Comcast's Web limits: Saving bandwidth or stifling innovation?

Comcast's Web limits: Saving bandwidth or stifling innovation?

Summary: The first computer I ever bought had a whopping six-gigabyte hard drive inside - far more storage capacity than anyone might have ever dreamed of using some ten years ago. Back then, no one was really downloading music or uploading digital photos, let alone streaming video or placing VoIP phone calls.

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The first computer I ever bought had a whopping six-gigabyte hard drive inside - far more storage capacity than anyone might have ever dreamed of using some ten years ago. Back then, no one was really downloading music or uploading digital photos, let alone streaming video or placing VoIP phone calls. Today, in a digital and data-heavy world, six gigs is laughable. Even the basic version of Windows Vista needs 15 gigs for an installation.

Innovation has prospered by the exponential growth in technologies such as chips, storage capacity and Internet speeds. Now, that very growth could face a real threat by the likes of Comcast and the companies that are sure to follow in its footsteps. Starting Oct. 1, Comcast is imposing a 250 GB cap on the amount of data that its customers can access in a month. Yes, I understand that 250 GB is a lot of data today, just like my 6-gig hard drive was a lot of storage way back when.

But there's just something about a cap on Internet access that screams out "Cap on Innovation." Think I'm wrong? How about this? How many Comcast residential customers do you think would have stayed clear of online clips of Olympics coverage earlier this month, simply because they don't know how to measure usage in megabytes or gigabytes (instead of hours or minutes)? How many do you think will say no to technologies like VoIP because they'll be afraid of going over their Internet cap? Do you know of any parents out there who might forbid their kids from playing the XBox 360 because it connects to the Internet?

And what about the workplace and the Web-centric tools that were put in place to help trim a company's bottom line - things like video conferencing, Skype International calling and even WebEx presentations? I realize I'm getting ahead of myself by worrying about the caps imposed at the enterprise level. But just because no one has suggested it yet doesn't mean it won't happen.

A cap on Internet usage is a huge step backward, especially in a nation that's borderline third-world when it comes to broadband adoption and usage. I understand that Comcast, like other broadband providers, are getting crushed by the amount of data that people are using, slowing the stream of information in the pipeline and potentially upsetting other paying customers. But is this cap really what it will take to keep customers happy? HA! Do I sound happy?

Just last week, I had a great chat with Jeff Aaron, VP of Marketing at Silver Peak Systems, about WAN acceleration and deduplication as ways of maximizing bandwidth in the enterprise. When I heard about Comcast's cap, I immediately called him (on a regular phone line, not a VoIP one) to hear his thoughts. Of course, he said he couldn't speak for Comcast but did wonder if Comcast had looked at ways to beef up its own infrastructure before imposing something like a cap.

"Certainly, there's a finite amount of bandwidth and it needs to be managed," he said. "But once you start capping, how do you determine how much is enough?"

I love how Comcast set the stage for its announcement: "We’ve listened to feedback from our customers who asked that we provide a specific threshold for data usage and this would help them understand the amount of usage that would qualify as excessive."

So... you're doing us a favor?

I remember when early dial-up Internet services made a bundle by providing us with slow Internet connections that came with limits. I also remember when they got creamed by broadband services coming in and offering us faster speeds with no limits. It was like a two-lane country road leading to nowhere had been converted to an around-the-world autobahn. Wide open road, free to drive as fast as we could into the horizon. Ah, those were the days.

Now, we're back to watching the clock, or the gigabyte meter - if there were such a thing. Comcast took the easy way out by imposing limits on its paying customers when instead, it could have individually gone after excessive users and insisted that they upgrade to business accounts. Maybe, the company could have offered discounts to those who barely used the Internet in a given month - but I've never heard of the cable industry lowering prices.

Instead, Comcast tried to solve its own problem by biting the hand that feeds it - the customers who pay for this service. By imposing a cap, I don't think Comcast solved any of its problems. On the contrary, I suspect Comcast has opened a whole new can of worms for itself.

Topics: Storage, Browser, Emerging Tech, Hardware, Telcos

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58 comments
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  • Over-oversubscription

    I would rather have 1Mbit unlimited internet than metered 3Mbit internet, just so that I wont have the worries outlined in this article. I would probably never exceed that amount but I will worry a little and thats one more worry I dont need. If my ISP did this to me I would leave them in a heartbeat, I dont have the time to keep track of my usage and should not have to. Vote with your wallet, dont put up with this. Remember this is a company that forged user's internet packets to keep their network up, they have obviously sold people more bandwidth than they can provide and I hope it teaches other ISPs a lesson, and rewards the business to ones that understand what an "unlimited, always on" connection is about.
    rsmith16384
    • Well, I just do not want to subsidize other peoples extreme behavior.

