Why metered Internet is a really bad idea

Why metered Internet is a really bad idea

Summary: The above image from Lauren Weinstein's blog shows why metered Internet is a really bad idea and obnoxious.  It shows Canadian ISP Rogers Internet altering web pages to warn you when you go over 75% of your 75GB cap.

TOPICS: Browser, Telcos

The above image from Lauren Weinstein's blog shows why metered Internet is a really bad idea and obnoxious.  It shows Canadian ISP Rogers Internet altering web pages to warn you when you go over 75% of your 75GB cap.  I checked on the Rogers website for the Toronto Ontario area and 1 mbps service was $33 CAD (worth more than US dollars these days) per month with a 60 GB monthly cap.  That effectively means you can only use BitTorrent for about 6 days out of the month.  Compared to the Australian plans which have 8GB noon to midnight caps that the EFF was touting as the "better" alternative to Comcast BitTorrent seed throttling, Rogers seems like a pretty good deal.  However, it's still nowhere near as good as the US ISPs that don't use metered internet plans.

There are plenty of price tiers in the US that work by limiting the rate at which you can download but not the amount you can download so it's not like everyone is forced to subsidize the big bandwidth users.  You can get 768 kbps DSL plans in the US for $15/month which still allow you to theoretically download 248 GBs per month if you kept it running continuously.  This offers the best compromise where Internet usage isn't stifled by constant fears of going over the limit or what time of the day it is like your cell phone.

My AT&T DSL plan is 1.5 (good for 1.2 mbps due to distance or line quality) costs $20/month with no metering.  I've also had Comcast in the past and they charged less than $40/month with roughly 5 mbps service and they didn't have any gigabyte caps (excluding NNTP news server which doesn't count as network utilization).  Comcast doesn't even throttle BitTorrent uploads or downloads, they only limit the number of BitTorrent seed connections you can serve at a time to alleviate the network load.  Now is this really that bad of a trade-off to ensure that a few BitTorrent users don't overwhelm the majority of users and make everyone suffer?  Even if you throttled BitTorrent upload/downloads by 50% throughput (which isn't being done) and "only" allowed them to download 200 GBs per month instead of 400 GBs per month, is that really so unfair?

On a related note which I also posted as an update, the EFF has responded to me and others that I have misrepresented their position in my blog titled EFF wants to saddle you with metered Internet service.  I'll let you be the judge of that so here is what they sent me and what they're telling everyone else.

The article incorrectly states that EFF endorses legislation or regulation that would force ISPs or users to offer only metered services. The EFF report actually states that the *availability* of metered access alongside "all you can eat" plans, combined with accurate advertising by ISPs, is one alternative that might solve whatever congestion issues Comcast might be having (as the language you quote in your article expressly makes clear).

Nowhere in my blog post do I state EFF would force ISPs to *only* offer metered services?  All I said was "The EFF goes as far as touting the Australian model for broadband service" as a better alternative to Comcast's current model and I included the Australian ISP link the EFF pointed to.  The plans that came up were mostly metered plans and some were very expensive unlimited plans.  Peter Eckersley even sent me an email touting this page where you pay $65/month AUD for a plan that gives you 8 GB of "pre-paid data" during noon to midnight [Update 12/12/2007 - Peter Eckersley emailed me saying he sent me the wrong link and had meant to link to this page which is $20 cheaper.  That's slightly better but the 8GB cap is still a horrible idea].  Since you can download 8 GBs in less than 2 hours at 10 mbps, you essentially give up using any BitTorrent from noon to midnight unless you want to pay $3/GB.  Even the off-peak rates are metered so you still have to be careful to turn off your BitTorrent client after 1 hour each day.  If you want 48 GB "pre-paid data", you need to pay $120/month AUD and $3/GB over that amount.

Now consider Comcast's offerings which permit you to download and upload unlimited data using BitTorrent with no throttling for a flat fee of $40 per month.  You can easily download 100 GBs and upload 10 GBs per month or more and Comcast won't stop you or charge you anything extra.  The only thing Comcast does is occasionally scale back the number of BitTorrent seed connections (dedicated server mode) you can have even though Comcast's TOS (Terms Of Service) prohibits servers of any kind.  My ATT DSL plan is less than $20/month and I can download 8 GB per day every day and not pay a single cent on overage charges so what is the EFF thinking recommending the Australian ISP model over Comcast's "bad" model?

The EFF says what Comcast is doing is evil and that the Australian model is the better alternative even though it's draconian compared to what Comcast or any other American ISP is doing.  It would certainly stop the BitTorrent usage during peak hours but at what price to the user?  The Free Press and Public Knowledge also think metered Internet is a better alternative but they go a step further and want to criminalize Comcast's current operating model and fine them trillions of dollars.  So again I ask: Who is the EFF, Free Press, and Public Knowledge serving?  The RIAA and MPAA couldn't buy this kind of anti peer-to-peer lobbying if they tried.

