from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For years, Comcast has slowly but surely expanded its pointless and arbitrary broadband usage caps and overage fees into all of its markets (picture the boiling frog metaphor, with you as the frog). And for most of that time, the company avoided doing so in the Northeast where it faces more competition from competitors like (uncapped) Verizon FiOS. But recently, likely fearing an incoming Biden FCC willing to do its job, Comcast rushed to finally push these useless, confusing, and expensive restrictions into the Northeast. In the middle of a pandemic. When people were already struggling to pay for basic utilities and rent.
Needless to say, lawmakers weren’t happy about it. Massachusetts lawmakers were quick to complain about the practice, noting that price gouging captive customers during a financial and health crisis isn’t a good look. This morning, Pennsylvania AG nabbed headlines after Comcast announced it would be pausing the expansion of usage caps for a few months (until July):
“The Philadelphia-based cable giant said it would postpone the new charges after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) raised concerns that Comcast’s policy threatened to disproportionately harm cash-strapped Americans who are learning, working and communicating primarily online.”
There are a couple problems here. One, The Washington Post (like a lot of outlets) never even informs readers that the caps are technically unnecessary. They’re literally the monopolistic price gouging of captive customers using technically unnecessary nonsense. That’s kind of important context, without which the reader walks away possibly thinking Comcast is somehow being altruistic here. This is pretty standard practice for a mainstream US tech press which has a violent allergic reaction to calling a duck a duck (in this case, monopolistic price gouging).
Two, I know from my conversations with Massachusetts lawmakers last week that briefly suspending the caps for a few months was Comcast’s idea. It was their base offer in negotiations, and they’re unwilling to go further. As such, what’s portrayed here as a savvy win for PA AG Josh Shapiro is really just him agreeing to let Comcast get away with doing what is effectively nothing. These restrictions shouldn’t exist in the first place. Suspending them for just a few months in one portion of the country is an empty gesture. Comcast will simply bring them back once the PR heat dies down a bit.
If there’s an area the modern FCC and state regulators have failed miserably, under both parties, it’s broadband caps. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to realize that monopolies imposing costly, confusing, and unnecessary restrictions to drive up the already high cost of broadband access isn’t a great idea (such restrictions are also also abused competitively in the streaming space). And, with only the occasional exception, and despite endless, breathless yammering on about the “digital divide,” most federal and state regulators clearly couldn’t give any less of a shit.