      I would be very happy with a 1 megabit connection and 5GB total download. I do NOT like paying the same thing as people that are downloading constantly pegging out at 3 megabits and downloading hundreds of gigabytes.
      DonnieBoy
      • But what constitutes "extreme"

        and who gets to determine what constitutes "extreme?" Is "Extreme" defined as "anything more than I use?" or is it some predetermined amount of bandwith consumption? Would the amount be the same for everyone to be "extreme" or only for non-business users? And would a sideline business qualify as extreme or non-extreme?

        It's not just game players who use large amounts of bandwidth, you know.
        nancyjones36507
  • Beef it up

    Why Comcast should beef up their network:

    Imagine its 5:00 PM on a normal Friday evening, you get home hoping to relax in front of the TV to watch a movie or two. You turn on the TV only to discover that you cannot watch that movie you had in mind because too many users are watching movies and the network has reached the limit of its capacity. Obviously this sounds ridiculous because Comcast in it wisdom decided to build their broadcast network with enough capacity to handle all of their customers.

    Apply the same logic to their broadband network. Why would a company build a network with less capacity than needed? If Comcast were reaching the limit of its broadcast network they would "beef it up" to keep their customers happy and satisfied with their cable service. So why would a company provide a service that is woefully inadequate for the task at hand. Could it be because they fear competition to their dominance in the entertainment market?

    What if I decided to satisfy all of my entertainment needs from a competing service like iTunes instead of Comcast? Why, that would bite into Comcast's profit margin wouldn't it. What if I wanted to dumb down my Comcast service to broadband alone, or decide what shows I wanted to watch at what times via my iTunes service, why that would really hurt their bottom line.

    I really don't believe their is a lack of bandwidth for providing all of their customers with adequate broadband access. I believe Comcast is manufacturing an artificial shortage of bandwidth to protect their business model. After all what is broadcast cable service anyway Isn't it just bits of information traveling over a pipe to an end user? I mean, how much data do you think travels down the pipe to provide 24 hours of movies 7 days a week? There doesn't seem to be a shortage there. So why spread the perception of a shortage of bandwidth? Again there must be a reason. And I believe that reason is to protect an ailing and outdated business model.

    Grow up Comcast we're in the data age. Beef up the network and quit stifling innovation just to keep your pockets full.
    richpurcell
    • RE: Beef it Up

      Comcast is rediculars. I already scaled back to just the broadband service alone, probably one of the best things I've done. Save $100 a month and watch less TV, can get most tv online now, just not on the big screen. Unfortunately comcast is the only broadband available in my area (except dsl). If Fios ever makes it here I will switch in a heartbeat. Comcast only survives because of its monopoly in many areas.
      kjames33
    • You have to understand

      That Comcast has reached its limit in many areas.
      Remember, this is all running thru an old copper cable system, which has a limit in itself.

      Their television signals are compressed as much as possible and copper can only carry signals up to specific frequencies and speeds.

      The problem with their broadband is that they are trying to force that thru a coax cable network, along with analog, digital, HDTV and VoIP.

      Something will give eventually
      GuidingLight
    • Yes, beef it up and make the extreme users pay for that beefing up.

      NT.
      DonnieBoy
  • RE: Comcast's Web limits: Saving bandwidth or stifling innovation?

    What a pile! There is no reason for this cap and that's why I am going to cancel comcast cable today! I'm tired of them pushing all their customers around including myself. Taking a clue from the other commenter and canceling cable. I'll probably save money just downloading the shows with their internet. Bye bye comcast, your and evil one!!!
    quantitative
  • Shouldn't there be some indicator first

    Well I can call the cell phone company and find out how many minutes I have left. I can look at my gas or electric meter. Tell me how will I find out how many GB's I'm using. I don't even know.
    zmud
  • This will catch the FCC's attention...

    Remember when the FCC issued their order they did say that Comcast (aka Comcrap) must be completely transparent to their customers. If they do implement this metering solution, they would HAVE to make a way for the consumer to find out...I would just simply call (and urge every other Comcrap customer) their 1-800-COMCAST number (remember they pay for 800 calls, and it costs them money) and ask them what my level is at each day - to drain their CSR resources and run up their phone bill - I digress though, If they dont comply fully (or could even be construed as such) all the customers need to do (and I will) is file FCC complaint and attract the attention of the regulators.

