William Wigington was checking his e-mail last week when he noticed something out of the norm.
It was a notification from Comcast alerting the longtime customer that a new policy will set his internet usage to 300 GB of data. Should his household go over the limit, the message warned, he will have to pay for extra storage.
“I feel that we don’t use that much storage,” Wigington said. “But, I feel that they’re punishing the many for the sins of the few. It’s becoming just like the (phone companies), where you now have to pay extra if you want just a little bit extra. They’re going to hit you up for some more money.”
Augusta is one of several Southeastern markets to see Comcast’s new Internet data usage plan.
The cable giant is testing a new policy in Augusta and 13 other national markets that gives its XFINITY Internet customers a flat 300 GB monthly limit of data, but charges an extra $10 for each additional 50 GB used that same month.
The new plan replaces Comcast’s static Internet data cap of 250 GB per month that had been in place from 2009 until 2012. It has since been implemented in Arizona, California, Texas and across the Southeast, including Atlanta and Savannah, Ga.
Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said that only 2 percent of XFINITY customers exceed 300 GB each month. Those who do, though, still want the option to use more data, he said.
“If you’re in that tiny minority of people where you use that much data and you would like to use more, this is now the fairest and most flexible way that we believe we can implement,” Douglas said.
Under the old plan, Douglas said customers who went over 250 GB and didn’t moderate their usage could face suspended service.
Now, customers who hit 90 percent of the allotted 300 GB limit will receive a warning through their browser or e-mail. In an effort to ease customers into the new program, they won’t be charged any overage fees until they exceed the 300 GB level for the fourth time in a 12-month span, Douglas said.
Wigington, who has been a Comcast customer since the company purchased Jones Intercable in the late 90s, said he fears the cap will decrease over time. He said he already pays more than $200 a month for TV and Internet, which includes a few added premiums including high definition channels and extra cable boxes.
“When you set a cap, things have a tendency to migrate downward,” he said. “If they hit a limit where they might start charging me extra, then I wouldn’t have a choice but to complain.”
A recent poll of “heavy data” Comcast customers who use more than 100 GB monthly indicated that 80 percent prefer the new approach to the old plan, Douglas said.
According to a Cisco Systems report released earlier this year, the average global household used 31.6 GB of data per month in 2012. By 2017, that number is expected to more than double to 74.5 GB each month.
Douglas said the median American household who uses XFINITY Internet consumes between 16 and 18 GB per month.
“In order to use that amount of data, one would have to be engaging in a lot of online activity that uses large file sizes, downloading or uploading large number of files, massive amount of streaming ... It could be a very large household with a lot of people, but it’s not typical,” he said.
Comcast isn’t the only cable company to experiment with new data plans. Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Charter Communications have all experimented with usage caps in recent years.
Augusta Internet provider WOW!, however, isn’t currently toying with the idea. Abu Khan, the company’s Augusta vice president and general manager, said in an e-mailed statement that WOW! does not plan to introduce such policies in the near future.
“At this point we do not feel the need to limit our customers’ usage, but if usage across the board puts pressure on our networks, we may have to do so,” he said.