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Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband

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[qi:004] Comcast is out defending its bandwidth caps and how they are not bad. And how 250 GB transfer is plenty and enough to do whatever we want to do. Of course, in today’s terms that is more than enough, but what happens in the future? Nevertheless, if they are going to put caps, then they need to give us what I think is an acceptable expectation: a meter.

Metered billing needs a meter we can see, use and monitor any time we desire to do so. Water and electric utilities provide that meter (regardless of whether we use it or not), so why not Comcast?

If a customer surpasses 250 GB and is one of the top users of the service for a second time within a six-month timeframe, his or her service will be subject to termination for one year. After the one year period expires, the customer may resume service by subscribing to a service plan appropriate to his or her needs.

Figure out a way to tell us what our monthly usage is, and let us know if we are running up against a 250 GB cap, so that we know when to stop and not pay overage. I want to know at every single minute how much bandwidth I have used.

After all, if someone crosses the 250 GB twice in six months, they are going to get tossed out. The burden of proof lies with Comcast to prove, measure and meter to the most accurate byte of data transferred.

Another Question For Comcast: If you’re going to meter, then please let us know how you are factoring in the overhead associated with TCP/IP. Will this be included or excluded in the cap? After all, overhead includes control messages (session control, packet headers) and this can be as high as 40 percent.

This is where FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has to step up and do something. If he is going to allow Comcast to put caps in place, then the FCC needs a firm bond from Comcast saying that they wouldn’t lower the caps to, say, 150 GB or 100 GB using the same lame excuse of 1 percent people degrading the network.

You want to know why I think they are going to obfuscate the issue and fudge the numbers sooner or later using some Enron math? Just go to the FAQ page that explains their 250 GB cap decision. You will consume 250 GB in a month if you do any of the following:

* Sending 20,000 high-resolution photos,
* Sending 40 million emails;
* Downloading 50,000 songs; or
* Viewing 8,000 movie trailers.

…but then lower down on the same page, they say:

* Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)
* Download 62,500 4 MB 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)

What is it with you guys? Can’t do the math? Forget that…how about answering a simple question: How many HD movies can you download with 250 GB cap? That’s the only answer I need.

PS: If you believe the 0.05 kb/email then you also believe in the Tooth Fairy.

77 Responses to “Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband”

  1. I’m not a Comcast shill. I despise them. But pick your battles!

    It’s pretty clear that Comcast set the bar at 250GB because it makes metering irrelevant.

    If you are downloading that much, you know you are doing it. You probably also know you are abusing the service in some way (e.g. sharing a single connection with a whole office of people – or downloading a blue-ray movie EVERY DAY).

    Given the shared nature of Comcast’s local nodes, it only makes sense that they prevent people from downloading at full throttle continuously. It’s an abuse of the service by any reasonable standard. There are commercial connections available (at higher cost) for people who have a legitimate need for that bandwidth.

    Throttling p2p is a bad unethical practice. Favoring any traffic over other traffic across their network is evil and should be fought. Their monopoly billing practices and frequently poor service are all legit gripes. In this case, a 250GB limit is a completely reasonable boundary. We get a very high limit and they don’t monitor every customers’ internet usage in real time. Alternative: Lower limit and more detailed customer metering – albeit the customer can check that metering too.

    I’ll go for the higher limit and less monitoring.

  2. Marl Balou

    Om – good article, someone needs to call them to the mat.

    If Comcast is going to be heavy handed, then they need to provide a standard “meter” that tells us our usage now and historically so that we can make changes or make decisions. Also they should offer some sort of “get out of jail” for user that go past the 250GB limit so that these users can choose to pay. Right now it seems you have to limit yourself to 250GB or go to jail for a year!!!

    BTW – Where is the FCC in all this? Spending their resources trying to fine broadcasters using expletives!!

  3. Om, blogging this issue is a great idea, but someone needs to step it up here and launch a coordinated campaign here and this seems like the perfect opportunity to take the Giga Omni Media to the next level of publicadvocacy.

  4. Too right. I’ve worked on this very issue for a cable ISP (not Comcast). Everyone recognized, or came to recognize, that charges and limits would not fly without a bulletproof ISP provided meter. Anyone who wants to proceed without one is inviting lawsuits and government intervention. The only thing worse than the PR hit for instituting such a program? Having to suspend it because you can’t measure what you are charging for.

  5. This is a good opportunity for FIOS to advertise their service.
    They can tout “unlimited unrestricted” internet use.

    The PR guys at Verizon have a chance to pick up the ball and run with it.

    I agree give me a meter on my account so I can see what they say I’m using.
    These bandwidth meters only work on one machine and don’t show Wireless connections as mentioned.
    ALSO what about DOCSIS 3 I can see getting to 250 even faster.

