Commentary: Comcast data-overage cost increase is bad timing

By Rep. Krista Griffith

A year ago, I could count on one hand how many hours per day my family of four spent using our household’s internet.

Rep. Krista Griffith

Today, all four of us would have to each use both hands to tally that figure, as the pandemic has turned our home into two offices, two classrooms and our only entertainment space. Like families throughout the First State, we have numerous devices plugged into Wi-Fi all hours of the day. Our internet use is as essential as running water and electricity.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that one of Delaware’s top home internet service providers — Comcast — unleashed a new Xfinity internet plan this month that will start charging customers in Delaware a fee if they go over 1.2 terabytes of data per month. The company is giving customers until April before billing those who go over the cap.

With students learning remotely and parents working from home, this could put a strain on families’ digital budgets. The timing of this plan is poor, to say the least, and I’m concerned about the unintended consequences on families already financially strapped who now may have to pay for data overages.

I have been in contact with Comcast and urged them to delay implementation of this plan until after this pandemic has passed and life has returned to something resembling normal.

Comcast argues the practice to charge customers for data usage isn’t new — it along with other internet service providers routinely set different caps and fees for data usage throughout the country. However, this has never been the case in Delaware. And the state’s other large provider — Verizon — doesn’t and, officials say, has no plans to do so.

Unfortunately, in many parts of Delaware, customers do not have a choice: Comcast is the only provider in their area. Also, Delaware sadly still has areas where broadband isn’t available.

Comcast officials also say that the new fees will impact only about 5% of customers, as the amount of data capped — 1.2 terabytes — is so high, most customers won’t come close to hitting it. For reference point, they say 1.2 terabytes would allow customers monthly to stream about 500 hours of high-definition video; or spend nearly 3,500 hours videoconferencing; or watch nearly 1,200 hours of distance-learning videos on Seesaw or Google Classroom.

That does seem like a lot of data. But as one of my constituents noted, it adds up fast. He’s a teacher and is very concerned for the low- to middle-income families he teaches. Six hours of Zooming per day for school could amount to roughly 192 gigabytes per month. If you have three children, that family could be close to half the 1.2-terabyte cap just for school.

My constituent argues that this is a pandemic and that our children have no choice but to attend school online. He’s right. And the same argument goes for many of their parents, who also have no choice but to work from home.

Again, I urge Comcast to do the right thing — delay implementation of this plan until after the state of emergency ends.

Krista Griffith represents the 12th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, which includes neighborhoods in north Wilmington, Greenville and Hockessin. She also chairs the House Technology & Telecommunications Committee.