| Special to USA TODAY
If you’re a Comcast customer, the internet may soon feel less wide open.Tuesday, the nation’s largest internet provider announced that, starting Jan. 1, it would extend its 1.2 terabyte data cap to previously exempt service areas – meaning once you hit that limit, you’ll have to pay more to use more. After a three-month grace period, residential subscribers in 14 states from West Virginia to Maine, plus the District of Columbia, will face surcharges of up to $100 for exceeding that limit.“We’re aligning our Northeast markets with the data plan that the rest of the country has had for several years, and 95 percent of our customers are not impacted by it even with the increased usage during the pandemic,” spokesman Joel Shadle said in an email. “The small percentage of customers who reach 1.2TB in a month will be notified multiple times as they approach the threshold, and will have unlimited data options at reduced prices if they choose.”That 95% figure leaves almost 1.4 million of Philadelphia-based Comcast’s 27.84 million residential broadband customers on the hook, after one courtesy month a year, for overage fees of $10 per each 50 gigabytes of additional data, up to a monthly cap of $100.Upset subscribers: Comcast rolls out data caps to Xfinity users nationwide, and consumers are angryNeed better Zoom quality? Send the kids, and their iPads, to their room with new Wi-Fi techSubscribers can get unlimited data by paying a $30 monthly surcharge or, if they already pay $14 monthly to rent Comcast’s modem – they shouldn’t – by adding its $11 xFi Complete service bundle. Comcast’s $299.99 2 Gbps Gigabit Pro service also includes unlimited data.How do I know if I’m near the limit?Comcast users who regularly approach 1.2 TB don’t get much help from Comcast, as its apps don’t track usage by device, app or site. Note that if you use Comcast’s streaming apps instead of renting its TV boxes, their data consumption won’t count against the cap.The less obvious option is to switch to a Comcast business account, since those don’t include data caps. Comcast’s site quotes $79.99/month for 100 Mbps downloads over a 24-month term – almost the same as its no-contract rate for 100 Mbps residential broadband. Shadle said you don’t need a separate tax ID number or a business registered with your state to get business service.Industry experts consistently reject the notion that wired connections require a cap to function well.“No,” summed up Roger Entner, founder and lead analyst at Recon Analytics. He said cable operators such as Comcast have to spend meaningful money to reach more houses but not to transport more data from an individual house.He scoffed at Comcast’s argument that fairness requires charging more for heavier use. “They should give people a discount when they’re not using a lot,” he said. “But they’re not doing that!”What AT&T, Verizon and others doComcast’s two biggest competitors offer uncapped service. AT&T ditched data caps on its 100 Mbps, 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps fiber services in October with no harm to its network, spokesman Jim Kimberly said in an email. Verizon’s Fios fiber connections don’t feature a cap, nor do its newer, scarcer 5G and 4G wireless residential broadband services.Most other cable operators have resumed enforcing the data caps they suspended at the start of the pandemic. The second-biggest among them, Charter, is barred from implementing any through 2023 as a condition of its purchases of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016.The Stamford, Connecticut, company petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to be relieved of those merger conditions next year, but Charter spokesman Bret Picciolo said data overages won’t touch users of its Spectrum service. “All our home broadband products are unlimited and we intend to stay unlimited,” he said in an email.This leaves Comcast alone in subjecting more people to data caps – and doing so as the pandemic escalates. It’s not a good look, Entner said: “I ask myself at times, why are they going out of their way to piss people off?”Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington. To submit a tech question, email Rob at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.