Light Reading

Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
8/28/2008
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Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), panned earlier for applying an "invisible cap" on how much capacity cable modem consumers can gobble up before landing in the broadband dog house, says it will place a 250 Gbyte threshold on excessive users as of Oct. 1. (See ComCap? and Comcast Amends 'Acceptable Use' Policy .)

Comcast detailed this expected "amendment" to its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) this afternoon on its Network Management Web page. The 250 Gbyte threshold counts aggregate downloads and uploads.

Comcast said the threshold will apply to less than 1 percent of its high-speed Internet subscribers, noting that the median residential usage is 2 to 3 Gbytes per month.

Because companies love breaking down big numbers, Comcast expressed that 250 Gbytes is equivalent to sending 50 million emails (at 0.05 kilobytes per message), downloading 62,000 songs (at 4 megabytes per tune), or downloading 125 standard-def movies (at 2 gigabytes per flick).

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas would not say how this new, transparent threshold compares to the earlier invisible one; 250 Gbytes "is the number we chose to go with," he says helpfully.

Comcast also says its policy hasn't really changed: Customers who exceed the cap are asked to moderate their usage or upgrade to a commercial services account, which runs about $1,500 per month. Those who don't upgrade, but exceed the threshold again within a six-month period, will have their service terminated for a year.

"The vast majority of the time, people moderate their usage, and it's not an issue," Douglas says.

By revealing the threshold figure, Comcast might avoid the kind of firestorm it endured for not being open enough about its treatment of some peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. The MSO has less than 30 days to comply with elements of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order published earlier this month. (See FCC Puts Comcast on the Clock , FCC Throttles Comcast, and Comcast Ready to Test New Traffic Cop.) Although they tend to be linked, Comcast's amended excessive usage policy and the network management proceeding at the FCC are two separate issues.

Still, Free Press , a pressure group that complained about Comcast's treatment of P2P traffic, questioned whether the 250 Gbyte cap would solve longer-term "congestion problems."

"Though the proposed cap is relatively high, it will increasingly ensnare more users as technology continues its natural progression," said Free Press research director Derek Turner, in a statement. (See Free Press Reacts to Comcast .)

Not a meter
Although earlier reports suggested that Comcast would charge for usage above the cap, that's not the case... at least not yet. Some operators have built in so-called Internet "metering" into their service business models, or have started to conduct some tests. (See Get Your Meter Running, Rogers Takes Internet Meter to the Masses, and TWC Tees Up Metered Internet Trial .)

Metered broadband is a possibility, Douglas says. "We are evaluating a variety of different models, including consumption-based billing. But we have nothing to announce at this time."

Comcast does not provide customers with a gauge that shows their usage, though they are obviously free to track their own consumption using publicly available tools.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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chocodile
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chocodile,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:38 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
I sort of cringed when I read the news, anticipating the inevitable complaining and whining from the Net Neutrality crowd. "Free Internet is my birthright!" seems to be their belief. But the network operators' efforts to control traffic and the use of its systems (important disctinction - IT BELONGS TO THEM, NOT YOU, JOE PUBLIC), doesn't seem evil or insidious to me. No one complains about the power company or water company metering usage and charging for the amount used. No one complains that a 50 lb. package costs more to ship than a 1 lb. package. Why then do people complain about internet access? I find it interesting that the division between the pros and cons falls along political party lines - those who want something for free, and those who don't mind paying for what they use. I'll let the readers figure out who each side represents.
vrparente
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vrparente,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:38 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
That's 2 terabits 250GB x 8bits/byte = 2 Terabits. Averaged 30x24x7x60x60 that comes out to about 771604.9382716049382716049382716 bps or 750kbps 24x7. When the average 24x7 consumption is floating at less than 100kbps, that is well outside the median and appears to be somewhere in the range of a couple to a few standard deviations off of standard distribution of usage.

In short that's equivalent to a professor letting you get a passing grade when you have a grade in the lowest 3% of the class. Another way of saying this is that approximatley 98% to 99.something percent of subscribers in a typical residential network would not be affected by this.
gbennett
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gbennett,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:37 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
Hi vrparente,
I agree with the sentiment, but I'd say it's even more extreme than you describe. Not sure what the statistical term for this is, but imagine the standard distribution curve being squashed inwards a bit.

Based on figures I've seen in the UK I'm guessing far less than 1% of our broadband population would find themselves being throttled with this size of cap. The size of caps here are one to two orders of magnitude smaller right now.

