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Get Ready for Cable TV and Internet Price Hikes and Data Caps in the New Year
You'll see higher bills from AT&T, Charter, and Comcast, plus the return of data caps on internet service
By James K. Willcox
December 21, 2020
Illustration of a TV with an antenna and a WiFi signal icon
Some of the biggest cable and satellite TV companies are ringing in the new year with higher TV and internet prices, in what's become an annual holiday tradition. Many companies are also delivering hikes in their add-on fees under headings such as "broadcast TV" and "regional sports networks."
In addition, several companies—including Comcast, the nation's largest cable company—are reinstating data caps, which were temporarily suspended earlier this year as part of the Federal Communication Commission's Keep America Connected Pledge.
If you have a data cap, your internet company gives you access to a certain amount of data with your monthly plan. Go above that level and you get charged more or your download speeds become slower, or both.
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TV price hikes, which take effect in January, were announced just before the holidays by both AT&T—which owns the DirecTV satellite service as well as the internet-based U-verse TV service—and Comcast, which offers TV and internet services under the Xfinity brand. Comcast is also raising internet prices.
These hikes follow TV and internet increases by Charter, which offers services under the Spectrum brand, which took affect earlier this month.
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As with past price hikes, the TV companies blame the ever-rising cost of programming, as well as improvements in broadband speeds, for the increases.
"Due to increased programming costs, we're adjusting the price of our video packages. Periodically, TV network owners increase the fees they charge DIRECTV for the right to broadcast their movies, shows and sporting events, " DirecTV said in a notice to customers.
In a statement sent to Consumer Reports, Charter said it was raising the price for Spectrum internet access as the company enhances its services. "We are delivering faster broadband speeds and improved performance—all as the average price per megabit per second and per gig consumed declines dramatically."
Traditional pay-TV companies continue to lose TV subscribers but are adding broadband customers. Some 6.3 million people dropped their cable or satellite TV service in just the past 12 months, according to the investment research firm Moffett Nathanson. More people are opting for the streaming alternatives, including some some newer ones from large media companies.
There's one bright note for consumers facing high cable TV prices. A lot of those bills consist of added cable fees that aren't included in the advertised price but show up on the monthly bill. A new law, passed at the end of 2019 and now finally in effect, requires cable and satellite TV companies to disclose the total monthly price of your TV bill, including all itemized charges, fees, and estimated taxes, when you sign up.
You also have a 24-hour window to cancel service without penalty, and you can no longer be charged for equipment you don't use, such as a router if you're using your own.
How Much Prices are Rising
Here's a list of the companies that have already announced price hikes for TV plans, broadband internet service, or both.
Other companies haven't disclosed rate increases but in the past have raised rates in the January to March time frame. We'll add them to this list once that information becomes available.
On a positive note, many internet service providers have continued to extend programs begun in response to the pandemic to keep students and those eligible for low-income programs connected.
In addition, the new stimulus package expected to pass Congress includes a $3.2 billion emergency broadband benefit. Households that are eligible for the FCC's Lifeline program—which provides subsidies to families who can't readily afford internet access—as well as those who've lost jobs during the pandemic—can receive up to $50 per month to offset the cost.
Customers of DirecTV and U-verse TV service will see prices rise starting next month. Most DirecTV customers will be paying $5 to $9 more each month, depending on the plan, starting Jan. 17. Those who get WorldDirect packages will see prices rise from up to $3 a month, but the price of the DirecTV Family plan will remain the same.
U-verse customers will see price increases from $5 to $9 per month on most plans. But the price of the most basic U-verse plan is staying the same.
"We are adjusting the prices of our video packages to align with the costs of providing the entertainment options that our customers have come to expect, " AT&T said in a statement to CR. "We have lowered prices on many popular premium channels."
The company is chopping $3 off the monthly price to add Showtime, Starz, or Cinemax to a package. HBO/HBO Max, though, will still cost the same $15 per month.
Earlier this month Charter, which operates the Spectrum-brand TV and internet service, raised prices on internet service by $5 per month for internet-only customers, as well as for those who bundle broadband internet with one of the company's streaming video services, such as Spectrum Choice, Essentials, or Stream.
Charter customers who bundle broadband with the cable operator's traditional pay-TV service aren't being hit by the price hike.
The increase affects most tiers of internet service, including regular internet, plus higher-speed options such as Spectrum Ultra and Spectrum Gig, and those who have a grandfathered Time Warner Cable internet package without cable TV. It doesn't affect its low-cost Spectrum Internet Essentials plan.
