Critics have long complained that data caps imposed by Comcast and other Internet service providers are an end run around network-neutrality rules. As I wrote here last week, Netflix has complained that Comcast's caps put it at a disadvantage in competing against Comcast's new video-streaming service, Streampix, and Sony blamed data caps when it dropped plans for a new service offering "virtual cable" to Internet subscribers.
As explained in a March column, Comcast didn't impose overage charges for those few customers who exceeded the 250-gigabyte cap. Instead, it suspended service for a year to repeat offenders such as the outspoken Seattle gaming consultant, Andre Vrignaud.
Today, after growing criticism over its practices favoring Streampix, Comcast did an about-face: In a blog post today, it says it will drop the caps in favor of "improved data usage management approaches" and - importantly - tiered charges for overages:
I'll have more to say later about Comcast's new approach, which still treats data too much as if it's something produced and consumed, like electricity. The new policy still ignores the fact that during periods of low demand, there is virtually no incremental cost to Comcast for customers' high-volume data use – say, to upload data to the cloud for backup, the activity that Vrignaud says was largely responsible for his shutoff.
But the company deserves credit for shifting gears, and for adopting a more-transparent and less-punitive approach.