Comcast Broadband Data Caps Lead To Meteoric Rise In Customer Complaints

Cable ISP customers aren't real keen on Comcast's broadband data caps and they're letting the Federal Communications Commission know about it in rising numbers. In the second half of 2015, there were 7,904 complaints about data caps, up from 863 complaints in the first half of the year. As of April in this year, the total was 1,463.

Comcast, one of just two outfits to earn Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" title on more than one occasion (2010 and 2014), knows it needs to do a better job satisfying customers. That's why the ISP went on a hiring spree in March of last year, at the time noting it was undergoing a transformation that was all about "shifting our mindset to be completely focused on the customer."

Comcast Van

The trail up to that point is littered with customer service horror stories. Take Lisa Brown, a woman who was having financial difficulties at the beginning of 2015. In an attempt to pull herself up by the bootstraps and take control of her finances, she contact Comcast to cancel the cable portion of her bill. She was quickly referred to a retention specialist who attempted to lock her into a new two-year contract. She refused, saying she was "never rude" during the phone conversation, so it was quite the surprise when the next bill arrived to "A**hole Brown" instead of Ricardo Brown, the name of her husband (and the account holder).

"We have spoken with our customer and apologized for this completely unacceptable and inappropriate name change," Comcast’s Steve Kipp said at the time. "We have zero tolerance for this type of disrespectful behavior and are conducting a thorough investigation to determine what happened. We are working with our customer to make this right and will take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again."

The horror stories aren't hitting headlines quite as frequently anymore, but taking their place are complaints about data caps and the effect they're having. Adding insult to injury, Comcast admitted in a memo to employees last November that its data caps have nothing to do with relieving network congestion. Just a few months prior to that, Comcast VP Jason Livingood addressed the topic in a refreshingly honest exchange on Twitter in which he alluded to data caps being strictly about business economics and not anything to do with managing the network.

Not all Comcast customers are affected by the data caps. For most of its 23 million broadband subscribers, the limit is 250GB per month, though by and large it stopped enforcing the cap in 2012. However, it's been testing data caps of 300GB in some areas, while in others employing data caps of varying sizes with an option to switch to unlimited data for an added cost. Those combined trials currently affect 14 percent of its customers, or 2.8 million homes, mostly located in the South.

A report in The Wall Street Journal highlights customer stories involving Comcast's data caps and how some of them are choosing to cancel services like Netflix and Hulu. Streaming a single hour of high definition content can chew through up to 3GB of data. When you factor in things like large game downloads and streaming music services, it's easy to see how even a 300GB data cap can feel restrictive on a family using multiple online services at once.

The problem here is one of perception. Whereas Comcast was willing to concede that its customer support was in serious need of fixing prior to its hiring spree, the suits in charge don't view data caps as a bad thing. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts doesn't even like to use the term data cap, which further downplays the concerns of its customers.

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"But they're not a cap. We don't want anybody to ever not want to stay connected on our network," Roberts stated at Business Insider's Ignition conference.

Instead of addressing the issue, Roberts instead chose to dance around the issue by being pedantic. Is it really a cap if a customer can use as much data as they want, albeit with financial consequences? That's missing the point, and intentionally so.

Treating data as a finite resource and deploying arbitrary caps on usage simply for more financial gain, as Comcast admitted it's doing, is an antiquated business model that's not at odds with today's growing number of online services available to consumers. Comcast's customers would be better served if the ISP recognized this rather than continue acting as if caps don't exist. Otherwise, don't be surprised if Comcast ends up earning another anti-reward from the people it serves.