5 Questions About Comcast's New Bandwidth Throttling Plan

After the FCC last week told Comcast it had 30 days to file its new network management plan that involves cutting back speeds for users who are using too much bandwidth, the mainstream media is learning more about the slowdown plan Comcast CTO Tony Werner explained to Om back in March. Last week we heard that Comcast plans to throttle people back to DSL-like speeds for 10 to 20 minutes if they use too much bandwidth.

Here are the things we don’t know that could have far more impact on subscribers:

  • How much is too much bandwidth? With Comcast telling me that the average user only downloads 2GB per month (presumably not in one intensive downloading burst) then I have to worry that as a streaming media fan and early adopter, I might be considered a heavy user (my home consumes at least 4 times the average user’s, and it’s not just on email).
  • Will that be a set amount across the Comcast subscriber base or a relative amount in each community? Again, if Comcast’s average subscriber consumes so little online, any arrangement that measures heavy use based on the average subscriber across all communities risks alienating streaming media users like myself. In that case, Comcast would become less competitive in college towns or any area where there’s a high proportion of early adopters.
  • Will the throttling depend on the amount of information consumed in a set period of time or will it depend on how congested the network is? The Free Press discussed this type of limitation pricing in a recent report, where during peak times, an ISP could slow down traffic, while at less packed times bandwidth hogs could pig out.
  • Will the bandwidth use be measured based on uploads only? If Comcast tries to slow people who download a lot of stuff at once, they will alienate more of their user base, but they also won’t deal with the real congestion coming from people uploading files. Since cable providers have less room for uploads on their networks, that’s where bottlenecks are likely.
  • What company will provide the equipment for network management? DSL Reports expects that it’s Sandvine, which also provided the deep packet inspection tools that helped Comcast throttle P2P the first time around.

Comcast says it’s still operating its trials in five communities to determine the best ways of creating an appropriately neutral network-management technique and declined to answer these questions. But thanks to the FCC order we should know by September 19.

image courtesy of Sandvine

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