So far, TV prices are remaining the same. Charter last raised priced for TV service in August, when it imposed an additional $1.25 monthly on TV Select, TV Silver, and TV Gold packages. But it also added a significant hike to its broadcast TV fee, which went from $13.50 to $16.45 a month.
The nation's largest cable operator says it will be raising prices for cable TV and internet service on Jan. 1 and is also boosting add-on fees.
Comcast's prices vary by market, but the price of its Choice TV plan will go up $5 per month, from $25 to $30. TV customers will also see price hikes for several add-on charges, such as the broadcast TV fee, which is going up by as much as $4.50 per month, depending on where the customer is located and how many stations are available. There's also a $2 bump in the fee for regional sports networks, or RSNs.
Currently, the broadcast TV fees range from $7.90 to $14.95 per month, depending on the market, while the RSN fee tops out at $8.75 per month in most areas except Chicago, where it costs $14.95 to get Cubs games from Sinclair-owned networks.
"Rising programming costs—most notably for broadcast TV and sports—continue to be the biggest factors driving price increases for all content distributors and their customers, not just Comcast, " the company said in a statement to CR. "We're continuing to work hard to manage these costs for our customers while investing in our network to provide the best, most reliable broadband service in the country."
The fee for a customer's primary TV box is rising from $5 to $7.50, though the price for additional boxes is dropping from $9.95 to $7.50 per month.
Comcast doesn't impose an RSN fee in markets that don't have them, but even those subscribing to a promotional plan will get the fee hikes, even though their programming price will hold until the promotion ends.
As for internet service, that too will go up next month by $3 per month for all its plans, which range from $53 to $113 per month, depending on the level of service. Comcast is also hiking the cost of professional installations or in-home service from $70 to $100.
Which Companies Have Data Caps
A data cap is the limit on the amount of data you're allowed to use each month for things like streaming TV shows and movies, playing games, searching the web, and participating in Zoom calls for work. Several of the largest internet service providers (ISPs) have data caps, and most have upped the monthly allotments to 1TB or more. But there can be consequences if you exceed your cap.
One is that you can be charged an overage fee, usually for blocks of additional data, such as $10 for each extra 50GB of data you use. Another is that your service could be throttled, when the speed of your internet service is reduced, after you hit your monthly data limit. That could result in much slower service until the start of the next month.
With many data caps now at 1TB or more for cable and fiber-based internet service, companies say few customers ever experience an overage. Comcast, for example, says only 5 percent of its customers ever use that much.
As these illustrations show, there's a huge range in how much data an hour of internet usage consumes. A 4K movie from Netflix and a Zoom call are both video streams, but the movie consumes three to five times more data. Click the arrows to get information on gaming, YouTube, and other other services.
But those who lack access to these better types of plan service (or can't afford them) can subscribe to DSL or satellite-based internet service, where data caps are often much lower, from just 10GB up to 500GB per month.
A 1TB cap can seem like a lot of data: You'd have to stream 5 hours of 4K movies every day for a month to hit that amount of usage each month, and more than double that number if you're watching HD-quality videos.
The downside to even a generous data cap, though, is that while it might be sufficient for current usage, all evidence points to U.S. consumers using more broadband data every year. With more of us spending a lot of time at home these days—Zooming into meetings, engaged in remote learning, and streaming more higher-quality entertainment than ever—it's possible to reach that level of data use. (Check the illustrations above for more details.) So what seems like a huge amount of data now could feel restrictive a few years down the line.
Consumer groups including Consumer Reports say that data caps aren't good for consumers, especially while the U.S. is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"At a time when families are working and learning from home, and using their home internet connection more than ever—and consuming much more data—the timing of Comcast's decision is awful, " says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel in CR's Washington, D.C., office. "The company has not demonstrated a technical need for data caps. Consumers deserve better than this, and Comcast's behavior demonstrates the need for more oversight of internet service providers."
Here's a breakdown of data caps from some of the country's largest internet providers.
AT&T has data caps on some of its internet plans. Customers can get unlimited data in several ways, including if they bundle multiple products or have a high-speed fiber plan. In an emailed statement to Consumer Reports, an AT&T spokesperson said the company may stop waiving overage fees for consumer AT&T Fiber and AT&T Internet customers on plans that have data caps starting in the new year.
The company also said it would continue to provide unlimited data for limited-income households that are eligible for its Access From AT&T service through June 30, 2021.
