Comcast data caps aren’t about congestion, leaked memo shows

Also, Comcast really doesn’t want its support reps using the term “data cap.”

Comcast is making sure its customer support agents stay on message as the cable giant rolls out data caps in more markets.

In a memo leaked to Ars Technica, Comcast arms its representatives with a list of Dos, Don’ts, and taking points, all aimed at making new 300 GB data caps seem more palatable. Among those recommendations: Don’t actually use the term “data cap,” and instead say “data usage plan.”

The memo is full of these kinds of linguistic gymnastics. Comcast’s plans are “never limited,” the memo says, because customers can add “an unlimited number” of 50 GB data blocks beyond the 300 GB limit, priced at $10 each. Comcast is also offering a proper unlimited data plan for a flat $30 to $35 fee per month, depending on market.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the memo is the admission that the data caps (or whatever Comcast wants to call them) are not about managing congestion. If asked to explain the new caps, representatives must say it’s about “Fairness and promoting a more flexible policy to our customers.” We’ve heard the “fairness” line from Comcast before, and the cable industry as a whole has acknowledged that caps and congestion aren’t related, but it’s rare to see Comcast admit directly that congestion has nothing to do with the new plans.

Of course, the fairness argument is also just mind-bending rhetoric on Comcast’s part. Aside from a 5 GB plan that’s a mere $5 per month cheaper than the standard 300 GB offering, Comcast isn’t offering any more flexibility or price cuts for average use. In fact, the company is continuing to hike Internet rates across the board, so it’s not as if heavy Internet users are taking the hit for everyone else. When Comcast says the data caps are about fairness, the company really means that losing cable TV revenue to cord cutters isn’t fair to Comcast.

The story behind the story: The new customer service script comes just as Comcast is expanding its usage caps to many more U.S. markets, hitting Little Rock, Arkansas; Houma, LaPlace, and Shreveport, Louisiana; Chattanooga, Greenville, Johnson City/Gray, Tennessee; and Galax, Virginia starting December 1. While the 300 GB limit is higher than an earlier 250 GB cap—which Comcast stopped enforcing a few years ago—families that have replaced more expensive cable TV packages with streaming video shouldn’t have much trouble bumping into overages.

Customers can avoid eating into their data plans by streaming video from Comcast instead of competitors like Netflix, but customer service reps aren’t allowed to talk about that. Instead, the memo says that any mention of net neutrality is grounds for escalating the matter to Comcast’s “Customer Security Assurance” team.

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