Wednesday, October 20, 2010

GCI Cable To End Unlimited Internet Usage Plans In Alaska, Many Customers Outraged

General Communication Inc. (GCI) has become the latest of a growing number of telecommunications providers nationwide moving to phase out unlimited Internet usage plans as Internet usage continues to surge. More households are gobbling more bandwidth due to people watching movies and TV episodes on their computers or smart phones and swapping large files online. GCI now estimates that 5 percent of its Internet customers are consuming 70 percent of the company's available bandwidth. These users share a portion of their Internet cable with other GCI customers, and they have been slowing down the other households' Internet speed, according to GCI spokesman David Morris.

Approximately 60,000 GCI customers are expected to be affected. GCI says they sent out notices with bills back in April and May of this year, but some customers claim they did not receive the notices. But GCI said it hasn't yet charged anyone fees for exceeding the data limits, but the company began contacting its heaviest data users this summer to move them to new, limited plans. The company is also upgrading Internet speed for its customers this year at no extra cost. GCI also said it hasn't decided when to enforce the data limits on everyone else; the crackdown might not happen until next year. Since GCI also offers cable TV, many people chose them to get all their telecommunications needs met at one stop.

GCI spokesman David Morris said that most customers will discover that their Internet usage is far below the new limits. Depending on the plan, the limits range between 50 and 125 gigabytes per month. GCI's cheapest substitute for an unlimited plan is 40 gigabytes, which is the equivalent of downloading and watching 60 movies per month on your computer. Here's a very informative post from Phillip Dampier about GCI's plans from August.

GCI provided a copy of its previous terms and conditions for "unlimited" Internet plans. The conditions stipulated that the company could increase its charges on customers who use too much bandwidth or terminate service if a customer declines to change to a "more appropriate" plan. Alaska and federal regulators do not regulate telecom companies' Internet offerings, but state consumer-protection lawyers have the power to investigate GCI if it made a promise to its customers that it didn't keep, or if it didn't provide adequate notification of its new policy.

If you're not familiar with the relationship between web activities and gigabyte consumption, here's some guidance. This source says that just checking mail and news and maybe a few YouTube clips would use about 1 GB per month. This source says that they're using 24GB a month, and they have two computers, with people occasionally working from home, a Wii, an Xbox 360, an iPod Touch, and a DSi. All of these are used regularly, except the DSi. A music mp3 file can be 4 meg, and a YouTube video can be 20 meg. But a typical HD movie can vary between 4-12 GB. The bottom line -- unless you watch movies online or do heavy file swapping, you're going to stay within your limits for most other activities.

I was only able to find two online utilities to be used for measuring bandwidth. Softpedia informs us of the existence of ISP Monitor 5.7.5, which is freeware. It gets a rating of four out of five stars, and is guaranteed clean of malware. Another one is called NetMeter.

GCI is the only cable company in town, so the alternatives are satellite TV from either DirecTV or Dish Network. GCI's leading Internet competitor, ACS, does not plan to phase out unlimited Internet usage. No other providers have disclosed any impending changes to their service. Most GCI customers stay with the company due to lack of competition; dissatisfaction with GCI is widespread. They tend to be more concerned with gobbling up new customers than with servicing existing customers. One person has started a Facebook page to create awareness and mobilize opposition to GCI's actions:

And the comments section of the Anchorage Daily News story is filling up. Here are some of the more informative contributions (alternative service providers discussed):

7raven Yesterday 11:24 PM
In GCI statement that they have not charged over limit charges is incorrect as over ten individuals that I know including myself have been hit with bills ranging from $300 to $2000 for one month of service

mrhuman Yesterday 11:17 PM
Netflix works great with ACS unlimited download plan @ 1MB dwn. We would have moved to GCI if it wasn't for the data cap they have placed and the package deals you must buy. We've been disconnected from satellite for 5 years now and told GCI to get their cable off our lawn. We've saved probably close to $10,000 by not purchasing TV locally.

Toni Wilkinson Today 12:40 AM
My husband and I HATE GCI with a passion but because of where we live we cant have a dish and only went with GCI at the time for cable,internet and phone because it seemed like a good deal. Now we can't wait to get rid of them! Currently we're dealing with them double charging our cable after they put the payment on to our internet/phone account...and still want us to repay than pay the current amount. You'd really think they'd see that sending out TWO bills a month is a BAD/STUPID idea.....My husband and I dont even use our landline just the 'net and our bill alone for the phone is ALWAYS seems to be anywhere from $96-$110 than our cable bill went from $14 a month to $65+ for the EXACT same package and boxes just because we moved on base.....WE CANT WAIT TO GET RID OF THEM!

alaskawantsthetruth Yesterday 11:08 PM
I’ve had GCI dial-up Internet access for 20 years. I don’t need much bandwidth and I surely don’t need the kinds of monthly bills I’m reading on this blog. I pay 1/10th of a lot of you. Yeah, I'm an old guy.

