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Comcast Metered Broadband Official — Beware What You Download

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Karl Bode over on DSL Reports reports that Comcast will institute a 250 GB cap on its broadband connections starting Oct. 1. Expect other carriers to follow suit and make tiered broadband a reality. Much as I would like to think otherwise, this is the end of the Internet as we know it.

The caps are a move to ensure that the gouging scheme put in place by Comcast and other cable providers stays intact and they can continue to sell their video-on-demand services. It was a point I made when I wrote, Why Tiered Broadband Is The Enemy of Innovation. I will say this again: this is to stymie services like Hulu, NetFlix and Amazon On-Demand.

In yet another post, I thought of this as a nicer way of getting around net neutrality issues. I just don’t buy Comcast’s arguments, which smell like urine on a hot summer day.

Comcast’s arguments about infrastructure and bandwidth costs and so on are sort of hollow as some of the experts in our comments had indicated. On its network management web site, Comcast uses examples of some services and what you can do with the 250 GB limit.

250 GB per month is an extremely large amount of data, much more than a typical residential customer uses on a monthly basis. Currently, the median monthly data usage by our residential customers is approximately 2 – 3 GB. To put 250 GB of monthly usage in perspective, a customer would have to do any one of the following:

* Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)
* Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)
* Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)
* Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)

Now, if you put it in terms of HD video, 250 GB doesn’t really add up to much. I did the math in an earlier post.

… we’re moving towards HD downloads. With HD, each roughly two-hour-long movie is going to consume about 8 GB, while live sports events, etc., when watched in higher quality can take up some 13 GB. Remember, we share our Internet connections with multiple people in a household. So, before you know it, that 250 GB isn’t enough.

If the company essentially thinks that 250 GB is a lot of bandwidth, then why impose a cap at all? After all, their CTO claimed in an interview with Stacey that an average consumer takes up about 2 GB of data transfer every month. I think they are being typical Comcast — indulging in selective truths.

Question: How will you use the 250 GB bandwidth cap? What are your typical activities on the Internet.

150 Responses to “Comcast Metered Broadband Official — Beware What You Download”

  1. Metered broadband = Pretty bad. We know people overseas who have to pay an arm and a leg for a cap of 1GB…imagine that? I can’t say 250GB is bad at all…unless you’re in a particular business where you NEED more, I can’t complain about it but you’re right, why create the cap anyways if the majority of folks don’t even reach it on a monthly basis? Stupid.

  2. The end of the internet as we know it? Really? It might be a step backward for some, but for much of the world, 250GB caps are something we can only dream about. All the complaining I can see here is laughable when 15-20GB a month is considered a high-end connection…

  3. Shepard

    It’s fine by me. It just means that bloated web-sites like this one will have to slim down…kill some of the useless pipe clogging “web 2.0” graphics and actually put a focus on content. Shocking I know, but this site will actually have to load in under an hour for most people now.

    The web 2.0 crowd hates bandwidth caps because it means they’ll have to design sites that aren’t so choked with social crap, annoying animated Ads and hurricane tracking weather widgets that take forever to load.

    When people claim it’s the “end of something”, they’re really saying that the changes are affecting their wallets and they’re pissed. This web site doesn’t give a hang about the Internet. You’re merely thinking of your own revenue stream.

  4. Any suggestions on ways I can track my bandwidth usage? I think OpenDNS may lend some insight but would like some other options.

    I can’t wait until I start seeing peak, off-peak, weekend, and other types of usage on my internet bill.

    On a separate thought…I wonder if this will lead a few folks to start mooching off their neighbors networks!

  5. Yeah, Zebrton. Let’s pat them on the back for starting to tell the “truth” after years of being lied to and the government having to get involved.

    As far as a municipal utility – they tried that, most of the programs offering it here in Arizona have been shut down by lawsuits and lobbyist’s activities.

  6. I hope enough people will vote with their wallets and let Comcast know that this is unacceptable.

    The “50 millions emails” line is so disingenuous – just a way to use statistics to drum up a large number and put the “layperson” at ease. This issue is not about email, it’s about video that looks to compete with Comcast’s own video services.

  7. Om is right. This is not about now. It is about the near future when the service providers (it won’t be just Comcast) are looking to be making money from providing HD video and movies. Right now, this will matter to a few people. Over time, when HD comes pervasive, it will become important to many people.

    The right analogy is the Alternative Minimum Tax. At first, it was intended to catch only a small percentage of high income people. Over time, the limit was not increased and with inflation more and more people found themselves caught in the AMT.