While most of AT&T's plans that are subject to a data cap have a limit of just over 1TB, its DSL and fixed wireless plans have much smaller allowances; these have not been covered by the data cap waiver. For example, there's a 150GB monthly data cap for DSL customers. The monthly data allowance for fixed wireless Internet, as set by the FCC, is currently 250GB, but it will be increasing to 350GB in January.
Customers who opt for a 1TB plan or those who have a bundle with DirecTV television service can qualify for unlimited add-on data plans, which cost $30 per month.
In October the company debuted three new fiber-based internet plans, starting at $35 per month for the first year, that come with unlimited data. All have a $10-per-month equipment fee.
When data caps are reinstated, those who exceed their monthly limit will be charged $10 for each extra 50GB of data, up to a maximum of $100 in overage charges if you're on a regular AT&T Internet plan. DSL and fixed wireless internet customers could pay as much as $200 in overages.
CenturyLink, which recently changed its name to Lumen Technologies, has a 1TB monthly cap on most plans, except for people subscribing to high-speed fiber. If you go over your data cap, you won't get hit with overage fees but you'll be asked to either reduce your usage, subscribe to a higher-speed internet plan, or switch to a business plan. The company said in a statement: "We talk with our customers about their options. If they are exceeding 1TB, which is hard to do, it is clear they don't have the service that matches their usage."
The country's second-largest cable operator, Spectrum, doesn't have data caps. This was one of the conditions imposed on the company when it acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks back in 2016.
However, this summer Charter asked the FCC to consider dropping that condition—plus one that bans Charter from striking paid interconnection deals—on May 18, 2021, rather than in May 2023 when the conditions were set to expire.
A Charter spokesperson says the company isn't actually planning to introduce data caps, but filed the petition just in case it wants to get out of its commitments to the FCC early. The deadline for the petition was August 18, 2020. "We have never had data caps. All our home broadband products are unlimited and we intend to stay unlimited, " he wrote in an email.
But he also said that the move would give Charter "the flexibility to operate differently two years from now, " which seems to leave the door open for the company to reconsider imposing data caps.
Comcast recently announced that it will be rolling out its 1.2TB monthly data cap throughout its entire 39-state territory starting Jan. 1. Currently, Comcast enforces the cap in 27 states.
The caps don't apply to customers who get the Xfinity Gigabit Pro tier of service, those with Prepaid Internet or who have Bulk Internet agreements, or business customers.
While the data caps go into effect in January, Comcast says it won't start charging overage fees until March to give customers time to see if they'll be affected by them. Then those who exceed their data cap will be charged $10 for each 50GB of excess usage, up to a maximum of $100 per month. That full $10 fee will be charged even if you only use a small amount of data over your cap—say, even 1GB—and you won't get credit or be able to rollover unused data from that 50GB block.
"Most customers already have these data plans, and those in the Northeast that are being notified now will not see any impact until at least April, " a company spokesperson told us via email, adding that 95 percent of its customers won't be affected by the cap. "This very small percentage of our customers drives a disproportionately large volume of traffic on our network, which we've invested $12B in since 2017 alone."
Comcast does extend a one-time courtesy credit for people who exceed their allotted data. Customers can also pay an additional $30 per month to get an unlimited add-on plan. Those who sign up for xFi Complete, which includes unlimited data and rental of the Comcast gateway modem/router, pay an extra $25 per month.
The company also noted that in July, after pausing data caps for four months, it reintroduced them with a higher 1.2TB limit, lowered pricing for Unlimited Data from $50 to $30, and cut its maximum for overage charges from $200 to $100.
Cox now has a 1.25TB data cap for its internet plans. If you go over, you'll be charged $10 for each additional 50GB block of data. You have the option of upgrading to an additional 500GB each month for $30 per month or an unlimited plan for $50 per month. In an email to CR, a Cox spokesperson noted that the company had increased data allowances to accommodate families now learning and working from home, and had connected low-income families for free or at a significantly reduced rate.
SuddenLink, now owned by Altice, has a 250GB data cap on its basic Internet 100 plan. There's no option to add an unlimited plan to this service, and you'll be charged $15 for each 50GB block of extra data. SuddenLink's Internet 400 and Internet 1 Gig plans have unlimited data.
Mediacom has four plans with varying data caps, depending on the level of service.
The most basic plan, called Access 60 Internet, has a 60GB data cap, but the company is upping it to 200GB in 2021 while keeping its $30-per-month price. Others start at 1TB and go all the way up to the 1-Gig internet plan with a 6TB allowance. Because each plan offers a successively higher data cap than the one before it, it probably makes the most sense to just upgrade the plan if you need more data.
