Why is this page text-only?


Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

« Underseas Fiber Equivalent To Sea Trading Routes | Main | Searching Far and Wide »

August 29, 2008 9:52 AM

Comcast Makes Bandwidth Caps Official - Will World Soon End?

Well, it's official. Comcast has announced its intentions to update all its user agreements on Oct. 1 to insert a 250GB monthly bandwidth cap. Some details are still sketchy, like the consequences of surpassing that cap (one idea floated is charging $15 for each additional 10GB of overage), but what was once a rumor is now an inevitability: the Internet's getting capped.

Now, there are many who are decrying this move as yet another example of a greedy billion-dollar corporation finding new ways to screw their customers, and that the only proper response to these plans is righteous indignation, but let's try to consider the big picture, both the positive and negative.

Positive - 250GB is a pretty big cap.
Most of the other cablecos experimenting with bandwidth caps don't even set theirs above 100GB with some as low as 5GB, whereas Comcast has set a higher bar. For all but the heaviest of users 250GB will be way more than enough to avoid overages. 250GB means roughly 125 DVD-quality movies, and for video of lower quality like YouTube or a videocall, 250GB translates into even more hours.

Negative - A cap is still a cap in an era of growing demand for bandwidth. No matter how high it is, there will still be some and increasingly more users hitting it. While there's talk of how 250GB equals 125 standard-def movies, it actually only equates to 10-20 HD movies. And once you're over the cap, each additional HD movie will cost $10, $20, $30 more to deliver, not counting what you're paying for the content. Additionally, with the growth of always-on applications like P2P, video utilities that constantly pull in new video, higher def consumer camcorders, security cameras, and beyond that means that over time our bandwidth demands will only continue to grow. So even if the cap isn't hitting many users today, it could be impacting a lot of users tomorrow.

Positive - At least they're now being upfront and honest.
That's been the biggest thing missing from the broadband marketplace: transparency in the parameters of the services providers are delivering. Whether you like caps or not, everyone agrees that the customer needs to know what he or she is buying. One question yet to be resolved, though, is how Comcast will help its users track their usage and notify them when they're nearing or exceeding their cap. Without a robust solution to this problem, there's no way a cap can work.

Negative - They're not done with caps alone.
There's also been talks by Comcast of limiting the throughput of their heaviest users during the busiest of times. There likely will be future instances where to preserve the stability of their network they're going to have to implement less-than-user-friendly solutions like these. And if the public starts to cry out against these limitations, it may tempt Comcast to go back to its secretive practices. In other words, I don't think bandwidth caps are the final solution to their problems, so there's likely more ugliness ahead.

Positive - We now have a perfect opportunity to see if competition works.
Americans love to get the most bang for their buck. We're the land of buffets and all-you-can-consume deals. So therefore, in general we should be predisposed against having limits imposed on our consumption. In turn, if the market for broadband is truly competitive and there are viable alternatives to cable Internet, then consumers should start turning away from cable service in droves due to these caps.

Negative - Competition almost certainly doesn't work.
Whether we're talking about areas where cable's the sole provider, where the incumbent DSL provider's also pursuing bandwidth caps, or where the cost of cable TV skyrockets if you don't bundle it with TV, there will be many instances where consumers will now be stuck with these caps without anywhere else to turn. It's inevitable and unavoidable. For users who don't exceed the cap it won't be any big deal, but what about the heaviest users. Where are they supposed to turn? I'm even thinking about myself here as I don't want to be relegated to DSL because it's not fast enough. I love my speed and am willing to pay for it. But if I start hitting these caps, I've got nowhere to go other than much slower DSL service, and I'm sitting in the heart of our nation's capitol right now, not Podunk, North Dakota. Making matters worse, even if you did have a viable alternative, you've now only got a month to first learn there's a change coming, understand what it means, and then get switched over to a new provider, which is an extremely short timeframe especially given the fact that no one necessarily knows if they're using more than their fair share today.

So in the end, is Comcast's decision good or bad, helpful or hurtful, a step forward or a step back?

While I want to acknowledge the challenges they face managing their limited, shared, copper networks and while I can't deny their rights to manage that traffic and set the terms of their contracts as they see fit, I just can't bring myself to see this as a positive development for the future of the Internet or our country.

Unfortunately, I also don't see a whole lot of alternatives. If the marketplace doesn't work to correct this by consumers demanding something different, then what are our options? And on the flip side, what are the cablecos supposed to do when their networks are already sagging under the weight of ever-increasing demand for bandwidth?

We can't just lament these caps as yet another example of corporate greed while ignoring the fact that these networks are struggling to keep up with demand and provide a positive user experience.

So for now I think we're stuck. All we can do is make sure network operators are transparent in their policies and that the public is educated about what these policies translate to in terms of the user experience. And after that we just have to sit back and see how the market responds.

Otherwise our only other solution is to start moving more aggressively towards finding the answer to how we can wire our country with fiber thereby ridding ourselves of the limitations of copper networks. But of course as you all know, this is the option that gets my vote!

Del.icio.us Digg Yahoo! My Web Seed Newsvine reddit Technorati


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)