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A Tip of the Broadband Cap

Jeff Baumgartner

When it comes to disclosing the consumption caps of high-speed Internet services, it seems like cable operators are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

While Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) continues to come under intense fire for its invisible cap, Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. of Canada could be facing a class-action lawsuit for alleged false advertising claims related to the capping of its "Extreme" high-speed Internet tier.

Installing consumption caps is not new. Operators have been doing this for years to keep strains on the network -- and abusive users -- in check.

Comcast's Internet acceptable use policy states that customers must avoid consumption that "does not exceed the limitations that are now in effect or may be established in the future."

The big complaint, of course, is that users are kept in the dark about what those limits are, and what they might be in the future. How can they avoid going over the cap if they don't know what the cap is?

Comcast counters that only a fraction -- on the order of 0.01 percent -- of its cable modem customers use more than their fair share of network resources. Customers who do exceed the cap are given fair warning and the option to upgrade to a business-level tier that's more commensurate with their usage patterns. Those who continue to gorge beyond the limit could find themselves booted from the network for at least a year.

"More than 99.99% of our customers use the residential high-speed Internet service as intended, which includes downloading and sharing video, photos, and other rich-media. Comcast has a responsibility to provide these customers with a superior experience, and to address any excessive or abusive activities usage issues that may adversely impact that experience," reads Comcast's statement on the matter.

Again, what's the intended level? While it's easier to gauge on a day-to-day basis how many minutes I'm using my cellphone each day, it's much more difficult to know how many bytes I'm consuming with my broadband connection.

While the MSO still refuses to supply a figure (presumably so it doesn't tip anyone off and aid efforts to circumvent the system), it does list out a general equivalent of what customers can do in a given month before they can expect to get alerted:

  • Send 256,000 digital photos
  • Send 13 million emails

    During the month of July, I sent 461 emails from my work address, and about 225 from my personal account. Meanwhile, my mother continues to rattle my cage because I haven't sent her ANY photos of her grandchildren in recent memory, which goes to show that I'm well under that cap... but guilty of being a lazy turd, apparently.

    But at least I shouldn't expect to get a nastygram from Comcast about my usage patterns.

    Regardless, what are your thoughts on this debate? Whether you run a server at home, a virus has transformed your PC into a spam zombie, you share all your home videos on YouTube Inc. , or use the Internet sparingly, should Comcast be more forthcoming about that cap, even if it only applies to a small fraction of its customer base?

    — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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