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Comcast Corp., the country's largest Internet service provider, is going to start charging extra when customers go over a certain monthly data limit.
That limit, however, is very high, starting at 300 gigabytes for basic Internet plans. Only a tiny fraction of Internet users use that much data in a month.
Comcast Corp. said Thursday that it will test charging $10 for every 50 gigabytes over that limit.
Comcast has previously limited use to 250 gigabytes per month, but hasn't charged those who exceed that limit. Instead, it's warned them, and threatened repeat offenders with cancellation of their service.
Other home Internet service providers like Time Warner Cable and AT&T have experimented with lower data caps and charges for going over limits, but abandoned those after meeting fierce resistance from consumers and politicians.
Internet service providers say they need to have some sort of cap to prevent "data hogs" from slowing down service for everyone.
Comcast said it will be testing the new approach in a few areas. In the meantime, Comcast is abolishing the 250 gigabyte cap, even where it's testing out the new approach.
David Cohen, an executive video president of Comcast, said the new, more flexible approach should help customers get wider access to Internet content, without a hard cut-off.
Data caps are seen as inhibiting the growth of non-cable video services like Netflix Inc., which uses a lot of data. However, Comcast's 300 gigabyte cap is high enough to deter only the very movie-hungriest Netflix users: It's enough to stream about 10 hours of Netflix content per day for a month.
Sandvine Corp., a company what supplies traffic measurement and management equipment to cable companies, says North American households are consuming an average of 32 gigabytes of data per month. A few households account for much of that usage, though: The median figure is much lower, at 10.3 gigabytes.
Comcast's own Netflix-like service, Xfinity TV, doesn't count against the data cap when it's viewed on its app on the Xbox game console. That has raised questions about whether Comcast is unfairly favoring its own product over those of competitors like Netflix. Comcast says the reason Xfinity TV doesn't count is that the video doesn't come from the Internet, but from Comcast's own equipment.
Video from XfinityTV.com does count toward the limit.
Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, has 18.6 million Internet subscribers, accounting for nearly one in every four U.S. households with broadband.