Consumers increasingly complain about internet data caps

Consumer complaints about monthly internet data caps shot up sharply in the second half of 2015 and continued at a high level in the first part of this year. 

The Federal Communications Commission received 7,904 complaints about internet data caps in the second half of 2015, according to numbers gathered by The Wall Street Journal

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In the first three and a half months of this year, the commission had already received 1,463. That is more than the 863 complaints the FCC received in the first six months of last year. 

While many internet users are more sensitive and aware of monthly data allowances on their smartphones, a number of home internet service providers also cap monthly usage but at much higher levels.  

Those home internet caps may becoming a problem with Americans’ increasing use of streaming video, which can eat up the bulk of a customers’ data allotment. 

Comcast reportedly enforces data caps in about 15 percent of its internet market. Those caps are usually set around 300 GB per month, which would allow a family to stream about 50 high-definition movies. Other companies, like AT&T, also set data caps for its home internet offering.

The Journal reported that more than 2 million Comcast customers go over that 300 GB level per month. On average, Time Warner Cable said average use is about 141 GB, but it increases sharply each year. 

After being contacted by the Journal, some of the companies said they are moving toward options to raise the caps or force people to pay more for an unlimited plan. 

Data caps have played a role in the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications. The companies have vowed not to impose data caps for three years if the merger goes through. But some companies whose business relies on streaming video have sought more. 

“Roku described the importance of Charter not imposing data caps on broadband customers,” the streaming box company Roku wrote after meeting with FCC officials earlier this month. “As Roku explained, as more consumers adopt, or seek to adopt, streaming as their primary method of viewing video content on the television, data caps will have a more significant impact in 3-7 years after the transaction.”