In an attempt to regulate the Internet service providers, from enforcing a cap on the usage of Internet data and from shutting off customers from excessive usage, two democratic lawmakers Andy Vargas (Haverhill) and David Rogers (Cambridge), in the state of Massachusetts, came up with a plan to regulate the Internet service providers.
The plan, filed by the two Reps. would ban broadband providers operating in Massachusetts from capping the amount of data used by customers or shutting them off or charging a surcharge for excessive data usage. The plan would also repeal a current law that prevents the state from regulating internet providers.
Vargas stated that data caps and internet shut-offs shouldn’t be allowed, just as it isn’t allowed for other utilities during the pandemic.
As this pandemic has forced the majority of the workforce to work from home and almost all of the students to attend classes remotely, this proposal is designed to protect residents from such data caps and excessive billing.
Comcast has been enforcing its data cap of 1.2 Terabytes per month for its Xfinity customers for many years in several states, but recently it has announced that it plans to bring its data cap to its remaining territories including West Virginia, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts and District of Columbia.
Under the changes, Comcast customers who are not on its unlimited data plan, and who go above its data cap of 1.2 terabytes per month, will have to cough up $10 for each of 50 gigabytes of additional data used and the additional charges are capped at $100 extra per month.
Comcast has been informing its customers about this new data plan over the past few months and sending notifications to those who were exceeding the cap, giving them a grace period of two months to adjust their internet use.
Earlier, 71 state senators and representatives led by Rogers and Vargas wrote a letter to Comcast and other Internet service providers calling for them not to enforce data caps and arguing that their completely arbitrary fees are hurting the consumers who are already struggling with the pandemic. But Comcast didn’t heed their call, instead, it sort of offered credit for the customers who are exceeding its data limits for the first few months of the year.
Getting calls from their angry constituents, the two Democratic lawmakers came up with this proposal to help address one of the most pressing issues of the pandemic.
Vargas said that since internet providers aren’t regulated by the state, they can set their own rates, unlike natural gas or electric companies. He also stated that most people around the state only have one internet provider, as there is no competition.
The proposal, if goes through, will give the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable authority to regulate the Internet service providers operating within their jurisdiction, and makes it the only one state to do so. Until now the Internet operators are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Industry officials are not enthusiastic about the said proposals, they feel that these kinds of proposals run contrary to FCC regulations.
The president and CEO of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, Tim Wilkerson, who represents several internet providers including Comcast, called the proposal a “solution in search of a problem.”
He also stated that since the very beginning of the COVID pandemic, member companies of the NECTA have supported their customers continually, providing service reliability at the cost of millions of dollars. According to Wilkerson, this provides reliable internet connection to low-income individuals, and making wifi hotspots available.
But the lawmakers differed with this opinion, Vargas said, “The internet is an essential service just like water and electricity, (,,,) We need to make sure we provide the same kind of protection for consumers.” They believe that this multi-billion dollar industry also needs to be regulated by the state just like they do the utilities.