Cellphone users watched with dismay in recent years as unlimited data plans became nearly extinct, thanks to the growing demand for video. Now, many Twin Cities residents will see data caps coming to their internet service, too.
Comcast, in an e-mail to customers Thursday, said it will place a limit on internet data use for its Minnesota residential customers on Nov. 1.
The good news, for most customers, is that the limit is high — 1 terabyte a month. Comcast said that’s enough for 600 hours of high-definition video or 12,000 hours of online gaming. Less than 1 percent of Comcast’s customers use that much data in a month.
But data demand is always rising, and network providers are always under strain to meet it. The newest data hog is 4K, or Ultra HD, video.
“They’re looking toward the future of more video coming down the pike and making sure they’re not losing out on revenue,” said Myra Moore, principal at Digital Tech Consulting, a research firm in Dallas.
For serious online gamers, 4K video streamers and others who are certain they will use more than 1 terabyte a month, unlimited data is still available — for $50 more a month.
Otherwise, what happens if you go over 1 terabyte in a month? Comcast will charge you $10 for every 50 gigabytes over the limit, up to a maximum of $200. Users of Comcast’s Gigabit Pro service, which costs around $300 a month, and business customers are exempt from the limit.
Comcast said it is rolling out new online tools for customers to track their data usage and will notify people once they reach the 50 percent and 100 percent thresholds.
Minnesota is one of 12 states in an expansion of data caps that Comcast previously implemented in 16 states.
Customers in several states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, where Philadelphia-based Comcast faces more competition, aren’t being limited.
Through the years, internet service providers that imposed limits on data usage argued they were needed to manage network congestion. But that argument has fallen away as network backbones have become robust.
Comcast cited no engineering necessity for the data caps.
In a statement, the company said, “Our data plans are based on a principle of fairness. Those who use more internet data, pay more. And those who use less internet data, pay less.”
The rise of streaming, from Netflix, Hulu and others, creates competition for Comcast’s cable TV business and, with the limits, the company is positioning itself to recapture revenue it may lose when cable TV customers switch away and become heavy users of data.
Staff writer Evan Ramstad contributed to this report.