    FIOS in my area is 6 months away and I will not hesitate to subscribe if they also don’t implement caps by then

  6. skidaddy

    Comcast Security “powered by McAffee”. Has a “Traffic monitor” under the tools tab. At the end of this month (August) Showing 9.36 MB last moth was 10.55MB. Seems low as I run Hulu and netflix streaming in the backround a couple of hours a day.

  7. Man, we have customers who legitimately send us 20K (or 25K) photos per month. Not many, granted, but there are photographers who shoot large sporting events and whatnot that generate this many photos.

    I hope they don’t find their access suddenly cut off. :(

  8. You forgot about femto cell access which the wireless companies plan to prolifically deploy into the broadband consumer home (ie DSL and cable)… Vonage was able to get away with 2 Million subscriber Adapters while raising the Network Neutrality card, but we’re talking about hundreds of millions of mobile customers who are about to dump all their mobile phone originated voice and data traffic onto the broadband provider pipe when the subscriber is at home. Terrestrial network providers aren’t in the business of moving other peoples bits….

    Expect that 250GB cap to come down further….

  9. Another excellent post Om and thanks for taking up the fight when it seems none of the big names care.

    We can fight this ourselves – as someone else posted I don’t want Comcast crapware or more importantly SPYWARE on my computer. So here is the solution (which I’m sure Comcast is aware of but failed to mention – they only talked of the PC based meters – because those types of meters will be easy to fight in court). Comcast users need to buy a Linksys WRT-54GL (has to be the GL model) or a used Linksys wrt-54g (but only versions 1-4) from Ebay and install either the Tomato or DD-WRT firmware. This will monitor your internet usage over ALL of your internet appliances. It will also tell you each one individually. If we take this route instead of Comcast providing the meter WHEN Comcast is caught lying the lawsuits can fly!!! Plus you don’t have to worry about SPYWARE.

  10. Another point to note is how will this impact telecomuters. Sending data back and forth via VPN for 8+ hours a day. If they are RDPing into another machine you have the overhead of all the graphics to dispaly the remote machines desktop, etc.

  11. Charlie Sierra

    I believe if Comcast insists on regulating our usage of the internet then the only proper response we’ll have is to start regulating Comcast.

    So much for the idea/goal of a free market.

    There’s no way Comcast can even know the can of worms this little action might open.

  12. Grumper

    One more question. Even if you give me some meter, how can I believe its a reliable one? Is it approved by some authorities or governing bodies? How some one can prove they did not use a lot but someone else in the apartments hooked to my internet and used it? Will comcast print my usage on monthly billings or just I have to assume that I am not overusing reading some blogs like this? Already talking to comcase customer service is very tough. What will happen if I call customer service with so many questions like this? How the customer service will get knowledge about all these? So many things to be answered…

  13. Grumper

    Yes. This is true. We want meter. Atleast for my personal verification I want to know how much I use. How can you believe you comcast if you call me one fine morning and just say I over used? What will happen to so many people without securing their passwords on their routers? What will happen if some road warriors tapped into my router and used it heavily. Just logically you can say 250GB is high enough. What is the guarantee that you will use it against just some customers to cut their service. Worrying every minute whether I over used or not without knowing whats going on will be a hell. So me some meter, some proof that I am using this much. Thats why I switched to DSL long back.

  14. Excellent post Om. And here’s how it will go. At some point the government will likely step in and require it (consumers to be able to look at their usage). At which point Comcast will do what the telcos did when the government pushed for number portability. They’ll rant and rave about how providing such a feature will “increase costs” that will have to be passed on to the consumer. And of course we know how they hate passing on costs to the consumer ;-).

  15. DG Lewis

    The key statistic that Comcast leaves out? At 8 Mb/s for MPEG-4 AVC HD video, a 250 GB cap is about two and a half hours a day.

    The average US household watches 8 hours and 11 minutes of TV per day.

    Intended or not, this cap will have the effect of limiting the ability of over-the-top video to supplant “traditional” cable video delivery (broadcast or on-demand) and its business model.

  16. It is definitely about tomorrow — what everyone needs to keep in mind is that Comcast in most markets is the fastest game in town. There is no real competition for the speed that they can deliver. When this happens, it will change those users habits unnecessarily and in turn cripple their enjoyment of the services they want to use and have been enjoying since they originally signed up with Comcast.

    Very, very bad move.

  17. Om – great points in your post. A great example of companies that give users the ability to see exactly where they stand in regards to their limits is wireless phone companies. I can login to ATT’s website any time from anywhere to check my minutes usage and see how many minutes I have left this month. Something similar integrated into Comcast’s online billing system would be wonderful

    Also, It occurs to me that the proliferation of bandwidth limit caps could open a great new market opportunity for consumer devices that measure bandwidth usage that could be connected to the incoming connection just behind the router or access point. For that matter, I could even see routers that measure usage themselves through hardware or a firmware update becoming quite popular.