    Come back in a few years and check the percentage of people at the 250 GB limit. Om will pointing us back to this series of posts.

  8. I’m not happy about the limit, but at least they are TELLING you the limit, which is different than in the past where they acted like there was no mimit, but cut you off due to overuse.

    The problem (as a couple people have mentioned) is that they are going to HAVE to provide some way to see how much you are using (page, email, etc) and my hunch is that they only way you are going to know you went over is with a charge or disconnection. I have a feeling Verizon’s FIOS will not have a cap for a while to get Comcast customers, but the availability just isn’t there.

    Sounds like broadband needs to be a municipal utility like water. Come on socialism? Let’s get going ;)

  9. I spoke to four people at Comcast today. Nobody could tell me my month-to-date usage. Since I pay for their premium service, I asked if my cap would be higher. Nobody, including two managers, could answer my questions. The first ISP to offer uncapped broadband gets my business. Bye, bye, Comcast. Oh, and Comcast, when I leave, I’m taking ALL of my business – cable, broadband, and VoIP.

  10. Rogers imposed “tiered” caps of 60 or 95 GB on their Internet services last spring. But at least they added two ways to monitor usage: (i) you can check your usage on your Rogers account page and (ii) at 75% usage they email you a warning. They also provide a three month ramp up period so that you can estimate your usage.

    Fortunately I have never reached half that level but then I feel there are more effective ways to access feature films – go see the film (if it’s still in the cinemas), buy or rent the DVD (which gives me unlimited viewing) or use my Rogers-On-Demand cable service.

    As for hosted VoIP phone services offered by the cable companies, they are architected to come in by a separate “pipe” for QoS management reasons. On the other hand, Skype, Gizmo, etc. would be included in your data allotment.

  11. I’m concerned. I agree that they need to provide some form of measurement for your bandwidth usage. What happens if you hit the cap and you need internet access?

    In general, this month I’ve watched 3 or 4 movies using Netflix Player. Some weekends I’ve done lots more than that. I also downloaded a beta client from Fileplanet for an upcoming game that was about 1gb. I’m also watching training videos on pretty much every weeknight, and will be for a good portion of the next month. So overall, if I ever come close to their cap they’ve lost a customer.

  12. vijay gill

    Comcast’s arguments about infrastructure and bandwidth costs and so on are sort of hollow as some of the experts in our comments had indicated.

    Om, come on. The “experts” in your comments in that previous article had not given one single shred of information that was factual that indicated that comcasts arguments about infrastructure and bandwidth costs are hollow.

  13. Here’s the flip side. Let’s hold them accountable. If they’ve set 250GB as our ceiling, then they’ve set any amount less than 250GB as within the legally binding usage agreement to be deliver for your fee.

    They have no rights, nor grounds to limit your usage up to 249.99GB of bandwidth.

    They made their bed, it’s a two edged sword. Sure, we get the jagged edge, but let’s make sure they taste a little bit of their own magic.

  14. Chris Gray

    I wonder what the net effect would be for users of Comcast’s on VOIP service, which touts “unlimited” local and long distance phone service, which subscribers pay for as a separate line item on their bills. It would be a real shame if users were pushed over the cap by phone calls, I understand that VOIP traffic isn’t that significant when compared to file sharing, and video on demand, but I guess all traffic would count when the meter is running.

  15. Yeah, I’m a comcast subscriber here in Miami.

    250 Gigs is plenty for 99% of users. Really. I was afraid they would put the cap much lower.

    To be honest, I prefer this, rather then them deciding which ports i can get data on, or what kind of traffic I can get. I backup my server every night (incremental), and I don’t even come near using that amount of data monthly.

    I also watch a lot of video online, have a Roku box, do the iTunes dance, and am still well below that limit.

    A bit of an overreach, Om?

  16. I live in the UK where metered broadband is the norm, in 4 years I have never used more than 17GB in a month, and I am a VERY heavy internet user:
    Youtube, RSS feeds, Streaming video and radio, regular purchases of whole TV series of iTunes, you name it, I’ve done it.

    If someone is going to use up the 250GB cap, they are likely to be running a large scale filesharing hub or something similar from their home..

  17. Carriers and cablecos continue to demonstrate astonishing lack of foresight. Just when it is becoming apparent that video is going to be dominant form of content on the Internet, they start to invent ways to condemn themselves to be dumb-pipes forever. Seems that the suits have never watched 5 minutes of Hulu and even tried to figure out how to be valuable players in the future.

    Really though, I should not be surprised. After all, in the 1970s and 80s when the data-users were figuring out Ethernet, moving in Megabits, carriers engineering/cobbled together ISDN.

