01 September, 2008

Comcast announces bandwidth usage cap

Effective October 1st, Comcast is putting a cap on its unlimited usage plan -- instead of unlimited bandwidth, you get 250GB per month. It looks as if first-time offenders will only be given a warning, but then any subsequent violations could result in termination of your service.

At first glance, that seems like quite a lot of bits; lets check it out. Comcast claims their average usage is 2 - 3 GB per month. From the Comcast Network Management Policy page, here's how you could use the 250 GBs.
  • Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)
  • Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)
  • Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)
  • Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)
What Comcast didn't publish was a realistic look at usage. For example, Comcast left a few items off such as IM, YouTube, podcasts, and 3rd party VoIP calls. With that being said, estimating usage for a family of 4 still only exceeds the Comcast estimate by 10x (20 - 30 GB p/ month). I did not calculate for the person that works full-time from home. Now if you add in online gaming such as World of Warcraft (WoW), you have another 3 KB/s of gaming, so add another 2 GB per month. If you are a real power user, you could also be using bandwidth for backing up your PCs to the cloud. This would be a one-time hit to do a full backup, but all subsequent backups would only send what's changed.

As much as I dislike Comcast's business practices in general, I think the cap will not cause problems for most families. I think they could be more helpful and provide a bandwidth meter program, and perhaps a record of your usage over the last 6 to 12 months. I also think they should offer a higher and lower bandwidth packages, priced accordingly. Don't confuse this with net neutrality -- Comcast was not respecting net neutrality when it was cutting off P2P traffic; having tiered bandwidth packages seems reasonable. Right now, if Comcast average usage is really what they claim, they are making a lot of dough of folks at $50+ per month for only 2 - 3 GBs.

CNets Webware site is running a poll to hear what people think about this change from Comcast. Though I think it is a bit biased towards power users, it's kind of fun to read some of the comments.
I'm not so worried about today, as I don't get anywhere near 250GB. But I remember a time when downloading even 1GB was beyond people's comprehension. Who knows, maybe someday 250GB in a month won't really be that much. Especially when you consider the increase in things like rich web content, streaming radio and TV, VoIP, cloud computing, and backup services.
Comcast, already well known for being one of the nation's worth ISPs, will ensure that they maintain their title with a move like this. The first time I get a call, which will be around the middle of October, I'll be telling a Comcast rep where they can shove this Motorola modem and going with another ISP.
If you're still with me, and still with Comcast, here's a program you can use to monitor your bandwidth, BitMeter. With BitMeter, you can set ISP restrictions (i.e. 250 GB), so you can be notified before you exceed the cap.

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