TRENTON — Some state lawmakers are pushing Comcast to drop plans to begin charging internet customers up to $100 a month for exceeding a data threshold, calling it an unnecessary burden when people are working and attending school from home during the pandemic.
“Especially right now, given the fact that the internet is the lifeblood of so many students and people that are taking the governor’s word and staying home, it’s just not something they should be utilizing to take advantage or beef up their billing,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union.
Comcast Xfinity is beginning to charge customers more money for their monthly service if they exceed more than 1.2 terabytes of data usage. Customers wouldn’t be cut off, but they would be charged $10 for each additional 50 gigabytes of data, up to a monthly maximum of an additional $100.
“A very small percentage of our customers go over 1.2 terabytes, because 1.2 terabytes is a massive amount of data that enables consumers to video conference for 3,500 hours, watch 1,200 hours of distance learning videos, stream 500 hours of high-definition video content a month, or play more than 34,000 hours of online games,” said Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Bilotta.
The company says 5% of customers would be affected.
“Our data plan is structured in a way that the very small percentage of our customers who use more than 1.2 terabytes of monthly data and generate the greatest demand for network development and capacity pay more for their increased usage,” Bilotta said. “For those superusers, we have unlimited data options available.”
Nobody in New Jersey will be charged the new fee until April at the earliest. Customers in New Jersey and around a dozen other states won’t be assessed overage charges in January and February, and starting in March customers will receive a one-time ‘courtesy credit’ for their first overage.
Customers are now getting notices when they approach or exceed the limits so they can consider changing their online usage or upgrading their plan. Unlimited data costs an additional $25 a month, although currently it is available for $14 a month for the first five months.
Comcast hasn’t charged the fee for exceeding the data threshold in New Jersey before but has in other parts of the country. It suspended the fees early in the pandemic, then reinstated them but raised the data threshold from 1 terabyte to 1.2 terabytes.
Scutari said he has already heard from Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, chairman of the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee, about working together on the issue.
“I think there’s something else the Legislature can do, sure,” Scutari said. “Not just public pressure, I think it’s something that we could cap the fees. We have that power.”
The delegation from the 7th Legislative District – Sen. Troy Singleton, Assemblyman Herb Conaway and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy – also wrote to Comcast Tuesday and called the change “ill-timed and insensitive.”
“Undoubtedly, this will result in higher Comcast bills and more broadly, a widening of the digital divide,” wrote the lawmakers, adding that they are hearing from many constituents who are receiving notice they are already at or near the limit.
“It is our collective hope that Comcast would give serious consideration to abandoning this plan altogether, or at the very least, postponing it until the end of this pandemic,” they wrote.