Comcast, Facing Backlash, Walks Back “Data Caps” Comments

David L. Cohen: "We certainly have no interest in adopting any plans that our customers find unreasonable."

We told you Thursday that Comcast vice president David L. Cohen had discussed the possibility of imposing “data caps” on customers’ Internet use, probably within five years — a move that seemed likely to bleed a few more dollars from users of bandwidth-hogging services like Netflix.

The reaction was, uh, not positive. A typical comment on Twitter:

Which may be why, on Thursday afternoon, Cohen issued a statement walking back clarifying his earlier comments:

To be clear, we have no plans to announce a new data usage policy. In 2012, we suspended our 250 GB data cap in order to conduct a few pilot programs that were more customer friendly than a static cap. Since then, we’ve had no data caps for any of our customers anywhere in the country. We have been trialing a few flexible data consumption plans, including a plan that enables customers who wanted to use more data be given the option to pay more to do so, and a plan for those who use less data the option to save some money. We decided to implement these trials to learn what our customers’ reaction is to what we think are reasonable data consumption plans. We certainly have no interest in adopting any plans that our customers find unreasonable or disruptive to their Internet experience.

It’s important to note that we remain in trial mode only. We’re now also looking at adding some unlimited data plans to our trials. We have always said that as the Internet, and our customers’ use of it, continues to evolve, so will Comcast and our policies.

Which doesn’t actually change anything. There were no “plans” to impose data caps in Cohen’s earlier remarks — only the expectation they’d arrive within five years, with the understanding that caps don’t exist because the pilot programs are trying to find a “sweet spot” where Comcast can set the cap without triggering a widespread customer revolt. Cohen’s latest comments generally re-affirm that, albeit in slightly softer language and without a five-year deadline.

Still, Cohen’s quick response was understandable — coming as it does while Federal officials review Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner. Cohen has been on the defense where the merger’s benefits for customers are concerned — the merger won’t, apparently, lead to rate reductions. Acting like a big old monopoly desperately in need of outside competition — say, by raising your customers’ rates in seemingly unaccountable ways— is a really great way to invite additional antitrust scrutiny. That’s just what Cohen and Comcast don’t want right now