DC region families claim Comcast 'price gouging'; service extends grace period to August 

Dozens of Comcast Cable Communications customers in Maryland and Northern Virginia have been reaching out to FOX 5 saying, they’re concerned about their internet and WiFi bills going up as a result of hitting the new 1.2 terabyte data threshold.

Kristie Fox, a spokeswoman with Comcast told FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan, the change will affect "a very small percentage of customers" who use more than 1.2 terabytes of data per month.

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Comcast established a 1.2 TB data cap on service plans for new and existing customers on January 1, 2021. After a three-month grace period beginning January 1, 2021, customers without unlimited plans will be charged $10 for every 50 gigabytes they use over the 1.2 terabyte limit, up to a maximum of $100 a month.

Fox said that 1.2 terabytes is a massive amount of data that enables consumers to video conference for 3,500 hours, watch 1,200 hours of distance learning videos, stream 500 hours of high-definition video content a month, or play more than 34,000 hours of online games. 

The data plan is structured in a way that the very small percentage of customers who use more than 1.2 terabytes of monthly data and generate the greatest demand for network development and capacity pay more for their increased usage. 

"For those superusers, we have unlimited data options available," she explained.

Fox said customers will not see any extra charges for exceeding the cap until their August bill.

Some customers, both in Arlington, Virginia, and Fredrick County, Maryland sent FOX 5, snapshots of the notifications from Comcast, where they were told they have used a certain percentage of their monthly threshold.

Some of them in Arlington also wrote to Arlington Public Schools asking if families will be reimbursed since kids have to use the internet to learn from home. 

"I am paying up to $200 a month for internet because the buildings that were purposely built for educating my kids are empty and I’m still paying all this property tax yet you guys are not giving me anything in return," said Heather Selig, who has twin 11 year olds.

"For us it was just concerning because we didn’t know what we were going to get hit with and what kind of an increase in our bill and right now we don’t want any additional increases," said mother of three, Laura Donohoe, of New Market, Md.

Ayesha contacted the Frederick County Council to inquire if they were made aware of the concern. In a statement from executive assistant, Lee Palmer Redmond we were told:

"As the legislative branch of Frederick County Government, the County Council has no role in the affairs of Comcast Cable Communications.

By way of this email, I am forwarding to Kathan McCarty, the Constituent Services Representative in the County Executive’s Office and Josh Bokee, the Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Comcast for their review.  I’m sure you will be hearing from them."

In a statement to Ayesha, from the Arlington County Board, Chair Matt de Ferranti said:

"The County Board has recently been alerted to this issue of Comcast’s decision to charge a fee to those customers without unlimited data plans at a time when, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most learning is occurring online and access to broadband is vital. While Comcast’s internet fee structure is an FCC regulatory matter, I am going to raise these concerns about possible price-gouging by Comcast with the County Attorney, to see what, if any options the County may have.

These changes do raise concerns about increasing the digital divide at a time when County Government is working hard to bridge that divide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Arlington has accelerated its efforts to bridge the digital divide and ensure digital equity in our County by supporting Arlington Public Schools, students and their families during the pandemic by increasing access to broadband internet to students in need. In July, 2020, the County granted $500,000 to provide free high-speed internet to students in need through a joint County/Schools Internet Essentials Grant Program. The program provides free, high-speed internet access from Comcast to qualified low-income families. The County also has provided Wi-Fi hot spots during the pandemic to help residents who lack reliable internet service at home access the ArlingtonWireless network. "

Ayesha also contacted the office of Maryland Attorney General, Brian Frosh.

Spokesperson, Raquel Coombs confirmed, "it’s an issue that we will certainly look into."

Michael Kelly chief of staff for the office of Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring responded to Ayesha’s request for comment said:

"We would encourage the people you spoke with and any other viewers who have experienced this issue to contact our Consumer Protection Section as soon as possible to see if we can be of assistance. It will be important for consumers to hold on to any contracts, communications, or other documentation that may be relevant, and to share copies with our office. Our Consumer Protection Section may be reached by phone at (804) 786-2042 or using our webform here.