Topics: Browser, Telcos

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  • ONLY if I could effectively block ....

    "Metered"service would make me pay TWICE for all the adds ZDnet
    inserts in each page. Once to access the internet and again to
    pay for the gigabytes of data I would be forced to download to
    read ANYTHING!
    If ZDNet, Google, MSN, AOL, et all care about their revenue
    stream (which I tolerate and click on IF of value) then THIS
    hairbrained idea of "Metered Service" had better die PRONTO!

    I'm pretty torqued to have to pay for the "shopping channels"
    that Comcast "includes" in my service!
    • PS: It's "ads" as in advertisements

      Sorry about the typo!
  • Where did you get the idea that Comcast is unlimited?

    Comcast does not offer unlimited service, but the limits are never disclosed, which leaves you guessing. Certainly unmetered service is best, but if service is limited, I'd prefer to know the limits.
    • If there is a limit, I've never seen anyone hit it and that's the point

      If there is a limit, I've never seen anyone hit it so it's irrelevant. On the other hand, an 8 GB limit can be hit in hours and a 60 GB limit can be hit in days. I have never seen any Comcast user hit a network bandwidth limit after hours, days, or even weeks. The only thing that has been identified is the number of BitTorrent seed server sessions you're allowed to have at impacted times throughout the day.
      • Go to DSLreports.com

        And visit the forums and you can read posts from plenty of people who've reached 'the limit' with Comcast. The limit with Comcast is dependent on the area the user is in. In more congested areas with high subscriber density and/or a large number of bandwidth hogs, Comcast cracks down on people and will cut them off.
        • If that is true, it's a lot better than these 8 GB or 64 GB limits

          If that's even true, it's a lot better than these 8 GB or 60 GB limits. It's so easy to hit the 60 GB limit on a cable broadband connection that if Comcast did that, you'd have people screaming on a regular basis. But I think it's fine to ask or even mandate detailed disclosure from Comcast on that that limit is and what the result will be in their contract up front, but I don't think it's ever cool to ask for a metered Internet service.
          • It IS true, and you can't know if it's better/worse since it's secret.

            Here's a Washington Post article from September about some folks who's Comcast service was terminated. They too, had the mistaken impression that Comcast service was unlimited: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/06/AR2007090602545_pf.html

            Frank from Utah has a great blog documenting his experience with Comcast's secret limits (dating back to December 2006): http://comcastissue.blogspot.com/2007/02/remember-that-day-when-comcast-came.html

            As far as I know, no one ever ASKED for metered service. Unfortunately that's all that's available sometimes. Even here in the good ol' USA.
          • The EFF, Free Press, and Public Knowledge all say metered is better

            "As far as I know, no one ever ASKED for metered service."

            I don't know how you can still say this. The EFF, Free Press, and Public Knowledge all say metered is better which is ludicrous.

            As for Comcast terminating user accounts, I think that is wrong but we need to know what "limit" they hit. I think throttling excessive users after they hit some reasonable limit (publicly stated) is fine. I'm not saying that Comcast can't use reform or more transparency, I'm saying the proposed solution from the EFF, Free Press, Public Knowledge to go metered is idiotic.
          • Since metered IS what's offered, maybe their suggestion isn't so idiotic.

            Metered service is what's offered - at least from most of the cableco's. Thankfully Verizon's FiOS is a lovely exception, as is most DSL service (in the USA).

            From what I can tell, the EFF, Free Press, and Public Knowledge all seem to think plans where limits are disclosed are preferable to plans where the limits are secret. This doesn't necessarily mean they're in favor of metered service, or even that they're asking for it. But they (like you) favor disclosure since the service is, in fact, metered.
          • Exactlly...

            ...honest is better than dis-honest. Get a cl(Ou) Greorge!
    • plus Comcast lies to you

      Comcast Customer Service lies to you or is just clueless -- you decide.

      It's some secret department called "abuse" that monitors your internet usage, warns you and cuts you off. IF you get a warning and you call Customer Service, they have no idea what you are talking about and tell you nothing is wrong. Then, BOOM. Your service gets shut down and no pleading can resurrect it.

      All because there is some secret cap they will not disclose.

      HARD NUMBERS, that's what we need. Instead Comcast spokespeople vaguely talk about bandwidth hogs who download the "equivalent" of hundreds of thousands of emails and photos. Would that be 1kb emails or 10MB emails? Would that be 80kb jpgs or 6MB jpgs? Their language is purposely obtuse so they cannot be pinned down. If they gave an actual number, like 100GB or 200GB, you could stay under that. Instead it's a shadowy cap you have no way of negotiating.

