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What the bleep is a data cap?

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A decade ago, a major technology player coined the phrase, "All things to the internet."

Indeed, these days we are tied in, linked in, and dependent on our data usage. But increasingly, the more data you use, the more you pay. It's a concept most of us have already confronted with the advent of cellular phones. And now, you most likely will need to confront it at home — at least if you are a local Comcast (aka Xfinity) internet customer.

If that's you, then you've likely received a letter from Xfinity Internet service describing the new data limit on its service: One terabyte (1,024 gigabytes) per month. Why worry about that data usage cap? Well, here are a few relevant questions to ask yourself:

1) Do you telecommute/work from home?

2) Do you have a family that all take advantage of the internet service?

3) Do you stream TV, movies and YouTube videos?

4) Does anyone in your family download games or play games online?

All of these activities could push you over the limit. That might make switching service providers tempting and many companies, including Verizon FIOS and CenturyLink, do not practice data capping. Problem is those companies don't offer service everywhere, meaning many are stuck with Comcast and its limit.

One of the most troubling aspects of Comcast's data cap is that new high-end TVs/technologies are designed to increase data usage. Perhaps you recently went out and got a 65-inch TV with 4K ultra-high definition/HDR and all the other bells and whistles. Beware: That ultra-high definition (UHD) signal to your TV is data hungry.

Let's say you are using Sony's new video service to download a 4K, two-hour movie. That activity alone can easily hit 40 gigabytes (GB) of data. Likewise, Netflix has many 4K series available. Let's hope you aren't behind on House of Cards.

Or maybe you're a family of gamers. EA's latest epic game, Battlefield One, will use 43 GB if you download it onto your XBOX One.

It's not like Comcast simply can't provide more data. There are technologies already being rolled out that allow for over 1 GB per second downloads over existing copper wire. I know how their systems work because I was an employee at Comcast from 1999 to 2000, back when broadband was new.

My personal take is that this practice of capping data is a violation of the net neutrality bill. That bill aimed to end practices like "throttling," in which a provider slows a connection to other companies and their services. Data capping is not throttling, but I see it as a handicap that forces one to limit the usage and access to other companies.

Consider: If you firmly stick to using Comcast's Xfinity cable TV service, then you're less likely to drain your data. But you will be stuck with all things Comcast: what they are offering, their signal quality, their 4K offerings or lack thereof, etc. It seems to me that Comcast is pushing you to grab up a two-year contract, locking you into their TV service so you won't seek the use of other media offerings like Sling TV (TV channels at $20/month to start), Netflix, Hulu, etc. If data capping was truly a technology issue, then Comcast could find the funding to keep up with the times, and it obviously needs to if it cares to stay relevant.

But if you're stuck with Comcast, there are several other ways to reduce your usage — just Google it. Unfortunately, workarounds often reduce your picture quality or involve usage of an internet hot spot. I find this sort of like hooking up an 8-track cassette player to a high-fidelity sound system.

Another option is to simply pay another $50 per month for unlimited usage (and avoid paying $10 per 50 GBs of data you go over, to a maximum of $200). Finally, you can, of course, complain. I've had no luck with griping to Comcast and ended up filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which apparently sets up a case that Comcast must contend with. (File your own complaint at fcc.gov/consumers/guides/filing-informal-complaint). There are petitions floating around online, also.

Whatever avenue you take, I think that Comcast customers should put their foot down now before it's too late.

Brian Koch worked for Hewlett-Packard/Compaq for 15 years, and he considers himself an "avid techie" and consumer advocate.

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