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The FCC won’t let Charter/Time Warner put data caps on internet plans

Thanks, FCC!

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

One of broadband’s biggest players is going to get even bigger — but it’s not going to be able to supersize your internet bill.

Federal regulators are about to bless Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Brighthouse, which means Charter is going to become the third-biggest video company in the country and the second-biggest broadband provider, with 19.4 million subscribers.

If you’re a broadband subscriber at one of those companies, here’s what that means for you: Go ahead and stream all you want, all the time — your internet company can’t penalize you for bandwidth consumption.

New rules from the Federal Communication Commission mean that Charter “will not be permitted to charge usage-based prices or impose data caps” for at least seven years after the merger.

That is, the company can’t bill you if you gobble up more data, like some broadband companies, such as Comcast*, have started to do. (It can, presumably, find ways to charge you more for different broadband speeds.)

Up until recently, the notion of usage-based pricing or data caps was mostly theoretical for most people, since they got most of their video from their cable box. But now that streaming video is mainstream — and the only way some people get their video — data limits could be a real problem.

So if you’re a Charter subscriber, the FCC’s rules provide meaningful protection, at least for a while. If you’re a cable company investor who was planning on swapping out your video subscriber dollars for broadband subscriber dollars, you may not be as excited.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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