    In late 80s and early 90s as an early vision of the IP driven internet came together, carriers engineered ATM.

    In mid 90s, while gopher and mosaic users were figuring out early form of what eventually became the web, Southern Bell and others were deep in video-on-demand trials in Heathrow, Florida.

    And in the early/mid 200xs, even as youtube and crunchyroll and several others were driving video on the network, carriers were busy wasting money on IPTV infrastructure.

    And now, finally when an immersive and eventually HD video led vision of the content-web is beginning to emerge, we see carriers/cablecos try to commit collective harakiri by throttling usage. My only surprise – they haven’t yet invented a fancy acronym for it.

  18. Jennifer Khoury, Comcast

    This isn’t about VOD. It’s about providing a good experience to all of our customers online. Our customers watch video on the Web from the sites you mention -Hulu, Netflix, Amazon- and others, including our own video viewing site, We encourage video viewing wherever customers want to watch … on TV, VOD, or online. And just to be clear, our overall policy on excessive use remains the same as it was before, the only thing that has changed is that we are providing a specific number, which customers requested. This policy only impacts a very small fraction of our customers — much less than 1%. More details are available on our site.

    • Since you wrote this post, the number of people streaming HD movies has increased substantially yet you still have the 250GB limit. I have a very hard time believing in the 1% stat you mentioned as of 2008 and I really don’t believe it is anywhere near that low now.

  19. Raghu Kulkarni

    This may also have an impact on online backup services. With many offering unlimited(Carbonite and mozy) or very large limits (IDrive with 150GB), the cost of online backup to the consumer will go up from ISP fees point of view at least for the initial backup.

    ISPs may subsidize bandwidth costs if consumers use the ISP’s preferred online backup. This may also apply to HD and other BW intensive services.

    I think the end game these ISPs are seeking is basically a piece of the direct revenues for all these high BW applications, not just the additional BW fees.

  20. So if Comcast is metering everyone’s downloads, should they not provide a webpage where you can gain access to that meter for your account, so you can actually see what your consumption amount is?

  21. This is what causes shifts in mindsets.

    Comcast thinks there BWI g smart with this approach to growth but I say this will eventually hurt them.

    The Internet is in a transition now so applying a “metered” pricing approach now will only piss off customers. It only takes one good offer from FIOS to steer new users toward its service.
    Comcast is starting to act like an oil company.

  22. SpungeBob

    Also they should provide role over Gigs if they do not use it within that month. They got to be fair as they are cashing on the customers who don’t even use 1 GB a month.

  23. SpungeBob

    Is it only for Residential service or is it also for Business Accounts? I hope they don’t put the cap for business customers as one can expect a large bandwidth if they have a large traffic on their web site.

  24. Ryan White

    The bandwidth cap doesn’t worry me nearly as much as what happens if you go over the cap. At $0.20 a Gig, I’m fine with the cap. At $2 a Gig, it becomes the horror that is cellphone pricing.

    Anyway, my consumption is probably 60GB per month right now. I don’t have a TV and probably watch 40-60 hours of video a month (mix of Hulu, iTunes and Unbox). Given my usage habits, I would need more than my 6 Mbps connection to really worry about breaking 250GB.

  25. Jimmy Conway

    Hm. I guess Comcast spent all their money on those silly commercials where people rub “fast” on themselves and then turn into The Flash. No more money left for servers to actually deliver on the fancy marketing promise. Comcast should be very, very ashamed.

    I’ll definitely be doing some comparison shopping during the month of September.

  26. Paul Waldschmidt

    I dislike Comcast for many reasons, but this is not one of them.

    Assuming consumers have other options in the broadband market (which they almost always have), Comcast should be allowed to impose whatever limits they want as long as their marketing materials and Terms of Service make that clear.

    If they impose limits without notifying customers, or through obfuscated notifications, then they should be liable.

    But if Comcast is clear to the world about their intentions, they only stand to hurt themselves. Dissatisfied consumers will shop elsewhere, Comcast’s market will shrink and then they’ll either remove the caps or learn to live with a smaller market share.

    Comcast spends billions of dollars on infrastructure every year. Like it or not, it is THEIR product to offer and support and price as they see fit. Aside from bait-and-switch advertising or anti-trust issues, they have every right to do this.

  27. Thanks for the heads up Om, I will be canceling my service with Comcast and finding someone who does not impose ridiculous caps. I want to watch video on Hulu and they obviously want to stop me.

    I wonder if AT&T is going to impose caps? They just sent me a mailer with a sign-up special.