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Comcast Data Cap Is Not High Enough

Comcast’s 1024 GB (1 TB) monthly data plan (data cap) does not provide enough data for an increasing number of people. The main reason is that an increasing number of services, like Netflix, are streaming video at 4K quality, and in the case of Netflix, it default is to stream at the highest quality. Comcast and I fundamentally disagree, in that Comcast says few people will actually be affected by the data cap.

Last week I was shocked when I received an email notice from Comcast that we had consumed 90% of our 1024 data for the month. Why does Comcast default the notification to 90% rather than 50%? The higher data consumption appears to coincide with an automatic and “free” increase of our bandwidth to 100 Mbps last month. Comcast says an increase in bandwidth does not automatically lead to increase data usage, but given that Netflix, and I assume other apps, default to the highest quality video I suspect we ended up viewing more 4K video this month than we have in the past.

Ever since receiving the email notification I have been closely monitoring our data usage, comparing network traffic stats to Comcast’s usage meter, and I think the usage meter is accurate, unlike an issue that occurred in October where the meter was wrongly indicating drastically higher consumption. In general, I think Comcast’s usage meter is insufficient in that it only shows a monthly total. If you have a cap and will automatically charge overages, I think you must at least provide daily stats. The worst part is that home owners don’t have a good or easy to use tools of their own to confirm Comcast’s data, leaving consumers at a disadvantage when trying to dispute Comcast’s data.

Comcast’s Usage Estimate calculator says a HD stream consumes 1.7 GB of data per hour, where as Netflix says that 1 hour of HD consumes 3 GB. Comcast and Netflix agree that one hour of 4K video consumes around 8 GB per hour. Using Netflix’s rate that HD consumes 3 GB per hour, Comcast’s claim that you can stream 21 GB per day of HD video is not correct. At 3 GB per hour, that’s 11 hours per day for 1024 GB per month.

Last night I watched 1 hour of CW Seed on my Apple TV that consumed 6 GB of data, suggesting to me that stream is UHD quality rather than HD and I don’t see a way to control the quality in the CW Seed app.

If you only have one video stream in a house, 11 hours is probably enough, but if you increase that to two streams, you are down to 5 hours per day per stream and that is not hard to exceed, particularly if you unknowingly watch some video in 4K. If you stream all video at 4K you can only watch a little over 4 hours per day, which is tight for one stream, and impossible for two.

You can control the quality of the video streams for some services, but you have to do so per application/service. For example, you can configure Netflix to only stream at Standard quality, but who wants to do that if they spent money on a HD TV? And, if you use more than one app, as many do with say Disney+ or Amazon Prime, you might not be able to change the video quality or you will have to spend a lot of time changing settings in indivdiual apps. And again… you spent good money on a high quality TV, you rightly expect to be able to see the best video!

Comcast does provide an unlimited plan for an additional $50 per month. The current cap appears intended to drive more, if not most, home owners to pay that $50 more per month. (I personally don’t do online gaming, but I bet that can consume a significant amount of data per month). In my case, Comcast kindly increased our bandwidth to 100 Mbps at no additional cost…. but that’s not entirely true since I now appear to be in the position of having to pay $50 more per month!

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