
Eight percent of Comcast customers use more than 300 gigabytes a month of data and thus might be potential customers for the unlimited option, the company says.
Douglas noted that Comcast also offers subscribers who use less than five gigabytes a month a $5 discount on their broadband bill in the trial areas.
At 300 gigabytes, an Internet subscriber can stream 230 to 575 hours of movies in a month, 5,500 hours of music, or 40,000 to 93,000 e-books, Comcast says.
Others note that the popularity of Netflix, bit-drenched high-definition video, large video game downloads and binge TV show viewing have boosted data consumption.
Don "D.J." O’Berry, 32, a Comcast subscriber in Norcross, Ga., and part of the trial area, says he can easily reach the 300-gigabytes monthly cap and has opposed the caps with tweets and complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.
"It’s not hard for me," said O’Berry, a network administrator for a private company who binge-watches Netflix and games, "to run over that cap if I don’t pay attention."