As part of a COVID-19 relief plan, Mediacom—the fifth largest cable operator in the U.S.—has been providing up to 100GB of additional data to any broadband customer who exceeds their monthly data allowance for free through the end of 2020.
In 2021, if you exceed your data cap, expect to pay $10 for each additional block of 50GB data.
Consumer groups including Consumer Reports say that data caps aren't good for consumers, especially while the U.S. is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. "At a time when families are working and learning from home, and using their home internet connection more than ever—and consuming much more data—the timing of Comcast's decision is awful, " says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel in CR's Washington, D.C., office. "The company has not demonstrated a technical need for data caps. Consumers deserve better than this, and Comcast's behavior demonstrates the need for more oversight of internet service providers." Here's a breakdown of data caps from some of the country's largest internet providers. AT&T AT&T has data caps on some of its internet plans. Customers can get unlimited data in several ways, including if they bundle multiple products or have a high-speed fiber plan. In an emailed statement to Consumer Reports, an AT&T spokesperson said the company may stop waiving overage fees for consumer AT&T Fiber and AT&T Internet customers on plans that have data caps starting in the new year. The company also said it would continue to provide unlimited data for limited-income households that are eligible for its Access From AT&T service through June 30, 2021.
I have noticed when the bill from AT&T is received it will have an Issue Date of Like 2/16/2021. This bill I did not receive until 3/2/2021. The due date on the bill is 3/9/2021. Due to procedure for check writing for the facility I work in I cannot get a new check in the mail until 3/8/2021.
We are a small church. The voucher is prepared on the date the bill is received. The vouchers are then signed the following Monday by the Financial Secretary. The secretary then prepares the checks on the Wednesday after then the checks are signed by the treasurer on Thursday so they can be mailed on Thursday.
If the bill is received within 5 days of the issue date there would be no problem.
I have called an indicated the problem and been told the problem will be fixed and it is not as you can see.
Hi, I have recently switched to AT&T and had to go to the AT&T corporate store at 8031 Concord Mill...
On February 27, 2021 one of your reps change my plan to a plan that does not support my phone and I could not send any multi media messages. After numerous phone calls and talking to over 6 people and waiting on hold for over 3 hours total time even getting disconnected once am still on the phone cause no one has the ability to switch my plan back to where it was. This is the reason you will be losing me as a long time customer because of the non English speaking, incompetent people you have employed in your company. It is a shame the way I have been treated tonight and you should all be a shame of your self, your customer service suck, your people suck, your phone line and waiting sucks. Tomorrow I start looking for a new cell phone company and can only hope att goes to hell
I have been a customer of at&t since 2002 and recently moved to the salt lake city valley. Recently went...
I got emails and att app messages about att offering up to 700 towards the purchase of the new iPhone 12 max...
For the past 4 months, I've had to call AT&T customer service about a $9.99 late fee being added to the bill even though it was paid on time (or days before the actual due date). This is a concerning trend that is unacceptable and should be a concern of all AT&T customers that may not review their monthly statement thoroughly and are being over charged unknowingly.
At&t crew showed up and started digging holes on my property without permission. I was told At&t had a right to be on my property without my permission. Crew stated they would make my yard look the same way it did before they started. Of course my yard is messed up and it doesnt NOT look the same. Spent time and money on new yard just to have it ripped up by At&t. Our HOA is talking about filing a suit.
For several months I tried to contact some to move our service to a new location. From June 2020 to October...
Vesta Att they are taking money out my account every month $40 needs to stop now
[protected] Markeith Ward what is y'all problem I have notified my bank an email them to not approve any more payments help me get my money back from them I'm on fixed income provide me a store to go in a pay my bill this has to stop an y'all can't even receive calls on the matter
On the 15th of DEC 2021 I arrived in Kuwait on a military deployment. I knew phone data was going to be a...
CONSUMERS BEWARE! Bait and switch tactics used at the Cartersville GA store! Upgraded one of our phones, wa...
Canceled the NFL Ticket (Direct TV) in September of 2020. I am still being charged $58.99 a month for a service I don't get and here it is February 2021! I have called them every month from 9/2020 to the present February 2021 and my wife has called plus sent emails to the company. I have filed a complaint with the FCC and Better Business Bureau. Now I'm being charged a late fee of $6.25. I don't know what else to do. Can you help me.
Internet went out in my neighborhood on Wed 2, 10, 2021 and ATT said they can't come fix it until 2, 17, 2021. Really a week??
