Mass. State Lawmakers File Legislation to Stop Data Caps During Pandemic, after Comcast Reinstates Limits

Massachusetts State Reps. Andres X. Vargas (D-Essex) and David M. Rogers (D-Middlesex) filed Bill HD 663, entitled “An Act Protecting Internet Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” on Wednesday which seeks to stop data caps, price increases, new fees, and service shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to Comcast imposing data caps in the state. As of the time of publication, the bill had 36 additional cosponsors.

Approximately 70 Massachusetts lawmakers urged the company to abandon this plan and reconsider any future plans to impose a data cap.

The bill states that during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency and 60 days after, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are prohibited from: “increase(ing) the cost of any Broadband Internet Access Services upon their subscribers”; “levy(ing) any new fees or charges related to Broadband Internet Access Services upon their subscribers”; “impos(ing) new data caps or allowances onto their subscribers”; or “shut(ting) off Broadband Internet Access Service or services for subscribers that are unable to pay overdue bill due to financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 emergency.” During the same time period, the bill also places a moratorium on pre-existing data caps and/or allowances imposed by ISPs. However, the bill noted that mobile ISPS are exempt. Additionally, the bill repeals a Massachusetts law that prohibits state or municipal authorities from regulating “the entry, rates, terms or conditions of VoIP Service or IP enabled service.”

Rep. Vargas tweeted, “In response to @comcast internet data cap plans, this week we filed HD 663 alongside @RepDaveRogers. An Act protecting internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic bans data caps during the public health emergency & more. We stand committed to preserving & expanding access.”

Rep. Rogers tweeted similar sentiments, “Great to partner with my colleague @RepAndyVargas in filing this legislation to push back @comcast and any other service providers who try to raise prices or fees during a pandemic – our new bill covers a variety of key areas and the time has come to confront these issues(.)”

Similarly, federal lawmakers sent letters earlier in January to nine ISPs about internet price increases and data caps during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, in March the Federal Communications Commission announced the Keep Americans Connected pledge, a voluntary pledge for service providers not to terminate service from an inability to pay, to waive late fees, and to open Wi-Fi hotspots to Americans that need them.