Xfinity replaces broadband usage cap with additional fees

Cable and Internet service provider Comcast on Thursday announced plans to replace its broadband usage cap with what it calls an “improved data usage management approach.” The bottom line: If you’re a heavy user of Comcast’s broadband Internet services, you may be paying more for the privilege. The news comes from a post to Comcast’s blog attributed to executive VP and general manager of communications and data services, Cathy Avgiris.

Comcast has been under fire in recent weeks after Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and others suggested that Comcast’s “Xfinity for Xbox” app violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy on “net neutrality” – the principle that Internet service providers such as Comcast should not restrict communication from some services over others. Comcast doesn’t count data transmitted through the Xfinity app against the user’s bandwidth cap, unlike similar software from other companies, including HBO and Netflix.

Comcast, for its part, denies that this is the case, and has said in statements that Xfinity for Xbox is run on its own private IP network, and is therefore not subject to net neutrality rules. This point is underscored by Avgiris, who wrote, “…for the last six months we have been analyzing the market and our process and think that now is the time to begin to move to a new plan. This conclusion was only reinforced when, in recent weeks, some of the conversation around our new product introductions focused on our data usage threshold, rather than on the exciting opportunities we are offering our customers.”

Avgiris tacitly admittedly that Comcast’s bandwidth usage cap hasn’t kept up with technology. “Four years ago, when we first instituted a broadband Internet data usage threshold, the iPhone had just been introduced…the iPad didn’t exist…and the experience of watching streaming video on your home PC or through a Roku box or direct to an Internet-capable TV was much different than it is now.”

Avgiris said that over the next few months, Comcast will trial its new data usage management policy, starting with new tiered “usage allotments.” The good news is that everyone will get more bandwidth to play with: 300 GB per month, up from 250 GB. Users who opt for Comcast’s Blast and Extreme services will have higher allotments, and users who require additional bandwidth will be charged $10 per 50 GB.

“In markets where we are not trialing a new data usage management approach, we will suspend enforcement of our current usage cap as we transition to a new data usage management approach, although we will continue to contact the very small number of excessive users about their usage,” wrote Avgiris.

(Thanks to Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle for first alerting us of this change via Twitter.)