Comcast lifts 250GB hard cap, intros more flexible 300GB soft cap

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Comcast has announced plans to loosen restrictions on residential Internet users. In 2008, the provider imposed a cap on home subscribers forbidding them from using more than 250GB of data (download and upload combined). The limitation spanned all residential bandwidth packages, including the 105Mb/s tier introduced last spring, and the company's "excessive bandwidth" policy had harsh rules for offenders.

If you exceeded the 250GB cap once or twice, you received a friendly reminder. Three times and your service might've been terminated for a year. You couldn't buy extra data, so the only recourse was upgrading to a business account, which roughly doubled your bill for unlimited data -- overkill if you only need another 50GB. I often waited until the end of the month to see if I could "afford" to download large games.

That policy was only a few years old, but Comcast says it was implemented in a different era -- one without the mass adoption of smartphones, tablets and streaming boxes. Getting with the times, the company plans to increase its base cap to 300GB along with selling additional 50GB blocks of data for $10 each. There's also talk of raising the cap even higher for "Blast" and "Extreme" subscribers (upper-tier services).

The new policy will be introduced to select trial markets over the next few months, though specific locations and times haven't been shared yet. In the meantime, the company says it'll stop enforcing the old bandwidth limitations immediately. "We're out of the cap business," Executive Vice President David L. Cohen told Ars Technica. "Each of these pilot approaches will effectively offer unlimited usage of our services."

Cohen said Comcast's updated policy is unrelated to the recent controversy surrounding its Xfinity app, which streams content to the Xbox 360 outside the company's 250GB cap, while similar services count toward the monthly allotment. "There's been a little bit of noise recently with the launch of our Xfinity application on Xbox, but [the new policy] has been part of an ongoing discussion at this company for several years."

Netflix has long criticized data caps and it's not particularly impressed by Comcast's changes. "Increasing the data cap is a small step in the right direction, but unfortunately Comcast continues to treat its own Internet delivered video different under the cap than other Internet delivered video. We continue to stand by the principle that ISPs should treat all providers of video services equally," a representative told Gigaom.

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