Burlington County lawmakers have pushed back against plans to charge residential internet customers a fee for exceeding data limits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Troy Singleton was one of three state lawmakers last week to introduce a bill in the New Jersey Senate that would prohibit internet service providers from increasing rates during a public health emergency.
The bill's introduction comes after Comcast began to roll out its 1.2 terabyte (TB) data plan for Xfinity internet customers in its northeast region, which includes New Jersey, on Jan. 1.
The plan establishes a monthly data usage cap of 1.2 TB for its residential internet customers. Customers who exceed the 1.2 TB data cap are charged additional fees, up to an additional $100 per month.
“Raising internet data rates during this pandemic is not just poor judgement, it is insensitive and tone-deaf,” said Singleton in a statement.
“With so many of us working, learning, playing, and socializing virtually, we have no choice but to rely on internet connectivity and data to live our lives. Capping data to make a profit during these already challenging times — when so many are unemployed and struggling financially — is opportunistic and simply greedy.”
In addition to Singleton, co-sponsors of the bill, S-3410, include Sen. Nicolas Scutari (D-Union, Middlesex, Somerset) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union).
Earlier this month, Singleton and fellow 7th Legislative District representatives Assemblyman Herb Conaway and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy sent a letter to Comcast expressing their concerns over the internet service provider's new data plan, calling it "ill-timed and insensitive."
"While we fully understand that Comcast will not limit anyone’s data usage, charging people for usage over the 1.2TB limit is an unnecessary burden during already challenging times. Undoubtedly, this will result in higher Comcast bills and more broadly, a widening of the digital divide," the lawmakers letter stated.
The Democratic lawmakers were not the only ones to call out Comcast for the proposed plan.
Their colleagues across the aisle, 8th Legislative District Republican representatives Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield and Assemblyman Ryan Peters, also condemned the new plan and met with Comcast executives last week.
In a Jan. 27 letter, Comcast said the plan will not go into effect until July with charges for customers who exceed the data plan appearing on their August bill.
Customers who exceed or come close to exceeding the data cap will receive an email notification each month, Comcast said, reminding them about the upcoming data cap and tips for avoiding overcharges and how to purchase more data.
Comcast said it began to notify its customers of the new plan last November and December, and that the 1.2 TB data cap only affects a "very small percentage" of customers.
However, the lawmakers said they have heard from many Burlington County residents who are at or near the data cap each month.
"We have been informed by Comcast that this 1.2TB data cap will only affect 5% of customers. This is contrary to the many anecdotes we are hearing from our constituents who are receiving notice that they are already at or near the 1.2TB limit," Singleton, Conaway and Murphy wrote on Jan. 19.
Comcast stated 1.2 TB of data allows for its customers to video conference for 3,500 hours a month, watch 1,200 hours of distance learning videos or stream 500 hours of HD video per month, and the majority of its internet customers use around 400 GB of data per month.