More Devices, Netflix Mean More Traffic for Comcast

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Comcast’s broadband subscribers now consume a median of between 4 and 6 GB of data each month, up from 2-4 GB, thanks to the proliferation of devices using Wi-Fi in the home and streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu. Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman, had affirmed in early December that the nation’s largest ISP still had the same median data consumption among subscribers as it had reported back in 2008, but in a conversation today, he said the number had changed. Apparently, Comcast updated its website “a few weeks ago” noting the increase in its Frequently Asked Questions section. From the FAQ:

Data usage changes over time as our customers use the Internet and the services and applications available for it. Currently, the median data usage by Comcast High-Speed Internet customers is approximately 4-6 GB each month (these numbers may vary on a monthly basis). This reflects typical residential use of the service for purposes such as sending and receiving e-mail, surfing the Internet, and watching streaming video.

Douglas attributed the increase to more people using Wi-Fi on devices such as iPads and smartphones in the home. This makes sense, given that most people switch over to Wi-Fi in to avoid hitting caps on their mobile data plans, as well as getting faster speeds. However, there’s likely another factor at play that Comcast may be less eager to publicize: The adoption of video streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix also are changing the demand profile among Comcast’s 16.7 million broadband subscribers. The last big spike in demand among the user base was the widespread adoption of iTunes for downloading music. (Please recall that a median is the midpoint on the usage spectrum, as opposed to an average, which Comcast does not disclose.)

Having such a data point available provides a sense of how much web use is growing among U.S. cable broadband subscribers, but it also shows how proposed caps suggested just a few years ago in 2008, such as Frontier’s planned 5 GB per month cap, would look ludicrous today. Speaking of caps, although Douglas told me back in 2008 that one way to boost Comcast’s own 250 GB per month cap was to increase the overall data usage, he said there are no plans at Comcast right now to change or raise the current limits.

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