Rumor: Comcast to meter bandwidth. Good or bad thing?

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ExtremeTech asks today if Comcast – rumored to be about to start metering bandwidth – is “preparing to screw its customers.

While it’s true that Comcast screws its customers, metering bandwidth strikes me as a fairer modus buggerandi than what it does now: lying to us by offering “unlimited” plans with secret limits, with a Kafka-esque policy of not communicating with people who get close to it.

Here’s the rumored plan:

“Comcast is considering a rate hike for broadband customers who consume more than 250 gigabytes of data each month, though there are no immediate plans for implementation. “Comcast is currently evaluating this service and pricing model to ensure we deliver a great online experience to our customers,” the company said in a statement. “We have not made any changes to our current service offerings and have no new announcement to make at this time.”

It all comes down to cost. If Comcast stopped offering unlimited bandwidth, would you still feel entitled to it? It would be beastly indeed if Comcast smacked 250GB transgressors for huge penalties, but at least then it wouldn’t be defrauding its customers any more. Or is it all just part of a strategy to get you used to paying by the unit for a commodity – bandwidth – that is or will soon be effectively free of charge to it, the utility provider?

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16 Responses to Rumor: Comcast to meter bandwidth. Good or bad thing?

  1. stratosfyr says:

    I think it should be metered, like water or electricity or any other utility. A small connection fee, including some basic amount of bandwidth — enough for email and whatever — then charge by usage.

    Price = basic fee + (x * (bandwidthUsed – 20GB))

    Something like that. Don’t mislead. Don’t charge ridiculous overage charges. Charge for what people actually use. Low users should pay less and high users should pay more.

    I suppose there really needs to be either more regulation or more competition before that would actually work, though.

  2. Bryan Price says:

    It sounds OK, but I’d like to actually know what I’m currently using right now before I would think about this.

    As somewhere else said later this past week (consumerist.com?), the faster/better plans only let you hit the cap faster, they don’t actually move the cap.

    Currently, the only option right now is AT&T DSL (I’ll be sticking with Comcast thank you!). And fiber to the home looks to be AT&T’s Uverse option. Which isn’t even available here yet, and I don’t even like the looks of it.

  3. Brian Carnell says:

    I would be surprised if these ever actually get implemented. First, although I go over 250gb easily every month, I imagine I’m in a small minority. But as video and other usage of the Internet increases, it’s going to be more common especially in houses with families (to put it another way *I* don’t go over 250gb, but between myself, my wife and two kids, we go over that mark).

    Second, it just makes competitors like FIOS more attractive once they hit your area.

    @6 “Believe it or not, bandwidth really is a limited resource; existing hardware only goes so fast. If you want it to be less limited, be prepared to either buy more of it or pay more to fund upgrades. Or learn to use it more efficiently.”

    Cry me a river. Comcast certainly has no problem figuring out how to make millions in profits off of its local monopolies. This is simply a way to further squeeze those poor folks with no other choice but Comcast. Notice, they aren’t considering offering a *discount* for very low usage consumers.

  4. Green House Brand says:

    If this move is made there will be massive shifts in web design, and web content in general. viral vids would be a killer to a monthly cap. I live with my younger brother who plays World of Warcraft around the clock, and who also has an xbox live, not to mention his regular web usage.

    While bandwith is a limited resource the companies have not put in enough research into the issue. They might be rushing to the quickest/easiest solution which would be to cap monthly bandwith. Studies have shown that our internet speed in America are much slower and falling behind many other countries. (theres a nice chart here )

    So my question is, are internet speed issues creating bandwith issues? Im not an expert but it seems to me if our internet speed was exponentially raised wouldnt that in a way create more bandwith?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Comcast doesn’t care about the money of a single user, especially one who would be affected by metered bandwidth. If you are at risk for being metered, Comcast wants you gone – you screw up their entire mathematical model that claims they can give everyone the service they paid for. If they get rid of you, they get rid of a large-scale bandwidth consumer, shifting the burden to their competition.

    Rather than leaving, ALL users need to increase their data usage, force comcast to improve its infrastructure.

  6. technogeek says:

    Sure, faster nets would equal more bandwidth. Upgrading them costs money. Which brings us back to “bandwidth isn’t free; if use lots of it, expect that at some point they’re gonna want you to pay for it because it’s cutting into their ability to support their other customers.”

    Call it the salad-bar principle, if you like. Most salad bars started out charging a fixed price, by the bowl. Some of us got really clever about optimizing our salads to get the most food for that price. That forced them to either charge everyone more for the same size bowl or to switch to charging by weight; the latter was more common, and probably more fair. You can still optimize, but now you have to use limited resources wisely rather than just heaping the bowl higher.

  7. Kristin says:

    This somehow reminds me of how internet charges used to be – charge per the minute of dial up access. Sigh.

  8. Enochrewt says:

    I hate Comcast. If they do this, I’ll cancel the day it goes into effect.

    Wouldn’t they have to supply some sort of “You’ve used X bandwidth” meter? I would think that the day their entire customer base had that meter forced on them they’d realize their service isn’t unlimited and everyone would cancel en masse. That’s my fervent wish anyway.