    But perhaps this is going beyond the FCC's purvue and consumer legal action needs to be taken against Comcrap (Can anyone say 'deceptive trade practices'?.. Sherman Anti-trust act :) )
    JT82
    • RE: This will catch the FCC's attention..

      Good call. I've already made two long calls today... both the agent and the supervisor. Muhahahaha.
      superflyriley
  • RE: Comcast's Web limits: Saving bandwidth or stifling innovation?

    The problem that I have with this is that Comcast has a conflict of interests.

    It is a content provider through its cable TV, pay to view services, telecom services, etc. With the amount of bandwidth consumed increasing on a regular basis, it's only a matter of time before that 250GB cap creates an economic incentive for the enduser to use Comcast services exclusively for content.

    In the short term, this has no real effect on most users. But it sets the groundwork for a vertically integrated monopoly.
    Thresher
    • Maybe not most users, but....

      ... with over 14 million subscribers, only 1% would be 140,000 users; more than a small country (or a couple of small countries). But I get the feeling that Comcast wouldn't care if it lost 1% of it's customers if it could handcuff the rest to their evil plan.
      el1jones
  • I will cancel any such company. period.

    I will not be limited in my internet usage, especially by a cable company. It is obvious to me that the cable company is trying to solely protect it's own interests, cable revenue and infrastructure costs.
    Comcast seems to be worried about where their revenue will go if people can watch or download everything off the internet. Otherwise, they would simply create a lower tiered slower speed service, maybe 1mb/s for $25/month vs. $40/month (I don't know what they really charge). I am a person who relies heavily on the internet for information, moving work related files, phone calls (VOIP), and entertainment, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let the company I'm paying tell me how much I can download. I need more information not less. And this is coming from a person who has never (that's right never) downloaded a pirated DVD image/movie.

    If the company's infrastructure cannot support the level of activity, then the company has:
    1) oversold it's own capacity
    2) lied to it's customers
    3) cheated it's customers of the level of service promised.

    If you sell me 3mb/s , I want 3mb/s, and what I do with it is my business.... otherwise, rate the service for what it really is.
    You hearing me Time Warner. I've been pretty happy, but I've got FIOS in my area now. The day that a cap goes on my internet, is the day I switch. Period.
    el1jones
  • CON CAST

    They better stop promoting Video, Gaming and
    Radio, online user storage etc.

    This is called Entrapment or:
    "Electronic Fraud by Deception"

    It will be hard on family's that have multiple pc's or laptops.
    algzdnet
  • If you think that's bad...

    What I would give to have 250GB/mo. I live in Canada and am currently paying Rogers Cable $54.95/mo for "Extreme" 10 Mbps service and a whopping 95GB/mo. Between my two roommates and I, it can get down to the wire by the end of the month... and the fees for every GB after that are ridiculous.

    I hope for all of your sakes that Comcast does not continue on the same path that Rogers has. They continue to increase line speed (great!) while lowering the monthly cap. What good is this high-speed service if it's bottlenecked so hard?
    dwalsh84
    • There's no real competition here in Canada....

      I'm a Rogers customer in Ontario... Unfortunately, as long as our gov't makes it difficult for an real competition to come into our communications market (voice, Internet, TV), we'll continue to get hosed by the existing companies...

      Compare our cell phone, Internet & TV costs to other industrialized nations... Canadians pay obscene amounts. Our adoption of Internet technologies is inspite of what we pay, not because of it... Rogers, Bell, Telus, Cogeco, etc all tell us they're giving us a wonderful deal, and it's all BS.

      Now if only our gov't had the foresight to have opened a chunk of the analog TV spectrum for a high performance public mesh... that would have been visionary.
      s_southern
  • RE: Comcast's Web limits: Saving bandwidth or stifling innovation?

    I should be writing articles if you started your PC life with a 6 gig drive.

    How about 8 inch floppy drives (size 81k ??? 256k)
    algzdnet
    • Lol... very funny and too true (nt)

      .
      el1jones
    • My PC life

      Hey now... I didn't say I started my PC life with a 6-gig drive. I said the first computer I bought had a 6-gig drive. As in... with my own money. There was a computer in the house long before that. ;-)
      SamDiaz