Poor tech support !
Many people have no internet. Kids can't do schoolwork and it leaves adults working from home in a difficult situation. Internet is as important as power these days. Way more than entertainment!
1/22 ATT&T offered to upgrade my phone for only $6 more than my current bill because they would give me $899 for my current phone, I only had to pay $51 for sales tax. 1/27 I was delivered the wrong phone and called upon receiving the wrong phone and was told it would be corrected the rep had me on the phone for almost an hour, she stated she had the correct ordered I only had to pay the sales tax again and I would have the phone in 2 days, the rep said they were placing me on hold but hung up the line! I proceed to call back since no one called even though she asked for my number in case that happened. The next rep I speak to states she can help me complete the order places me on hold for about 20 mins although she came back about every 2 minutes to ask me to continue to hold, finally she comes back and states she cant help me because of something to do with the wrong phone still in my possession and she had to transfer me to another agent who would help me resolve it, but she had to blind transfer me and I just needed to explain it to the next rep once they answered the line. Ok 3rd rep now and over an hour in talk time with no results. Speaking with 3rd rep now and I explain whole situation to him and he puts me on hold for about 15 minutes to read previous notes he says. He comes back on the line and tells me they were ordering me the wrong phone again they had placed an order for Samsung note 20 when I wanted the Samsung 21+ Ultra but that phone actually didn't come out for another 2 days so he has no idea why the 2 other reps told me thats what they were ordering. So at this point 3 calls 3 reps and I have paid them $122 and still no phone in addition to I had to call back in 2 days so they could fix everything. 1/29 I call back 4th Rep who I explain it all to them and they proceed to fix the problem but I have to pay $71 dollars this time for sales tax and the rest would be refunded when they received my trade in device and the wrong phone THEY sent me, I reluctantly agree, rep states I will have my phone in 2 days. 2/4 Six days later I receive a trade box for my old phone but still no new phone. I call AT&T back again, 5th call 5th rep. Rep cannot find my order number for about 15 mins but finally does and tells me Fedex tried to deliver my phone and no one was home to receive it! Lie! Me and my wife work from home and havent left the house since the order was placed, I inform him of this and the fact the AT&T sent me a USPS tracking number which has had no movement since received, he ask me to hold while he investigates further but then the line disconnects again! No call back from rep #5 either. I call back again rep #6 Daniel who again takes 15 mins to find my order then needs about another 15 mins to read thru the previous notes. Then he needs to investigate where the phone may be. Another 15 minutes goes by. Once he has done this he tells me Fedex has my phone at their warehouse and they are behind due to Covid so I should just wait to hear from them AT&T cannot do anything. I ask him for better solution since all the time and calls that has passed we need to do something else besides waiting to see what happened especially since the last rep told me the phone was back at AT&T warehouse so I am not confident FEDEX has this phone I have no tracking number for. Daniel says he find a better solution for me. He places me on hold for about 20 minutes coming back every so often to ask me to continue to hold. He finally comes back and says If I cancel my order I will get all my money back in a few days! This was his fix, I ask can we find another solution I don't want to cancel my order. He places me on hold again another 20 minutes he comes back and says I should cancel the order and go into a store and just buy it there! I advise him due to Covid is the only reason I ordered it online this is not an acceptable solution. I ask for a supervisor, I I am put on hold and the line is disconnected. No phone still!
I terminated service via phone for ATT internet and Directv satellite service on January 26 2021. I was told boxes for the equipment would be sent for the return of the equipment. We moved from the previous address to our new address on January 25. I recently received a bill for services thru February 16th. When I called about the billing error the representative told me Direct tv charges for 15 days after termination request also was told to return equipment to the UPS Store. I did return all equipment and have a receipt from 2-3-2021.
On 10.23.20 I went to the local ATT store at Morgantown Mall in Morgantown, WV. We upgraded our I phone...
What is the point of being a loyal customer? I have a galaxy s6 active. Works fine but because of its age I'm slapped with a value of $10. No promotions or trade in deals that would give me the upgrade that I should get for being loyal. ThatS 3 cell phones, internet, tv and a landline. Now I have to look at all your competitors who want me to come to them and give me what I should get from At&t without being encouraged to go to someone else. New phone free with a new 2 year contract. Comcast would love to give a deal for tv and internet. In 2 years you'll be offering what I want now. You love new customers but offer nothing for loyal ones. Bad business. [protected]
This all starts with a fire in our home and while our house was being rebuilt we temporarily used quest...