What has happened is that the "average" Internet user (ie. a person who does not download copyright-infringing material) now has a way to breach these smaller caps because of TV on demand services being offered by the BBC and our independent TV companies (ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5).

So if I were to describe a distribution curve for the UK I'd see a broader population pulling down more stuff (and doing so legally). And a very narrow peak of a small fraction of users who are probably downloading large amounts of material in order to create counterfeit movie DVDs and games. There's a popular outlet for these materials in what we call here "car boot sales", not to mention Internet auction sites.

Cheers,
Geoff
paulej
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paulej,
User Rank: Lightning
12/5/2012 | 3:33:36 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
One poster argued that one should pay for what one uses, arguing that one does not mind having his water metered. This is true, but there is something different about the Internet. In many cases, you cannot control the volume. Should Internet users send bills to Amazon for sending unwanted advertising to their computers that ultimately puts them over a bandwidth cap?

250GB might be a reasonable figure. But, what is the point? After all, they said this only applies to 1% of its users. So are they really saving anything? Or, is this just their way of kicking dirt on the FCC for its decision over P2P? Again, they said it only affects about 1% of the customer base!

Back to the water example... there are plenty of places that have "all you can eat" buffets. But, they do not charge one person differently than the next. The cost of service is spread across all customers.

And, these same companies are talking about delivering IPTV service? Would that not consume considerably more bandwidth?

While my own usage is far below the cap that will be imposed, I would be rather annoyed if I were a customer and would seek an alternative provider. Perhaps it is because I (like most of you) work in the tech field and see that the Internet has far more potential than it does. Frankly, I don't think there is enough deployed bandwidth and providers ought to continue to work to increase access and core network speeds. There are many services that simply are not possible today with limited bandwidth.

Putting the cap in place seems to suggest Comcast is happy to do nothing to improve service in terms of bandwidth. Have they decided they have enough deployed infrastructure for the next 100 years?

I would hope not. We need continued growth, more services, and ... I certainly do not mind subsidizing the 1% that use a lot of bandwidth.
Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:35 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
I think an important thing to point out here is that Comcast has historically placed a cap on what they deem excessive use. The big difference now is that consumers now know what that cap is...though the operator isn't providing a gauge or some way for customers to know how far below the ceiling they are or if they are approaching it. Although the cap has no direct relation to the P2P proceeding at the FCC, I think this cap disclosure was done in part to give more transparency to what Comcast's Internet service policies are. Jeffb
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:35 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
re: "One poster argued that one should pay for what one uses, arguing that one does not mind having his water metered. This is true, but there is something different about the Internet. In many cases, you cannot control the volume. Should Internet users send bills to Amazon for sending unwanted advertising to their computers that ultimately puts them over a bandwidth cap?"

Comcast will charge Amazon for delivering the ads and won't account against the consumer for those bits. This allows them to keep there middleman position between consumer and content/application providers. Most of the COAX spectrum is used to deliver garbage and there are no caps on that. The media companies pay them to peddle the trash into our homes. That's their biz model. Don't like it then start digging.
OldPOTS
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OldPOTS,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:34 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
While Comcast is @ 250GB. Most of the others are @ 5-50GB. That effects a lot more average subscribers than 1%. Who is to say that Comcast will stick to 250GB.

I have supported tier pricing, but with some meter for subs to understand how much they are using.
But this takes one back to the QoS/DPI argument for efficiency vs. blind control. But at least customers will know the real level of service they can expect to receive.

OP
paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:33 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB

You mean like say Cablevision rj?

seven
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:33 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
Comcast's policy displays obvious flaws in the so-called deregulated free market. A market would charge higher for congestion periods and not for using idle bandwidth. A functioning market would provide more capacity when supply was exceeded and not cut off demand by disconnecting their customers for a year.

Study the electric industry to see what should happen. There, the ones that prevailed drove peak and average demand to converge in order to maximize efficiency. They did this by catering to high demand users in a manner that shifted their demand to lower periods of utilization. They didn't cut off their customers service for a year as punishment.

If this policy doesn't scream conflicted interests of network provider being both a broadcaster and a unicast network owner, I don't know what does. And the FCC wants the phone companies to emulate the cable companies for the fantasy of facilities based competition?
OldPOTS
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OldPOTS,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:33:33 PM
re: Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB
I meant to say "Most of the others are considering 5-50GB."

OP
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