Corporations lie. Sometimes they lie to Congress. Sometimes they lie to end-users. Sometimes they lie to themselves. And sometimes they lie to the governmental agencies in charge of regulating the internet with the express goal of squeezing more money out of their customer bases.
Currently, Charter is not allowed to impose data caps on customers. This restriction was a requirement of its 2016 merger with Time Warner and the protection is set to expire on May 18, 2023. Charter has petitioned to end the protection two years early, in May 2021. Charter’s argument for dissolving the agreement is straightforward: Charter should be allowed to put data caps in place because Netflix and other video-on-demand services are popular and growing rapidly. Its competitors are allowed to use data caps, so Chartered should be allowed to deploy them as well. Here’s the company’s argument:
Contrary to Stop The Cap’s assertion that consumers “hate” data caps, the marketplace currently shows that broadband service plans incorporating data caps or other usage-based pricing mechanisms are often popular when the limits are sufficiently high to satisfy the vast majority of users.
As a current Charter customer who is protected from a data cap: Charter is lying through its teeth. No human being I’ve ever met has liked data caps. Furthermore, most Americans have either one or two ISPs available to choose from in their local markets. If both your local ISPs deploy data caps, that doesn’t make data caps popular. It just means ISPs have engaged in abusive, rent-seeking behavior. Earlier this summer, Cox acknowledged throttling entire neighborhoods if a single person in the neighborhood used more bandwidth than Cox thought an unlimited service should provide.
Customers do not love data caps. Customers accept data caps because they have no choice but to do so. The company literally tries to claim that not being allowed to put data caps on a plan is harmful because it is prevented from “keeping pace with its competitors and offering consumers the kinds of plans they are looking for.”
The idea that customers are somehow being shortchanged because Charter isn’t allowed to squeeze them for overage fees is a lie. It’s the same lie that drives online advertising, website data collection policies, and a vast number of supposedly user-friendly services. In every case, the company in question will float a handful of examples of how their service can be useful, while ignoring just how rare those examples are.
Charter, for example, brings up the fact that some customers who use very little data per month might want a plan that only bills for data used, while others might like a prepaid internet plan they can renew through an app. To the best of my knowledge, there are no ISPs that actually charge a reasonable rate-per-bit for internet time. Typically, any home internet plan that offers just a few GB of monthly bandwidth also come with steep overage fees should you exceed it. The tools ISPs deploy to track home network usage are often inaccurate.
The best way to regulate network usage isn’t to slap people with bandwidth limits for the purposes of enriching ISPs. The best way to ensure everyone in a neighborhood receives the service they pay for is to regulate network performance. Capacity regulations are a secondary tactic at best, and the ISPs themselves are well aware of this.
Speaking as a Charter customer, I do not want a data cap placed on my service, particularly given the hundreds of gigabytes of data I can burn through while downloading games for a review. While it’s not something I do every day, I’ve definitely downloaded more than 1TB of data in a month before. I’ll grant that many of the company’s customers do not exceed their data caps on a regular basis and therefore do not think about the issue, but not being aware of something is not the same as liking it. Being forced to buy internet plans with bandwidth caps because no other plans are available is not the same as preferring these plans. Charter is misrepresenting the opinions and positions of its customers in public.
Feature Image: Dwight Burdette/CC BY SA 3.0
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