  18. This is clearly not about today, this is about tomorrow and after. They always had the right to cancel contracts.
    If innovation is about the future then this is clearly designed to direct innovation away from comcast’s net and it’s customers so they can do business a usual.
    Innovation and leading is about setting a goal and using data to get there.
    Management is about using data to set a goal and to get there. Therefore Managed companies without a leader will always be slow and do just what’s easy and easily identifiable. They will fight innovation since it’s out of their reach to identify and archiv.
    Om is right.

  19. “For the time being Om, 250Gb/Month isn’t so bad.
    It will surely grow in the future,”

    No, it probably won’t, and that’s the major problem with accepting caps, even if they initially seem reasonable. There’s absolutely nothing preventing Comcast from lowering this cap whenever they deem it necessary, nor do they ever actually provide pure data proving congestion, nor (despite the recent FCC dog and pony show) does this country have a tough enough regulatory authority to police caps should they be abused.

    It’s a door that once we walk through, we won’t be walking back out of. I ultimately believe it ends with highly overpriced metered billing and begins with baby steps.

  20. For the time being Om, 250Gb/Month isn’t so bad.
    It will surely grow in the future, but when that comes, they’ll pretty much have to increase it to suit demands – either through competition with other ISPs (which would be giving out more free initial bandwidth per month) or start charging for the extra. AT&T has always wanted charge per extra bandwidth as a business model… This could be a smoother introduction to the social conscious of the heavy internet user.

  21. I’m just waiting for spam offering botnets to knock someone off from the Internet for a year. It should only take about 5 days of continuous beating on a port to send someone over the limit. Make it harder to detect, spread the attack over 30 days and assume the user is using some of their bandwidth too.

  22. As long as the meter doesn’t require Comcast software being installed on your computer, I think it’s an excellent idea.

    Particularly in a world of bandwidth caps, I don’t want/need any vendor software installed on my machine. Verizon FIOS doesn’t even offer a (non-hack) way to view your user account and billing information without installing their crapware.

  23. Could one use the information (bytes sent/bytes received) in the Windows network properties to get a rough estimate of bandwidth usage? Granted, as you mention, it’s unclear whether or not TCP/IP packet overhead is included or not.

    For example, I’ve had a wifi connection at home for 3.5 days, and I’ve received about 3 gigs of data, so I could extrapolate somewhere between 25-30GB per month. If you think about the 250GB limit, it’s pretty sneaky, because at 50GB for a Blu-Ray HD DVD, it means you could only download maybe 4 HD movies per month (whether legally — through someone like Netflix or iTunes, or illegally — through, say bit torrent) — until you presumably had to pay Comcast more money. A nifty little workaround to net neutrality, eh?

    (duplicate content note: I made a similar comment on a friend’s personal blog who also wrote about Comcast’s bandwidth’s limit)

  24. I checked SNMP stats on my router, and I consume approximately 100GB per month on my poky DSL line in San Francisco (AT&T DSL, but actual Internet transit provided by a decent ISP, Raw Bandwidth).

    The thing is, I don’t download movies, HD or otherwise, nor do I run P2P (I listen mostly to Classical music, which is not well represented, and only care about lossless formats, not nasty MP3s). I run my mail server on my home machine, as well as my RSS aggregator and some ancillary services for myself that are not used by the Internet at large (well, apart from my secondary DNS server, that is).

    Comcast’s so-called arguments are a thinly veiled way to milk its duopoly. If ISPs in Japan, South Korea or Europe can offer unlimited service at true high speeds, even though their salary costs are higher than in the US and their cost of Internet transit also usually 50-100% more expensive, Comcast can afford to do so as well.

  25. You missed the best part of the FAQ:

    “How does Comcast help its customers track their usage so they can avoide exceeding the limit?”

    “There are many online tools customers can download and use to measure their consumption. Customers can find such tools by simply doing a Web search – for example, a search for “bandwidth meter” will provide some options. Customers using multiple PCs should just be aware that they will need to measure and combine their total monthly usage in order to identify the data usage for their entire account.”

    Translation: we don’t! And given the many different ways that one could “count bandwidth”, users have no idea where they stand.

  26. The more I think about it, Om, the more I think broadband caps are anti-competitive. Basically, once everything switches to high-def and people start watching content over the Internet en-masse, the more I see Comcast clamping down. While it’s “fair” that they are finally saying what the limits are, metered bandwidth by definition discriminates against content that competes with their less than stellar television offerings.

  27. Ravneet

    Very true Om. If they meter, we want the meter which is metering us. Its a fair expectation. They just cannot call up and say ‘you are being kicked due to overage’. Consumers have the right to know their consumption all along.
    On the HD movie note, it seems that everyone’s problem against Comcast caps is the same ;-)