If data caps are making your online life more difficult, the FCC wants to know

If it’s been a while since you thought about your internet plan, well, we can’t blame you. Most of us only really notice when our bills get weird.

Whether you noticed it or not, however, your home Internet plan may be subject to data caps, which service providers use to limit how much we can download and upload each month. While many of us have had a reprieve in the pandemic era, these data usage limits are still a common part of our online lives, but their days may (finally) be numbered.

Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel earlier this month proposed a survey that would have delved into customers’ experiences with Internet data caps, trends in consumer data use, among other things and why these limits still exist. That’s where you come in: The FCC is also actively seeking stories highlighting how these data caps have affected customers, and you should take a few minutes today to submit yours if you’re a doozy.

When we need internet access, we don’t think about how much data is needed to complete a task, we just know it needs to be done, Rosenworcel wrote last week, adding that it’s time for the commission to take a fresh look at how data are limited. impact on consumers and competition.

Limits are all too common

While they take different approaches, many of the country’s largest Internet service providers have some sort of limit on how much data you can use.

AT&T, for example, has different limits for different types of Internet plans. All of Cox’s home Internet plans offer users a total of 1.25 terabytes of data each month; tiptoe past that threshold, and you’ll have to pay $10 for every additional 50 gigabytes.

Meanwhile, Xfinity offers unlimited data on its home internet plans, but only if you pay $30 a month in addition to your basic Internet plan, or pay an extra $25/month for its xFi Complete feature, which includes the cost of a monthly lease for one of their modem/router combos. (Strangely, customers in the Northeast needn’t worry about this—they all get unlimited data by default.)

In all fairness, this is no small amount of data to play with 1.2TB equating to about 200 hours of non-stop 4K video streaming, according to a handy calculator created by AT&T.

But factor in things like long video calls, lots of movie and music streams, and huge game downloads, not to mention efforts growing in popularity, like live streaming on platforms like Twitch, and it’s not hard to see how those data can go fast enough. . And, of course, this is especially true for families with many people.

The situation can be even more complicated for people living in remote or rural areas, where Internet access is more difficult to obtain and more limited in nature. Plans for satellite Internet providers like HughesNet, for example, offer you between 15GB and 200GB per month depending on how much you’re willing to pay. And while HughesNet won’t interrupt your service or charge you extra if you exceed these limits, you Candies expect your internet connection to become noticeably slower. (Think of it as limiting experience, more than usage.)

It’s no wonder, then, that some experts find data limitations at least a little detestable.

We think [data caps] they’re a craven grab for cash, but if ISPs can demonstrate legitimate technical justification for them, so be it, said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy adviser for Consumer Reports. But the fact that many ISPs do not enforce them, or in [Xfinitys] case, not even imposing them on their entire service territory suggests otherwise.

There is at least one notable exception here, though. Charter Communications, which offers Internet services through its Spectrum brand, has not enforced data caps for years thanks to an agreement it signed with the FCC when it acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, and a spokesperson confirmed to The Post that has no plans to add data caps.

While the Commission believes these types of data caps are problematic enough to warrant a fix, it’s hard to say what the next steps would be. This is for a few reasons.

While the original announcement notes that the agency may consider taking steps to ensure these limits do not harm competition or consumers’ ability to access broadband Internet services, it also admits that the investigation is intended at least in part to determine the legal authority of the Commission to take action related to data limits.

It doesn’t help that the FCC is still ideologically stalled along party lines, leaving some efforts like President Biden’s push to revive net neutrality rules stuck in the mud. But that, too, could soon change: After long-stalked Gigi Sohn withdrew her nomination to fill the fifth vacant seat on the Commission earlier this year, Biden appointed the Department’s communications policy adviser. State Anna Gomez for the post; Thursday, he will address the Senate Commerce Committee for the first time.

In other words, it will be a While before the FCC gathers the evidence it wants, let alone figure out what it should do if anything about data caps.

But don’t let that schedule get you down: If you have a story about how the limits on your Internet plan made life a little more difficult, it’s still worth pouring the tea about your ISP. All you have to do is fill out this form with any luck, your experience might make all of our internet plans a little less obnoxious.

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