Which ISPs are capping your broadband, and why?

67 Comments

One Nov. 15, 2013 we published an updated version of this chart. It can be found here.

Broadband caps are spreading across the U.S., and even if Comcast (s cmsca) did recently raise its cap of four years from 250 GB a month to 300 GB, the growth of usage based broadband is a negative and insidious trend that could hurt our ability to innovate. So I’ve documented which ISPs have caps, and how they have structured them in the chart below, as a way to help people understand who is capping their service and why. The chart contains the top ISPs, and covers more than 80 percent of actual subscribers.

What we talk about when we talk about caps.

The rise in caps has let ISPs influence the internet in subtle ways — most of which seem harmful to innovation. The first is to take away the idea that wireline broadband is an unlimited service, despite the ability of smaller ISPs to build out networks that don’t come equipped with caps. As you can see from the chart below, most of the ISPs are implementing overage charges associated with their caps. This isn’t really about managing their networks for congestion. If it were, they’d implement a different type of pricing model that cost users more to surf at peak times. No, this is about protecting their entrenched TV businesses as well as keeping the price for service high, despite the decreasing costs to send traffic over the network.

It’s also about grabbing more of the profits from the growth in internet services such as Netflix (s nflx) and Google (s goog), although caps take out those frustrations on users as opposed to the over-the-top providers. Instead of providing faster speeds for users and encouraging the growth of services that would require users to upgrade to those speeds, ISPs have taken their control of the last mile and are charging for bytes. So instead of paying more for better service, customers will pay more for what they use. This is a model that works for certain industries (think gasoline and electricity) but when it comes to encouraging more usage and innovation on the internet, the utility model seems short-sighted. Other ISPs may be thinking this same way.

For example, what if Intel had told game developers or Microsoft not to write software that would stress its chips — or penalized programmers for every megahertz of performance they used over a certain threshold? We’d end up with crappy software running on slower machines. Instead Intel encouraged people to write software for its chips and invested billions in making them faster so people would upgrade. Along the way it opened up market after market for the PC. Utility industries aren’t typically hotbeds of innovation.

The Federal Communications Commission, which is charged with tracking the spread and quality of U.S. broadband, has so far been quiet on this issue, not even collecting data to track how the shift to capped broadband has affected users, much less the industry. That may be changing. But it’s time that we ask if we want the internet to look like the utility or a source of continued innovation.

U.S. Broadband Caps Detailed
ISP Cap Details Exceptions Overage costs
Comcast 300GB per month Comcast suspended its cap in May 2012 after raising it to 300GB. It’s unclear what form the cap will take. none Comcast is testing an overage fee that lets you pay $10 for 50 GB more.
AT&T 250GB or 150 GB per month Subscribers to AT&T’s faster Uverse product have a 250 GB cap while those subscribing to basic DSL have a 150 GB cap. none Customers pay $10 for 50 GB
TWC no
Verizon no
CenturyLink 150 GB per month to 250 GB per month Plans with speeds of 1.5Mbps have a 150 GB cap. Plans with speeds greater than 1.5Mbps have 250 GB cap. none None, you’re cut off.
Cox 30GB-400GB per month Faster tiers have higher caps. none None, you’re cut off.
Charter 100GB – 500 GB per month Faster tiers have higher caps. none None, you’re cut off.
Cablevision no
Frontier no
Windstream no
SuddenLink 150GB to 350 GB per month Faster tiers have higher caps. none Customers pay $10 for 50 GB.
MediaCom 150 GB to 999 GB per month Faster tiers have higher caps. none Customers pay $10 for 50 GB.
Cable One 1GB, 50 GB and 100 GB per month Caps depend on the type of plan one chooses; Economy, Preferred Upgrade, Elite Upgrade Usage from midnight to 8AM doesn’t count against the cap for Preferred and Elite upgrade. Economy users can download from noon to midnight without it counting against the cap. Economy users pay $10 per gigabyte. Preferred and Elite upgrade users pay .50¢ for each additional GB.
FairPoint no
Cincinnati Bell no