But GCI is always putting it to the man, even at the low end. I used to connect at 56K. Now 48K on a good day, 36K on a bad day. I called GCI about this. Of course they blamed ACS and my land line and offered me a “great” deal to switch to cable access. But from inside sources I found out that GCI is cutting down the size of the dial-up modem bank which give less bandwidth to dial-up users. All of this is a ploy to make dial-up users get discouraged and switch to cable. Slimey skum bags.

I will NEVER switch to GCI cable after their lawyers scammed use of public utility easements which allowed them put in fiber optic cable even if the residents did not ask for it. GCI dug up a swath you could land a super cub on between my neighbors and my land. And neither of us asked for, have or will ever have GCI cable. For a company that played a leading role in the tragic death of our state’s greatest leader you’d think they would now have a bit of heart for Alaskans. But Alaskans are not held in high regard by GCI. They worship money and nothing else

av8tor9804 Yesterday 10:37 PM
By the way, I have ACS's fastest set-up over here by Cheney Lake. It's 3 Mbps down / 512 Kbps up, for $89. I have 100 minutes of long distnace, so my bill is always ~ $99.00. We get Netflix in HD or near HD. No complaints. Sometimes the easiest or fastest way to make a company change is by voting with your pocketbook. (Not saying ACS is the best. But not paying over $100 either

seldovianatheart Yesterday 10:26 PM
It used to be that I payed $20 to $30/month for phone service, and felt that it was a decent price and a decent value. Now with my "unlimited internet package", I get tons of cable channels that I have no time or desire to watch, and my Internet Service doesn't even work probably 20% of the time. I've had them up so many times that I've given up. I'd cancel it all except for local phone service, except my kids literally have to be able to go on the Internet to do their homework, and often only have one night's notice to do it in, so can't utilize the public library.

It's a monopoly and a scam. In Europe, I believe that the government owns the cable lines, and they have dozens of companies that are allowed to sell the service to the people. The people have way more choice, and the price is great because there's a lot more competition. Oddly enough, in that instance, Socialism appears to be causing a very competitive market instead of the communication monopolies that we "free market" Americans are stuck with.


  1. I got hit with a $180 overage charge from GCI as well without being informed of the change at any point.

    I've sinced left them and switched to ACS's $89 3mbit DSL plan and couldn't be happier. Then I added on the $7/mo Netflix streaming movie service that lets me watch movies/tv in near HD on my ACS DSL line whenever I want with no advertisements. 10x better than the crappy service with GCI ever was and I'm saving almost $500 a year now too.

    There's absolutely no reason for anyone to put up with limited and capped internet with outrageous overage charges such as $5/GB! That's highway robbery, it only costs major internet providers $.05 - .10 cents per GB plus a bit more if you want to add additional costs of business. Still, even at ten cents.. that's a far cry from five dollars a gigabyte.

    The truth is they're scared to death of companies like Netflix stealing their cable TV subscribers, so they're going to limit your internet and charge so much that if you even try downloading video you'll still pay out the nose to them.

  2. It will be interesting to see the plans too bad that I negotiated my cable internet with Netflix last month, and locked into 1 year contract

  3. We're college kids who need internet at our rental house for school. It's a necessity these days as I'm sure you can imagine.

    Congradulations GCI, now nobody can watch Netflix, Hulu and various other streaming with a nice 40GB JUST internet service cap. For $104 none the less?!

    One or two of our roommates decided to watch a bunch of Netflix and leave Hulu running for who knows how long and we got hit with a $490 bill for going 60GB over our limit.

    So we upgraded to a 75GB plan, but the only way to get higher than 40GB was to get cable AND a phone?! WTF are we going to do with a phone? We don't need cable either!

    I paid $29/mo. for unlimited internet with bandwidth 4 times faster in Idaho through Time Warner.

    I'm so fed up with this GCI B.S. I hate it. My family at home has ACS and at least it's unlimited for now.

    We tried ACS at our house, but two things stumped us-

    1. Our house's phone wiring was messed up for who knows what reason (renting) and ACS wanted something like $250/hr to fix it. Yeah, no.

    2. They wanted a year long contract which is tricky to negotiate amongst roommates who are all leaving within 10 months.