  9. mdhatter says:

    “Comcast is currently evaluating this service and pricing model to ensure we deliver a great online experience to our customers,”

    Comcast lost me, my cable internet, phone, and digital cable business almost 5 years ago over a trifling billing dispute that they handled very very poorly when they failed to fix my cable for 2 weeks then insisted on charging me full price for the whole month (for all 3 services that failed). They even tried to charge me (twice!) for the cable boxes I dropped off.

    Comcast have always had their heads squarely up their arses.

    Get a dish, a DSL, and a cell phone. You’ll be happier.

  10. asx says:

    Why is it that people keep using the word “unlimited” with Comcast. They don’t offer unlimited. Their terms of service state:

    “Facilities Allocation. Comcast reserves the right to determine, in its discretion, and on an ongoing basis, the nature and extent of its facilities allocated to support the Service, including, but not limited to, the amount of bandwidth to be utilized and delivered in conjunction with the Service.”

    I’m quite happy to see folks who keep consuming 24/7 get dinged. And before you say it, they’re not downloading Linux distros. In most cases, they’re downloading movies and music and episodes.

    Pay for what you use. There’s no unlimited, and I don’t want to subsidize someone who uses a disproportionate amount of resources, compared to me.

    I think establishing limits is actually better than leaving it at Comcast’s discretion. At least people know where they stand.

  11. Anonymous says:

    If they do this EVERYONE has to drop Comcast immediately.

    If they put a bar on how much you can use for a fair price, and nobody says a thing, then you can be absolutely certain that the bar will move lower and lower and lower until it catches you.

    By then, it will be too late.

  12. toastyghost says:

    Empowering users to monitor and manage their own data usage by providing clearly what they’re actually getting for their monthly fee is far, far better than lying about offering unlimited services and then telling people off when they actually try and use it as such.

    However, many users are simply lazy when it comes to taking responsibility for their own actions and all too happy to believe that they can get something for nothing so will simply see this as getting less than before.

    The user should also be warned when they are near their limit, and given the option of purchasing more, rather than being automatically and silently billed for any over-usage data transferred

  13. Rob Beschizza says:

    When I got comcast, I was told unlimited.

  14. certron says:

    times 16.05.08 mininet misquote bandrat rectify

    Newsflash: The bandwidth ration has been increased to 25 GB per month.

  15. technogeek says:

    Standard comment: Bandwidth is only almost-free if you don’t use huge amounts of it or demand it in realtime. If you use it like phone connections, it will be charged for like phone connections.

    Charging by usage makes perfect sense to me. I would suggest mostly linear with amount of traffic, so it’s cheap if you only need a few kilobytes to megabytes (text-mode e-mail and properly efficient websites) and more expensive if you insist on downloading an entire DVD’s worth of data. Not necessarily linear with priority — cheap for folks who are willing to accept batch-mode downloads that use “spare bytes”, more expensive for stuff that requires expedited delivery such as streaming media.

    As is true now on many networks, let folks pay more as a base rate to buy higher peak bandwidth and/or priority.

    And be completely up-front about the fact that priority *can* be purchased. That’s already true; online game companies have been negotiating with ISPs for years to make sure their packets move fast enough to keep the game lively, and by definition that means folks who haven’t paid for the privilege are going to run a bit slower.

    Believe it or not, bandwidth really is a limited resource; existing hardware only goes so fast. If you want it to be less limited, be prepared to either buy more of it or pay more to fund upgrades. Or learn to use it more efficiently.

  16. Lonin says:

    I’m ok with metered data if it’s reasonable, and 250GB seems totally reasonable to me. I run torrents 24/7, browse bandwidth-intensive websites and download/play many online games. I doubt that I go over 50GB a month judging by my Utorrent statistics which I’m sure is the biggest draw on my pipe.

    That being said though, it’s a trend that makes me worried. Internet-connected media is getting more bandwidth intensive all the time, and what once seemed like a lot of bandwidth may shortly be considered not enough. I also have a feeling that Comcast wouldn’t be so upfront about one’s current bandwidth consumption or overages, their history seems to support that. Maybe most importantly though is that this is a step backwards for the technology. It seems to me that if these ISPs somehow found a way to weather exponential bandwidth usage growth in the late 90′s and early 2000′s and still change from a metered approach to an “unlimited” approach, they can do it again and keep the unlimited pricing scheme.

    Finally, the whole argument that this massive bandwidth leaching is from torrents is untrue. Recent reports put P2P traffic at 20% of all bandwidth usage, with streaming video at %50 normally and 70% at peak hours. For anyone to tell people to stop consuming these services is ridiculous at this point. The service should, and has before, conform to the subscriber base, not the other way around. Not to mention, Comcast heavily promotes using their service for video, music, etc; they’ve even gone so far as to create and hype their own streaming video service to their members. To suddenly dissuade and/or penalize people for using those services seems to fly in the face of their own strategy.

    In the end, I wouldn’t be happy about the change, but I’d live with it until something better came along (are you listening FiOS?).

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