Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB

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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