67 Comments

Robert Jacobson

I live and work in Sweden half my time. There, carriers and ISPs offer transmission, plain and simple. The cost for a 28 Mbit/sec download service, NO DATA CAPS, is about $40/month. A flat rate. This is standard. The Swedish providers have just as many challenges to meet in terms of distance and distributed as do American providers. What they don’t have are (a) monopolies and (b) their own content to protect. It’s a travesty that we still have communications monopolies and duopolies in a country that prides itself on free speech and a supposedly democratic media. If the FCC won’t weigh in, then state regulators should — or perhaps the content providers will bring action in the courts once things get bad enough for them. This would make a great case for the Supreme Court, on the one hand absolute in its devotion to the Bill of Rights, on the other a staunch protector of corporate privilege even to the point of flouting the spirit of our laws.

ingridkastfuller

“…despite the decreasing costs to send traffic over the network? ”
I’m an ISP and I have not seen decreasing costs but increasing costs. Every year bandwidth costs are increasing not decreasing. Perhaps the larger firms get more breaks than I do, but they also carry a lot of overhead, people, infrastructure than I do. I do believe cable and TV costs way too much. The whole problem lies in competition and monopolies. Competition is what brings the cost down for the consumer. We need to encourage new businesses in the industry to compete and drive the costs down.

james braselton

hi there just reached 300 gb this month thats why i am useing 3g on my iphone

RRS

We need a mass boycott of companies that impose caps… then the market will sort itself out

james braselton

yes bacuase i am a master chief spartan 117 conected 24/7 internet

james braselton

yes bacuase i am a master chief spartan 117 conected 24/7 internet i am from the future soo we reqier lots of technolgy faster then light speed comonications faster then light speed read write speeds

Bryan Johns

I have Knology and in their AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) they say they reserve the right to cap at 250 GB/month. I don’t think I’ve even come close to hitting that limit so I’m unsure if that cap is actually in effect or if they’re simply covering themselves in advance just in case they have to start throttling folks to avoid congestion.

Dave Greenbaum

Great article and while the analogy of the utility industry is good and often cited, but I do have three problems with that analogy

1) With water or electricity I pay only per use. If I use less, I pay less. With broadband caps, everyone pays the same amount initially and then I only get charged for overage and many charge for another “bucket” of data rather than on a per usage basis.

2) With water or electricity especially, I as a consumer have the tools for measurement and those tools can be audited. The meter is outside my house and I can take a look at my electrical usage. No independent audit system exists for broadband usage. I can use software or hardware to measure it on my own, but my ISP won’t accept my tools. If they made a mistake in their calculations, I can’t counter the assessment

3) With water or electricity, I’m charged for the resource consumption not the usage and that usage isn’t “shaped”. If I water my plants or flush the toilet, same charge. If I use my toaster or my TV, same charge. With ISPS, certain usage gets priority over other usage and I’m charged different rates. If it’s all about the data and I’ve got voice service through them, I shouldn’t be charged per call I should be charged per data. If I torrent or watch Netflix, charge me for usage and don’t tell me what I can or can’t do with my connection. I do lots of cooking and I don’t have my electric company saying “You’ve got too many gadgets in the kitchen. Shut them off because you are impacting other customers. They’ve got lots of electricity to sell me and I’m happy to buy. Is broadband such a precious resource that we have to ration it?

elfonblog

Ohhhh nooooo. The utility industry is not a good analogy.

Billing for utilities is about agreeable compensation for delivery of a quantity of consumable resources which are limited by natural forces. Internet service is not consumed, and it is demonstrably limited by unnatural forces bent on pushing the price up. Monopoly telcos like to fool customers into accepting the “price per byte” model because it’s something folks are familiar with from utilities, and generates billable events.

If it hasn’t dawned on you yet, telcos might as well charge our phone calls per spoken word. They could charge different rates depending on the content of our conversations; politics, sports, romance, business. Perhaps Spanish, which is spoken more quickly than English, should be billed higher, because of all the words you’re “consuming” more quickly?

Telecommunications, including phone calls, and bandwidth, is about access to a service for a measurable period of time. Events which occur while using this service do not change the cost of providing it. We should pay more for capacity, not events.

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