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10 Things to Know and Hate About Metered Broadband

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Since we’re getting in a huff over Comcast’s 250 GB cap, we thought it would be helpful to lay out why capping broadband is a bad idea today and a worse one for tomorrow, how it can benefit ISPs, and why it’s not really necessary on most networks. Check out our handy overview and links to our past coverage on the topic.

  1. Time Warner got the ball rolling back in January, and in June it announced a trial limiting folks to tiers from 5 GB per month to 40 GB per month. Billing began this month.
  2. While some of the telcos have threatened caps, only Frontier has actually done so across its service area with a minuscule 5 GB limit.
  3. Yesterday Comcast clarified that it will implement a per-month cap of 250 GB, but defended it by noting that it will affect less than 1 percent of its users and most users download 2-3 GB per month.
  4. Many of these caps have been imposed in the name of network management, but they have financial benefits for ISPs as well.
  5. There are differences between the last-mile networks of telco and cable providers that make broadband caps more useful for cable networks, but it’s still a bad idea.
  6. A 250 GB cap won’t affect many people today, but anything making people think twice about delivering or downloading broadband services could have a negative impact on innovation.
  7. In the case of delivering Olympic coverage online, lower-level caps may already be having an effect, but it’s hard to tell without software to track usage.
  8. That means it could hurt companies such as Google, and Netflix as they roll out higher-bandwidth using services.
  9. And in the future, services ranging from telemedicine to teleconferencing could feel the impact. Not to mention those poor web workers.
  10. But regardless of what a few carriers in the U.S. are doing with caps, the web will continue to grow, both in terms of the number of users and the amount of data they consume. Caps won’t stop it, and neither will network management measures such as traffic throttling. If our broadband networks can’t meet that demand, the U.S. eventually could find itself lagging in the technology field.

29 Responses to “10 Things to Know and Hate About Metered Broadband”

  1. There was a good point in regards to calling company and asking for your spending status somewhere on another blog. You just have to justify it accordingly.
    The procedure should be as follows: customer calls to check in because they want to preserve the bandwidth from checking their balance every time AND in case there are inaccuracies the customer wants someone to talk to (so you bypass the automated system that tells you your balance). Tell the rep that certain pages/files/movies/music didn’t load the first time so you had to restart the download AND you demand the credit for that.

    Do it often enough and given the overload of manual labor associated with that there’s a big chance the company will give up.

  2. @James. Impatient is a Comcast apologist.
    Comcast and others have sold their offerings as unlimited broadband, with blazing speed. And now they say that customers who actually use their service are somehow “bandwidth hogs”. How can you be hogging an unlimited service? I’d expect that he is picking on comcast because he uses the service.

    Furthermore, as comcast and the other metered ISPs are now imposing limits on your usage, then it is incumbent on them to provide the customer with a running meter which they can monitor themselves as well. It is obvious that comcast and time warner et al can monitor you, why not provide a summary page by account which shows this? Instead they state you must find ways to measure how much each device on your network is using. Unbelievable. They actually have the number but refuse to provide it on a webpage? Comcastic.

    In many respects this is a way for Comcast to attempt to control what their competition can offer on the broadband pipeline. They want to FORCE you to only use THEIR pay per view, their video service, their VOIP. Imagine if your local power company only wanted you to buy electrical appliances and consumer electronics devices from them and capped your use if you used devices or services which did not originate from them.

  3. Impatient: His obsession, particularly with Comcast, seems ridiculous (particularly when with cable, unlike DSL and perhaps FiOS, there are valid reasons for trying to avoid heavy users) – Frontier and Time Warner both have far lower caps, making Comcast a strange choice of target. 250Gb is a limit Net users in most other countries can only dream of!

    Having said that, I do understand his opposition to the concept of limits, whatever that limit may be. I also disagree with your assertion that the other 99.9% are beneficiaries; only the few dozen people on the same cable segment and channel are negatively affected by the higher usage, unless Comcast’s backhaul or backbone is saturated – and with most of those heavy users being P2P, the other P2P users on Comcast actually *benefit* from that: some of those 250+ Gb of traffic will be going to other Comcast users as seeding traffic, benefiting them.

  4. The U.S. is already lagging in the technology field, and in terms of broadband availability we fall behind more countries every year. We are doing everything we can to put ourselves at the bottom of the [top] heap.

    It is very sad for our children who will be the ones who are going to suffer. It is much like the falling educational achievement. Eventually it catches up!

  5. Impatient

    This is getting ridiculous. Om is completely obsessed with this ridiculously enormous 250 GB “limit” and the best argument he can come up with is the old slippery slope fallacy.

    The simple fact is, the only ones that are hurt by this are the .1% who go over the gap, and the other 99.9% are the BENEFICIARIES of this policy! All of the other supposed drawbacks are pure speculation.

  6. garryozols

    Caps have been a reality of Life in Australia for years, and a 250 gig limit!! totaly unheard of down here, I’m on what is probably the best plans in Australia outside of a pay per gig Business plan and I get 60 gig.
    as to expecting a cap to be lifted because of expected usage due to a new technology or service, get a grip! the telcos will just increase the cap, at an extra cost to the end user of course or implement a per gig $ penalty if you exceed your cap

  7. Bonwell

    I honestly don’t understand the controversy– if the cap inhibits users of the future, couldn’t Comcast just stop the cap? Not everything is the end of the world. Sometimes businesses are just trying to continue operation.

  8. Well…or in the case of Comcast, your could just switch to a business account which will run about $149 per month for good bandwidth. If you are using that much data for work or play it may indeed be worth it.

  9. rh mayo

    Do the telcos or corporations care about sending the US on the road to mediocrity. Look at the car companies: they designed third rate cars to sell to a gullible public. Now the demand of a 50 billion dollar taxpayer funded loan bailout is good for America. Does the old 50’s moniker :”What is good for GM is Good for America” should now mean “Give a Corporate bailout and Bankrupt the America Taxpayer.”