Comcast to move to bandwidth cap / metering solution?

by on May 7, 2008 · 131 comments

As I have argued many times before (see 1, 2, 3, 4), some sort of usage-based bandwidth metering or consumption cap makes a lot of sense as a way to deal with broadband network traffic management. So, if this is the direction that Comcast is heading–and this recent Broadband Reports piece suggests that it is–that is fine with me. The article says it might work as follows:

A Comcast insider tells me the company is considering implementing very clear monthly caps, and may begin charging overage fees for customers who cross them. While still in the early stages of development, the plan — as it stands now — would work like this: all users get a 250GB per month cap. Users would get one free “slip up” in a twelve month period, after which users would pay a $15 charge for each 10 GB over the cap they travel. According to the source, the plan has “a lot of momentum behind it,” and initial testing is slated to begin in a month or two.

“The intent appears to be to go after the people who consistently download far more than the typical user without hurting those who may have a really big month infrequently,” says an insider familiar with the project, who prefers to remain anonymous. “As far as I am aware, uploads are not affected, at least not initially.” According to this source, the new system should only impact some 14,000 customers out of Comcast’s 14.1 million users (i.e. the top 0.1%).

It’s always been my hope that we could potentially head-off burdensome Net neutrality regulations by encouraging carriers to deal with the problem of excessive bandwidth consumption by using time-tested price discrimination solutions instead of the sort of packet management techniques that are the subject of such heated debate today. Of course, on one of our old podcasts on Net neutrality issues, Richard Bennett pointed out to me that this still might not alleviate the need for other types of traffic management techniques to be used. And he also pointed out that the very small subset of true bandwidth hogs are almost entirely heavy BitTorrent users, so perhaps the way Comcast was dealing with them was just another way of skinning the same cat.

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