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Comcast to Test New Usage-Based Internet Tier in Fresno

‘Flexible-Data Option’ Caps Monthly Usage at 5GB, Targets Lighter Internet Users 8/01/2013 5:51 AM Eastern

Comcast is preparing to test out an optional, usage-based Internet tier in Fresno, Calif., tailored to light Internet users that will cap monthly usage at 5 Gigabytes per month before customers are subjected to per-gigabyte fees.

The pilot, dubbed the “Flexible-Data Option,” will initially be offered only to Fresno-area customers on the  MSO's Economy Plus service, an offering that delivers up to 3 Mbps downstream and up to 768 kbps upstream. It's priced in the range of $29.95 to $39.95 per month, depending on the market. According to GigaOM, Economy Plus sells for $39.95 per month in Fresno.

Customers who do not exceed the monthly consumption ceiling will get a $5 credit. Customers who exceed that limit won't get the credit and will be charged an additional $1 per gigabyte consumed beyond the monthly 5GB threshold. “We believe this monthly option is fair because it allows our eligible customers who use less data to now pay less,” Comcast’s FAQ explains, noting that customers can opt-out of the plan at any time, and that Comcast could pull the plug on the trial at any time.

Comcast has not announced any plans to extend this particular trial outside of Fresno, a spokesman said. He said a “very small group” subscribes to Economy Plus, noting that Comcast recently sent a letter to qualifying customers in Fresno about this new option. Comcast ended the second quarter with 19.98 million high-speed Internet customers.

To keep those trial customers apprised of their data usage, Comcast will send in-browser alerts and an email informing them when they reach 90% and 100% of the 5 GB threshold.  Customers of all Comcast tiers can track usage via an MSO-supplied data consumption meter.

Comcast’s new test shares similarities with Time Warner Cable’s Essentials Internet offering, which is available to customers who take one of three of the MSO’s lower end service tiers.  TWC recently tweaked the option to include a 5 GB per month plan that offers $8 off the retail price (versus the original $5 credit), and a 30GB per month plan that bestows a $5 credit if customers do not exceed the cap. Under the TWC plans, customers who exceed their monthly limit are also charged $1 per GB, though overage charges are not to exceed $25 per billing cycle. 

According to a page dedicated to the Fresno trial, Comcast will begin to offer the option in “late August 2013.” A spokesman said Fresno is currently the only market testing this new option, which is targeted to lighter Internet users.

A post on the DSL Reports message board shed light on Comcast's new usage-based Internet trial last month.

Comcast is also piloting usage-based, soft cap policies that are targeted to a wider set of high-speed Internet customers. In Tucson, Ariz., and Nashville, Tenn., Comcast is charging $10 for a bucket of 50 GB of data if they exceed their cap in a given month.

In Nashville, Comcast has set a 300 GB ceiling for all customers. It’s using a more variable plan in Tucson – setting the monthly threshold at 600 GB to customers who take the MSO’s 105 Mbps (downstream) DOCSIS 3.0 tier; 450 GB to those taking a 50 Mbps broadband service; and 300 GB for customers taking any other speed tier.

Comcast announced last June that it would begin to trial “improved data usage management approaches” while suspending enforcement of its original monthly 250 GB  usage cap/policy.

September