A few years ago, there was somewhat of a fuss about emerging Comcast monthly data caps for Internet usage. The number was 250 GB per month. Lately, however, Comcast has not been imposing hard data caps and has, instead, taken a pragmatic approach to monitoring and analyzing network usage. As a result, the path to 4K streaming will be eased.
To bring myself up to date, I chatted with a Comcast Corporate Communications representative in Philadelphia. It turns out that for the last several years, Comcast has been taking a very pragmatic approach that involves monitoring rather than imposing hard data caps that would result in a specific customer losing service.
The representative told me that only about 4 to 5 percent of Comcast customers exceed 300 GB per month. Only in specific geographical areas are data usage plans being trialed.
In essence, the previous "enforcement of the 250 GB of data consumption threshold is currently suspended," according to Comcast's website. In those few places where usage plans are being tested, customers have the option to buy extra bandwith at the rate of 50 GB/month for $10 in unlimited increments.
While I had Comcast on the phone, I asked about 4K. I was told that it's not yet clear what the effect of 4K streaming will be, and that 4K usage is continuing to be monitored. Another thing Comcast is testing in Tucson, Arizona is an increase in the base usage plan (in GB) based on the speed of the plan (Mbps). That makes a lot of sense.
It could very well be that those Comcast customers who use a modest about of streaming video data per month, as they gradually feed in small amounts of 4K from Netflix and other sources, will not be suddenly soaring past 250 GB/month—a limit that's not being imposed anyway. That's because, thanks to advanced compression (and typical U.S. residential capabilities ) 4K/UHD TV is planned for only about 15 Mbps versus HD at 5 Mbps. (However, see "Why 4K Streaming Isn’t Really 4K.")
I got the distinct impression from Comcast that its current philosophy is a continuous monitoring of their entire network, as it grows to meet demand. This is much preferable to earlier experiments with hard data caps that tended to single out individuals, serve up sensational stories and create bad press. This new approach also serves the purpose of taking the worry out of emerging 4K video streaming.
Of course, ISPs other than Comcast may, in fact, impose data caps that could affect your adoption of new services like 4K streaming, so it's probably wise to explore their approach to prices and policies now. That way, for example, you'll be ready if Apple announces a new Apple TV this summer with 4K capability.
If you'd like to check on and monitor your Comcast monthly data usage, here's a quick how-to. "How to Check Your Monthly Comcast Internet Data Usage."