Blog Post

Why Your Broadband Meter Is Running Late

[qi:gigaom_icon_routers] As ISPs have introduced capped or metered broadband, the one element that’s been missing is the meter. Over at my old hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, columnist Dwight Silverman points out that Comcast’s meter still isn’t ready, but is being tested in the homes of its employees. I chatted with Charlie Douglas, a Comcast (s cmcsa) spokesman, about this issue last week, and was told that the problem is that not only does a meter need to be part of the modem or router itself, but it has to work with the multiple routers, end computers and other devices that may feed off the network. And it needs to be easy to use. All of which requires a lot of testing.

That’s a fairly daunting task, especially as we connect ever more devices to our home network. For example, measuring consumption used by my computer isn’t very helpful since I also stream a lot of content to a Roku set-top box inside my home, especially There’s also game consoles, iPod touches and phones sucking up my home bandwidth. Meanwhile, all the extra consumption has led to a median use of 2-4 GB a month inside Comcast homes and a more representative consumption of 11.4 GB a month, on average, worldwide, according to Cisco’s (s csco) Visual Networking Index figures released last week.

Since ISPs are champing at the bit to charge us based on our ever-increasing consumption, they’d better get those meters running.

8 Responses to “Why Your Broadband Meter Is Running Late”

  1. I live in Anchorage, AK, and we are stuck with only one cable company for broadband. They have already implemented consumption based internet usage and it’s wireless-like plans. If you buy their package deal of phone, cable and internet, you can get unlimited internet usage, but that is the *only* way you can get unlimited. Since I didn’t feel like paying $180/month anymore, I switched to internet only. I pay $76/month for 3MBps d/l and 786KB up and my max downloads are at 20 gig/month. They have a monitor that you can sign into their portal to view your usage on, but here’s what it says on the monitor:

    ‘There may be delays in reporting and processing usage records; additional delays may occur due to technical difficulties. During the time your invoice is being processed, you may not be able to view your usage or you may experience additional delays in reporting of usage. This usage information is only an estimate, your next invoice will be determined by the information contained in our billing system.’

    So, you can’t actually see what is accounted for in the billing system. I went over my 20 gig limit one month and had to pay extra even though this monitor shows me as never having gone near that 20 gig limit.

    Let’s hope the monitors that the major ISPs in the lower 48 come up with are better than what we have here in Alaska. We’re screwed because our cable company is the only game in town if you want anything above the 768 MB d/l speed that the DSL here offers. I had no idea I’d be paying almost $80/month for 3MB download speed when I moved here. It makes me long for Comcast, and that’s just wrong on so many levels.

  2. I am still surprised that metering exists in Internet-savvy markets like the US. While this probably has to do with managing IP traffic charges levied during interconnection to other ISPs, it is also a barrier to the further development of Web services. In any case I suppose that ISPs are happy collecting over-usage charges when customers go over.
    On the other hand, It’s probably only a matter of time before one of the players bets everything, and offers unlimited, higher-speed, broadband access, letting the floodgates open.
    I guess I should be happy with my un-metered, 14MB/s connection.
    Then again, if I were in Japan or Korea, I’d be complaining about anything under 40-50 MB/s (See chart:

  3. MrktMind

    You can meter your broadband usage now in your router using Tomato or DD-WRT firmware in your router. This will be advisable when/if the broadband caps arrive – otherwise you will have no way of knowing whether the ISP’s usage is correct or padded.

    What about all the advertising in sites? I’m thinking the ad blocker plugins just prevent the ads from showing on your screen rather than actually blocking the ads from downloading.

    The duopolies seem intent on killing the internet either by a lack of net neutrality or by caps.

    When and if the caps arrive are the ISP’s going to include their offerings in the cap too? Will the ISP’s be able to circumvent any net neutrality by offering those that can afford the “protection money” to keep their sites off the meter???

    • @MrktMind – Completely agree that its a firmware issue. The data that you can pick up if you’re low enough in the network topology (firmware at the end user’s router as opposed to solely sitting somewhere in the headend) is truly impressive. We’ve done some testing with the Linksys WRT-54g, very exciting potential.

      @Stacey – Device-specific data monitoring is becoming more of a reality from a protocol perspective as well. Although we’ve been hearing about IPv6 for years without any game-changing action, IP-addresses in IPv6 are 128bit vs IPv4’s 32 bits. This allows for device-level identification directly in the IP address.

  4. The concept of metering your bandwidth and charging based on that meter is going to run into major legal issues down the road. Metering and scales are typically certified by local states however who thinks their state will have a clue how to “certify” a bandwidth meter?

    Second off the bandwidth being reported by any such meter may or may not be your bandwidth use. There is background traffic that is constantly hitting any router from hacker scans to left over connection attempts from the prior owner of an IP. P2P traffic is a perfect example where let’s say you were sharing files from your IP, stopped then your IP changes there would still be packets trying to get to your old IP which would be counted as some other customers bandwidth. Lastly unless these ISP start to filter the junk such as pop ups and SPAM they would be no better than you going to buy a gallon of gas and getting half a gallon of water instead. SPAM is not “my” bandwidth and with some of these guys not taking any steps to reduce it how on earth can they turn around and charge the end user for it.

    Yeah sure SPAM, random packets here and random packets there don’t amount ot much but that’s not the point. The ISP is wanting to measure “your” use of the Internet then they will legally be bound to show it was “your” use.

  5. Why does the meter need to be part of the modem/router itself. That seems like a ploy to delay meters as long as possible. They know your IP address presumably and where you are on the network, so why can’t they just meter from a remote location? It makes no sense to me that it needs to be part of the modem/router, that is impossible to do if you ask me.