Comcast to deploy 250 GB/month usage caps in October

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11:43 am EDT August 29, 2008 - In an ongoing discussion with Twitter users, Comcast representative Frank Eliason has said that his company's policy to cap monthly broadband usage (incoming plus outgoing) at 250 GB per month, is actually not new. Rather, he says, the US' largest CATV broadband provider had been warning excessive users before, though it had not explicitly written in its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) just what level of bandwidth consumption triggered that warning.

"This is not a change," Eliason wrote one user. "It just makes the current policy more understandable. Currently policy is top 1/10 of 1% of users." Later, he advised another user to "search the net for bandwidth meter" if that user was concerned about possible excessive usage.

Technology analyst and former ZDNet blogger George Ou -- who has been following the Comcast throttling debate very closely, and who recently served on a panel on the topic led by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin -- told BetaNews he believes Eliason's assessment to be accurate.

"This new 250 GB policy is not an actual change in policy, but a move to make Comcast more transparent," Ou told BetaNews. "Comcast already had the policy in place but it was undisclosed so users would occasionally get calls or e-mails warning them that they were using too much bandwidth and if they didn't stop, they would be cut off from service. Now this policy simply puts everything out in the clear which is a good thing."

Comcast could still throttle, Ou pointed out, though the algorithm it chooses to use would be one that doesn't conflict with the FCC's recent order. That is, Comcast can't throttle based on which application customers use; in order to be fair, the system must be "protocol-agnostic."

"The new protocol agnostic system will take the top few percentile bandwidth users and throttle them down," he said. "So the 2 percentile who use to consume 50% of the bandwidth under congested times would only be allowed to hog 25% of the bandwidth so that others may have a fair shot at getting bandwidth. P2P applications have the ability to consume 10 to 100 times more bandwidth because of their multi-flow behavior under a congested pipe, so the new system effectively neutralizes this bandwidth cheat."

5:29 pm EDT August 29, 2008 - No longer having throttling as a weapon in its arsenal in the fight to control network overuse, Comcast is now deciding the only way it can implement controls on its network is if it spreads throughput monitoring out to everyone equally.

In an announcement of updates to its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) document, first spotted by Broadband Reports this morning, Comcast is now saying that, beginning October 1, it will implement measures to cap its residential broadband customers' total data use at 250 GB per month.

As the announcement reads, "250 GB/month is an extremely large amount of data, much more than a typical residential customer uses on a monthly basis. Currently, the median monthly data usage by our residential customers is approximately 2 - 3 GB." If an average movie consumes about 2 GB of data, the text goes on, that would allow for 125 full movie downloads per month. Of course, that wouldn't account for much else.

A preview of the amended version of the company's was stated to have been posted to Comcast's Web site, but was unavailable as of Thursday afternoon. BetaNews has contacted Comcast's spokespersons for comment, which may be forthcoming.

The announcement goes on to say that the service's "top users" will be personally contacted if their usage goes above the 250 GB amount, adding that the company already contacts its bandwidth-heavy users today. However, the announcement did not say that Comcast would refrain from curtailing those users' speeds until after they had been personally contacted.

Last week, Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas confirmed to BetaNews that his company would make efforts to comply with the FCC's demand to curtail its practice of throttling customers' use of certain online applications, including P2P, after the Commission found Comcast in violation of its rules on net neutrality. One way Douglas said Comcast would accomplish this would be to implement a new system capable of throttling any broadband user's throughput for as much as 20 minutes at a time, regardless of what application he was using, if that throughput exceeds a certain amount -- which for now is unspecified.

The usage cap is precisely the type and amount that Comcast was expected to implement, by some insiders who were tipped off to the development. Broadband Reports also reported last May that the company was considering implementing an overage fee as well as usage caps, although this morning's announcement from Comcast made no mention of fees.

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