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Summary:

A quick chat yesterday with Charlie Douglas, a spokesman for Comcast, elicited some heartening information about the ISP’s stated 250GB-per-month cap on bandwidth. Om’s not a huge fan of caps because he believes they stifle innovation in the long run, but Douglas says that the cap […]

A quick chat yesterday with Charlie Douglas, a spokesman for Comcast, elicited some heartening information about the ISP’s stated 250GB-per-month cap on bandwidth. Om’s not a huge fan of caps because he believes they stifle innovation in the long run, but Douglas says that the cap isn’t set in stone. Right now it’s set at about hundred times more than the average Comcast user’s monthly data consumption.

Douglas said it’s safe to say that as average consumption rises, then so will the cap. That’s a hopeful sign, but Comcast has never been entirely truthful about these things in the past, and only they know how much data their subscribers consume — making it hard to hold the company accountable.

The other way to get the cap increased — or perhaps eliminated altogether — is to get enough Comcast users to complain. Douglas says the cap was disclosed in the first place because Comcast was calling some users out for excessive usage, and those caught wanted to know how Comcast defined the term. So keep your complaints flowing, play our 250GB challenge and get grandma an HD video conferencing service so average users start boosting their data consumption.

  1. I dislike the caps as well, Stacey. In some ways more concerning than the caps are the planned reductions in purchased service level for sustained data connections over 15 seconds. This will be the first time residential broadband service slows down in many years, and will impact the viability of Amazon Unbox and other such services. Amazon seems to have sensed this was coming as they have switched to a streaming model, but overall a reduction in service level for sustained data transports is concerning.

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  2. Data Cap is not a good idea. But 250 GB is a lot for normal average user. It may be exceeded very often once online hd video becomes very popular among users.

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  3. Maybe I don’t fully understand the policy but how are customers going to make Comcast increase the cap if they are disconnected from the service when they exceed it? That would just make Comcast start to lose customers. If they increase it (out of necessity), would those customers really want to come back to Comcast? I wouldn’t.

    The whole thing smells a lot like Best Buy’s “devil patron” philosophy: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20041108-4382.html

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  4. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Baily, if you’re talking about the Fairshare network managment plan from Comcast, the data will be slowed down after 15 minutes of excessive usage
    on a congested network. That may have been a typo, but in case it wasn’t I wanted to let you know you have a bit more leeway :)

    But your point is well taken. We’ll see what happens with the plan once it is implemented outside test markets.

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  5. With no effective means of monitoring their usage against the cap, customers remain in the dark with respect to the possibility of disconnection. The question to ask Comcast is why they aren’t making their bandwidth measurement tool accessible to each user. No Comcast representative to whom I’ve spoken can explain this. They either pretend its a corporate secret, or sputter.

    Notice that “offline backup” did not appear in Comcast’s trivialization of the typical user’s bandwidth consumption.

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  6. Dave – My guess is Comcast doesn’t have a real time tool for data usage. They just have legacy systems that can monitor it.

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  7. For my part — I’m going to vote with my pocketbook. Qwest, for one, will be more than happy to get my business as of October 1st. :-)

    Buh-Bye Capcast!

    I’ll be sure to send Capcast an email though, just so they know why I left, so I go into the “doesn’t like the idea of caps” group in their statistics.

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  8. Dave – A web-based tool to enable users to monitor their usage is in development.

    JL

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  9. Stacey. It seems that the best way to get the cap increased is to require (through an FCC ruling) that Comcast meter downloads of their own VoD content in the same way that IP-based content from Amazon Unbox, Netflix and other services are metered.

    If a Comcast subscriber rented 30 movies in a month from their set-top-box/DVR, and then got a bill for bandwidth overage fees, I think you’d have plenty of people motivated to complain. As others have pointed out, the cap has little to do with reasonable network management, and much to do with the threat Comcast faces from Internet-based video providers. It’s the dumb pipe dilemma.

    This approach would put Comcast’s VoD services on the same level-playing-field as other third party media stores, addressing the anti-competitive concerns that have been raised.

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  10. @Greg

    I like your idea in principle, but there is a problem with it — Comcast VOD is not IP based and runs on a completely separate network from its data service. I think an easier solution is to just force all carriers to offer a true unlimited tier and let the market set the price. The real problems of ISP service in the US are that there are still a huge number of markets with no actual competition and there is a distinct lack of regulation forcing carriers to be upfront about their actual level of service (too much speeds up to X crap). Basically, we need more FDA style forcing of ingredients and nutritional info to be placed on the can and a finer grain application of existing rules as they apply to market concentration.

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