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One Year After Imposing 250GB Cap, Comcast Customers Still In The Dark About Their Usage

Phillip Dampier August 24, 2009 Comcast/Xfinity, Data Caps 9 Comments
Open Media Boston's creative reinterpretation of Comcast's logo

Open Media Boston's creative reinterpretation of Comcast's logo

In August 2008, Comcast formally announced a 250GB monthly usage limit on their residential broadband customers, promising them that despite the fact only “the top 1% of customers would be considered excessive users,” a usage monitoring tool would be made available to customers to make sure they were under the limit imposed by Comcast.

One year later, Open Media Boston notes the usage measurement tool is still not available to customers.

Comcast’s “Excessive Use FAQ” points concerned customers to the McAfee security suite, which includes a bandwidth meter utility, and which Comcast provides for free for subscribers. Unfortunately, the software is only compatible with Windows machines, leaving Linux and Mac users out in the cold. To remedy this, Comcast suggests subscribers do “a search for ‘bandwidth meter,'” and find a meter on their own. This is true, but is akin to asking mobile phone customers to monitor their minutes with a stop watch.

Open Media Boston worries about the accuracy of some of the third party measurement software tools, claiming they are likely to also measure traffic moving between computers within a user’s home (such as backing up files on a network, streaming music on the home network, etc.) making consumers think they’ve already come close to exceeding their monthly limit when such traffic would not be counted by Comcast’s own measurement tool.

The cable company washes its hands of responsibility for third party tools, saying it cannot vouch for any of them.  But they have told Open Media Boston one thing for certain: “Comcast’s determination of each customer account’s data usage is final.”

So where is Comcast’s official tool?  “We have talked about launching a tool. We are committed to launching one. It is in employee testing,” Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told Open Media Boston.

Comcast contacts the most egregious offenders of their 250GB monthly cap by telephone to give them a warning they are way over the limit.  Company officials claim most customers work to reduce their usage after getting such calls.  But should a customer find themselves on Comcast’s bad side a second time within a six month period, their service will be canceled and the company will prevent them from signing up again for service for a one year period.

Currently there are 9 comments on this Article:

  1. Papa Midnight says:

    So for those in monopoly areas, what are they to do when stripped of a necessary service for a year?

    • Borrow the neighbors computer, use a public library, go without… that sort of thing.

      I wonder what people would think if a customer didn’t pay his electric or gas bill, got service shut off, but because it happened twice in six months, they could not have electricity or gas for one year as a punishment.

      An interesting point to ponder, especially if you feel the Internet is becoming more of a “utility” and less of just a “convenience.”

  2. Uncle Ken says:

    The internet is becoming a utility if not one already A 2 edge sword. The internet runs billions in commerce and company functions every day. Yes the electric, gas, water, bills show up every month based on how much you used. Turn the word internet into utility and then it can be based on usage no questions except one. Is the internet the same type of utility? There are many ways to get your Normal utilities turned back on because peoples lives at are stake and courts are busy enough. I can’t think of a single person dying from lack if internet service.

  3. Tim says:

    Someone help me get through the Comcast logic. So they tell you to use a 3rd party tool to monitor your bandwidth even though they have one in place already to monitor your usage but won’t allow you to check your usage stats with that but only with the other 3rd party program. Also, they point you towards a 3rd party program yet won’t support the assertions of that tool if that tool contradicts with Comcast’s metering tool.

    Am I missing something here? Sounds like a total load of BS.

    You know, metering tools are really simple and Comcast saying they are “testing” theirs out is total BS also. Usenet premium server accounts have had metering tools for the longest time. It isn’t rocket science.

  4. Greg Glockner says:

    I have mixed feelings about the Comcast cap.

    I think a 250GB cap is a reasonable limit. We are heavy internet users at home – both my wife and I are full-time telecommuters. We use VPN, VNC. I download Linux ISOs and occasional HDTV content. We do some Skype video chat with distant relatives. I installed a router with Tomato firmware and discovered that our internet use is about 30-40 GB/month. I’m sure we’re above average but clearly we’re far below the 250GB limit.

    But here is the problem. First, no ISP should say that they have a limit without a mechanism for monitoring it. Most routers don’t support bandwidth monitoring, and it’s beyond the skills of most residential users. The ISP must be monitoring our use, and they should not be allowed to create a cap without disclosing the use levels.

    Second, hard caps are not the answer. I don’t have a problem with a 250GB limit, but publish a tariff for exceeding the limit. You don’t have a right to unlimited electricity, natural gas or water. But you also know that you will be billed for your use.

    FInally, so long as we have (virtually) no competition, I think it’s time to treat ISPs as regulated utilities. Force them to publish a full rate schedule. Including tariffs for excessive use.

    • I don’t think there needs to be any formal cap period, because there are already provisions for ISPs in their Acceptable Use Policy to deal with the most egregious cases of excessive use (into the gigabytes, running servers on residential accounts, etc.) I agree Comcast’s policy is probably the least nasty of the ones we’ve encountered in North America (some CSRs will tell you to just buy a second residential account if you need more than 250GB and leave it at that), but once this kind of Cap ‘n Tier system gets established, the limbo dance will begin, with lower and lower caps at higher prices.

      We see that in Canada right now with Bell, for instance.

      Our policy here is universal opposition to usage caps, but long time readers will know I have bigger fish to fry than Comcast. I also agree that we’re getting to the point where we need:

      1) A public fiber network for every home, on which private providers can choose to offer service alongside a public municipal option if a community wants to offer one;

      2) Robust regulation where monopoly/duopolies exist.

      3) Some sort of carrot/stick approach to competition to provide some sort of benefit to operators that are willing to invade another’s territory.

      • Greg Glockner says:

        The problem with your argument is that there’s no concrete definition of “excessive use”. Is downloading HD content excessive use? How about setting up a PC for remote access? What about using your internet connection for VOIP or video chat? What about downloading a Linux distribution? Or uploading a set of videos or an entire photo shoot?

        As an interesting contrast, I purchased one of the first prepaid 3G devices from Virgin Mobile USA. Unlike traditional 3G data service, you pay for data by the MB (or GB). There’s no cap. When you exhaust your GB, you buy another pack. This is perfect for me since I don’t use it often, but when I do, I use it heavily.

        My goals for ISPs are:

        1) Be upfront and honest about the bandwidth and the costs. Tell me what I’m getting and how much it’s going to cost. A “new customer” rate is great, but tell us the regular rate in clear print. (I know that rates may go up and plans may change, but at least tell us what the current rate is).
        2) No hard caps. Period. Warn me if I’m getting close to some limit, and tell me what it will cost me to exceed it.
        3) Let me run any service and upload/download any content up to my contracted bandwidth so long as I’m not exceeding my limits and so long as I’m not violating the law. (No copyrighted music/video, kiddie porn, etc.). Don’t penalize anyone because we’re not using your video service, your telephony service, etc.


  5. James says:

    Internet access is a utility, just like power, cable tv, or phone service and it needs to be treated as such. Pure and simple.

  6. F***comcast says:

    These caps are pretty ridiculous I live in a house with 5 other nerdy roommate and pay 250$ a month for 50mb comcast. According to there cap that mean 5 people can download for about 3 hours every month and then we are disconnected for a year…. How is that unlimited?????? How is that even sane? Why would even offer a 50mb service and then cap it at 250g a month??? Thats 11 hours of downloading a month!!!! 11!!!!!! Not even counting 5 people playing xbox 360 and downloading Netflix and watching Hulu… Comcast must really be big fans of FIOS…

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