Comcast has extended its plans to charge customers a fee for “unlimited data plans” after they hit a 300 GB per month cap. The nation’s largest broadband provider is taking its wireless-style broadband plans to Atlanta, Georgia and will charge customers $35 per month so they can avoid buying 50-gigabyte chunks of broadband for $10 each if they go over their set 300 gigabyte per month cap.
Comcast (CMCSA) in September had announced a similar plan in Florida, where users were charged $30 a month for unlimited broadband. The plan is part of a series of experiments that Comcast is doing across the country as it seeks to figure out how it should charge for cable broadband as more and more customers ditch pay TV bundles.
The Atlanta trial is an interesting move because it costs consumers who choose to pay the unlimited surcharge $5 more than in Florida. So now in both Florida and in Atlanta, if you’re going to use anything more than 450 gigabytes a month, you should pay the unlimited fee, because if you go over that cap you’re going to have to shell out an additional $10 for the extra 50 Gigabyte upgrade.
In Florida, charging $30 means the consumer basically pays the fee at the exact point where it starts to make economic sense for her to upgrade to the unlimited plan. But for Comcast that also means it’s leaving money on the table. And since Comcast is pursuing these experiments in pricing as a way to help preserve its income as more customers drop classic cable TV service in favor of broadband Internet and the data-devouring “over the top”services from Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN) and others, it can’t leave money on the table. Which is why in Atlanta, that $5 increase is so interesting.
So perhaps the right way to view Comcast’s Florida moves, were as a way to test the waters on charging for “unlimited data” and moving to a wireless-style pricing plan for wireline broadband. And now, in Atlanta what it is doing is figuring out the optimal fee structure to help mitigate the loss of its triple play business and to ensure that as everything moves to broadband it can keep revenue and profits up.
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