Illustration for article titled WOW! That’s Not How Any of This Works

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP (Getty Images)

Most internet service providers impose data caps, and as of today, you can add one more to the list. Ars Technica reports cable company WideOpenWest (WOW!), an ISP that once bragged about its unlimited data plans, is now imposing data caps on its customers.

WOW!, which provides internet service to customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee, recently sent an email to its Illinois customers letting them know the best part about its service is coming to an end—by way of a terrible pizza analogy:

What’s a monthly data usage plan? Let us illustrate …

Imagine that the WOW! network is a pizza. Piping hot. Toppings galore. Every WOW! customer gets their own slice of pizza, but the size of their slice is dependent on their Internet service plan. While customers who subscribe to 1 Gig get the largest slices, those with Internet 500 get a slightly smaller piece, and so on. But, it’s all the same delicious, high-speed pizza that you know and love.

Now, say you’re not full after your slice and you grab another. That extra slice is like a data overage. Don’t worry—we got extra pizza… umm, data… just in case. If you exceed your data allowance, we’ll automatically apply increments of 50GB for $10 to your account for the remainder of the current calendar month. Total overage charges will not exceed $50 per billing statement no matter how much data you use. Even better—the first time you experience a data overage, we’ll proactively waive fees.

This analogy is misleading and outright cringe-worthy. Data isn’t a thing that “runs out.” It’s just information requests that get sent to and from your computer or another device. What’s important is how well an ISP keeps its network maintained, or in the case of this pizza analogy, its ovens and number of employees. If you have a busy night, you need more employees to keep up with all the orders, and you need all your ovens working in peak condition. If you have a lot of people using bandwidth on your network because, oh I don’t know, everyone is working and attending school from home because of a pandemic, you make sure your network can handle it. That’s what your customers are paying you for.

WOW! and other ISPs that impose data caps are the pizza shops that get tired of fulling large orders for a single customer—or who realize that they can milk more money from a customer for the exact same product. All major ISPs were able to waive data caps at the start of the pandemic, and the internet didn’t come crashing down. The resources are there.

WOW! outlines its monthly plan changes in a network management practices document, which details how much monthly data is allotted to each plan. The 50Mbps download plan now has a data cap of 1TB, plans between 100 and 300Mbps have 1.5TB, 500 and 600Mbps plans get 2.5TB, and the 1Gbps plan gets 3TB.

Admittedly, that’s better than Comcast, which imposes a 1.2TB data cap on all of its customers regardless of what plan they have. But it’s not only disheartening to see WOW! announce this while the U.S. is experiencing a fourth covid-19 surge, it’s also exhausting to hear ISPs continually lie to their customers about the “necessity” of data caps.

The new data cap will go into effect for Illinois customers on June 1, and it’s not clear when customers in other states will be affected.

Additionally, WOW! customers who also subscribe to the ISP’s own cable streaming service, WOW! tv+, do not have any of that data counted toward its data cap. This is a zero-rating scheme that other ISPs, including AT&T, use, and it’s a way to convince customers to give that ISP more money. If WOW! was so concerned about its customers using more pizza, er data, than they should, then why have a zero-rating scheme?

Side note: We need to talk about WOW! tv+, possibly the worst name for a streaming service so far.

Are you a WOW! customer and pissed off about these changes? In addition to complaining to WOW!, you can tell the FCC, too.

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