      So, Georgie, Comcast is NOT a good example for you to use for chaap, unlimited bandwidth!

      Your "$40" per month subscriber fee is wrong too. Cheapest "normal" (not promotional rate) is $43 per month and that's only "bundled" with other Comcast services. If you want standalone internet (no TV or voip phone service) then it's actually $57 per month!
  • As an Australian

    There is really not high speed broadband as some other countries would see it.

    You can of course, choose an "unlimited" connection which basically slows you down after your cap or you can do something stupid like I did, which is choose the 60GB per month on unlimited cable. No restriction on torrent, but if you stupidly leave a BitTorrent on and haven't set a default upload limit then it's capable of chewing up around 10GB in a day or two (I now regret my high upload speed).

    The final straw was what I was charged for the extra data - $0.15/MB (not changed for some time). So I go from paying around $2 a gigabyte to around $150 per GB giving me around A$1500 bill for the month.

    So if you must use torrents, make sure your client has a way to limit your upload speed - especially when it's seeding ;-)
  • Comcast has *no* throttling?

    [i]Now consider Comcast???s offerings which permit you to download and upload unlimited data using BitTorrent with no throttling...[/i]

    I had Comcast's cable plan, George. And guess what? My connection WAS tampered with, despite the fact that I only use BitTorrent when a major Linux distro release comes out(which is basically a few times every six months). I would be able to download the torrents just fine, but once the download was done, uploading stops(forged reset packets). This flipped me off because I would normally leave the client open for about ten minutes to help other downloaders out of courtesy. And don't tell me that I had to wait X minutes to upload. That's still considered a blockage by most average users.

    After having a few words with Comcast's servicepeople, we switched to Verizon's DSL(no FiOS available here sadly). It's not as fast, of course, but at least I'm not blocked off.
    Tony Agudo
    • And you were uploading the whole time you were downloading

      And you were uploading the whole time you were downloading so you were helping other users. You also admit that you could wait a few minutes for the seeds to startup. That sounds like a compromise but it's not that bad compared to what the EFF, Free Press, and Public Knowledge proposes in metered Internet services.

      On the other hand, I'd rather use Verizon FiOS and possibily even DSL if it's 3 or more mbps. But that doesn't mean what Comcast is doing should be illegal, just less preferable than FiOS or VDSL but better than plain DSL.
      • You didn't get what i saying, George

        I know full well they let you upload during download, but that's not the problem. The problem is that it's common courtesy to leave the client open for a while for the express purpose of seeding. Every other ISP doesn't make you wait just to seed. What makes Comcast any different? The wait they impose can actually harm some torrent sessions. I shouldn't have to wait an arbitrary amount of time to start seeding, I expect it to continue uploading after the download is done. And technically what Comcast is doing is illegal(sending forged reset packets is basically impersonation).

        P.S. - I'm not comparing Comcast to anything the EFF said. I only took exception to your statement claiming Comcast doesn't throttle anything, when my own experience(and many others) prove otherwise. I may go back to Comcast, but only after they get sued properly and quit their p2p blocking shenanigans.
        Tony Agudo
        • I said it prevented some seeds

          "P.S. - I'm not comparing Comcast to anything the EFF said. I only took exception to your statement claiming Comcast doesn't throttle anything"

          I said it prevented some seeds and that this is better than the alternative the EFF presents in the metered internet model. Did you miss that part?
  • Throttling is already in effect for me

    I find this sad because I left DirecWAY for a cable company only to find that I am under the same restrictions, though more lenient.

    I do agree that changes need to be implemented to the infrastructure that would allow a higher rate of transfer. Especially if these companies are profiting like so and not improving their networks. I think there is far too much dark fiber not to have some improvements.
    • Last Mile

      It's true that there is plenty of dark fiber, but the issue for home users has always been the last mile. That's the most expensive to develop and is the bottleneck for all ISPs, whether they use DSL or Cable.

      That being said, I agree that the ISPs need to improve their networks.
  • Since you're making an opinion based on someone elses...

    I would like to let you know that Roger's ISP in Canada is not the only one.

    Most people won't hit the limit so it doesn't affect them, and those that do are smart enough to choose an ISP that doesn't have a limit.

    Mine does not have a limit.
  • Bandwidth metering already happens

    All the satellite Internet providers have bandwidth caps.

    Both Comcast and Cox limit. Cox is what 60GB?

    Cox doesn't provide any means to check your limit either.


    When I first signed up with Charter many years ago they had rate limits. Those have been removed now.

    How many more ISP have caps? I bet far more than most people know.