This October 1st, 2009 marks one year since Comcast started enforcing their monthly bandwidth cap limit at 250GB. If a user were to go over the limit in one month, they would receive a warning by some means of communication. A second occurrence of going over the limit would result in a termination of services for a year. October 1st, 2008 I declared to be the first Net Loss Day as a result of Comcast’s move and so today, I bid you another Happy Net Loss Day.
I responded to Comcast’s change in policy by trying to be helpful in providing a listing and review of several software packages that could monitor bandwidth usage with Bandwidth Monitoring – Bandwidth Meters for the Comcast Internet Cap. One year later, what has changed and what needs to change?
What’s the Big Deal?
Comcast’s limitation was one of the most publicized instances of an ISP setting a limit on Internet access in the United States. It also came very shortly after Comcast was caught using Sandvine software to interrupt P2P software usage and the FCC’s response of rebuking Comcast with a charge to correct this behavior. In short, the company was already being closely scrutinized yet it continued to make broad strokes in controversial territory.
One other thing to note with the bandwidth cap is that this signifies Comcast not keeping promises to their customers. Comcast wrote up an amendment to their Terms of Service to explain and legitimize the limitation and consequences they were now enforcing. From their Frequently Asked Questions about Excessive Use, here is an FAQ that I highlighted in my last article (emphasis mine):
How does Comcast help its customers track their usage so they can avoid exceeding the limit?
We are in the process of creating a usage meter that will measure consumption for the Comcast account which will be available in the coming months.
“… in the coming months.” This means of tracking bandwidth is still not available yet the policy has been in place for twelve months. Oh, please tell me how many months are in a coming? Perhaps I can ask Jesus, he should definitely have it down pat after his Second Coming. The question is, which will be here first?
What makes the tracking so important? Comcast is enforcing a policy on its customers whom have no means of measuring or knowing their position relative to the limit. What about all the tools I pointed out or even Comcast’s offering?
In the meantime, we offer a meter for free with our McAfee security suite available at http://security.comcast.net/
These solutions, unless they are one of the at-the-router solutions I pointed out, will not be accurate if a household has multiple computers. There is also the case that the customer might have open wireless or a cracked WEP wireless configuration with others piggybacking off of their connection unknowingly. Don’t forget that both uploads and downloads count against this limit, making the total harder to even estimate.
In this last year, there has only been one widely reported story about going into the Comcast Excessive Usage range and this was just reported a week and a half ago. You can read about the individual trying to use online backup tools to protect his pictures and videos, here: http://www.macworld.com/article/142874/2009/09/comcast_cap.html The article leads down the exact same road though, how could he possibly know he had surpassed any kind of limit without any meters or tools to tell him so? Clearly Comcast, themselves, have these tools in order to enforce the policy. Why can’t individuals have that same access to their accounts?
I Don’t Have Comcast, Why Should I Care?
Unlike last year, I am no longer a customer of Comcast’s at this point because I moved to a new location offering AT&T’s U-Verse with a fiber-to-the-premise configuration. However, I’m still concerned about the trends and precedents that steps like this might lead to. Will the trend spread to other ISPs? Will the cap be lowered further if they choose to not invest in their infrastructure nor meet customer needs but instead just keep cutting off high-use customers in order to generate higher profits? Why shouldn’t broadband companies reinvest their profits into infrastructure to address rising demands and increase available customers? Why does the U.S. government have to invest in a Broadband Stimulus Plan? This will just result in more customers paying the big ISPs a monthly subscription.
This discussion also leads straight down the path to discussing Net Neutrality. Granted that the Bandwidth Cap is a lot more neutral than Comcast’s previous interrupting P2P traffic with Reset packets, but not discussing Net Neutrality would be ignoring the elephant in the room. It is my opinion that customers need to be on their guard for their rights, especially when dealing with a monopolistic company like Comcast or a duopoly industry (Comcast and AT&T).
Also a week and a half ago, the FCC Chairman spoke on the matter of needing a neutral Internet at the new OpenInternet.gov website. A site designed with the slogan: “Together we can preserve a free and open Internet to promote greater innovation, job creation, and a more connected America.” Chairman Julius Genachowski gave an excellent speech calling for an open, transparent, and non-discriminating Internet which you can read here: http://www.openinternet.gov/read-speech.html
News articles that surfaced as a result of the speech:
- The ISPs reacted with a general consensus of supporting the “open Internet” but lacked any enthusiasm: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/09/editorial-network-neutrality-or-network-neutering.ars
- An editorial response from Ars Technica replies to the editorial in the Wall Street Journal which attempts to rebrand Net Neutrality as Neutering the ‘Net makes for an interesting read. I certainly agree with the Ars Technica editorial
- And just to get everybody into the mix, AT&T calls Google a hypocrite on Net Neutrality: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-10362148-266.html
That’s my two cents, thanks for reading! If you agree that there is an issue here, please Digg the article and Tweet about it so that we can see some change. Oh, and Happy Net Loss Day to you! Pass it on and perhaps we can celebrate Net Gain Day someday.