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Cable One’s Ongoing Math Problem: Broadband Pricing Like a Cell Phone Data Plan

Phillip Dampier May 9, 2011 Broadband Speed, Cable One, Data Caps, Rural Broadband 5 Comments

Cable One or Cellular One?

Cable One is unique among America’s top-10 large cable system owners for its nearly incomprehensible broadband usage policies, only fully disclosed to customers after they sign up for service.

The cable company, owned by the owners of the Washington Post, have been tinkering with their broadband pricing and Internet Overcharging schemes as they embark on upgrades to DOCSIS 3 broadband service.  The result: faster broadband service priced like a cell phone plan.

Currently, Cable One controls usage of their customers with a daily usage ration coupled with a speed throttle.  For customers, it means keeping track of usage, time of day, and whether you are in the over-usage doghouse with speeds cut in half.

Stop the Cap! went through the sign-up procedure offered online at the Cable One website, suggesting we were new customers in the Anniston, Alabama area.  While the company is quick to disclose speeds and plan features, it takes some deep wading through an Acceptable Use Policy for new customers to unearth the company’s extensive and complicated limits on broadband usage.  The company doesn’t even like to disclose they are throttling your speeds in half as a punishment.  Instead they refer to them as ‘Standard Speeds’:

Standard & Extended Speeds: Residential

Plan Speeds Download 1.5 Mb 3.0 Mb 5.0 Mb 8.0 Mb 10.0 Mb 12.0 Mb
Upload 150 Kb 300 Kb 500 Kb 500 Kb 1000 Kb 1500 Kb
Standard Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 1500 kbps 1500 kbps 2500 kbps 4000 kbps 5000 kbps 6000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 150 kbps 150 kbps 250 kbps 250 kbps 500 kbps 750 kbps
Extended Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 1500 kbps 3000 kbps 5000 kbps 8000 kbps 10000 kbps 12000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 150 kbps 300 kbps 500 kbps 500 kbps 1000 kbps 1500 kbps

Standard & Extended Speeds: Business

Plan Speeds Download 5.0 Mb 10.0 Mb 12.0 Mb 15.0 Mb 20.0 Mb
Upload 1.0 Mb 1.0 Mb 1.5 Mb 2.0 Mb 2.5 Mb
Standard Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 2500 kbps 5000 kbps 6000 kbps 7500 kbps 10000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 500 kbps 500 kbps 750 kbps 1000 kbps 1250 kbps
Extended Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 5000 kbps 10000 kbps 12000 kbps 15000 kbps 20000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 1000 kbps 1000 kbps 1500 kbps 2000 kbps 2500 kbps

Threshold Limits: Residential

Plan Speeds 1.5 Mb Download 3.0 Mb Download 5.0 Mb Download 8.0 Mb Download 10.0 Mb Download 12.0 Mb Download
150 Kb Upload 300 Kb Upload 500 Kb Upload 500 Kb Upload 1000 Kb Upload 1500 Kb Upload
Period of Measurement No Measurement 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
Max Threshold Bytes Downstream
During Period of Measurement
N/A 1,400 MB 2,250 MB 3,600 MB 4,500 MB 11,000 MB
Max Threshold Bytes Upstream
During Period of Measurement
N/A 140 MB 225 MB 225 MB 450 MB 1,380 MB
Period at Standard Speed N/A 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight

Threshold Limits: Business

Plan Speeds 5.0 Mb Download 10.0 Mb Download 12.0 Mb Download 15.0 Mb Download 20.0 Mb Download
1.0 Mb Upload 1.0 Mb Upload 1.5 Mb Upload 2.0 Mb Upload 2.5 Mb Upload
Period of Measurement 2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Max Threshold Bytes Downstream
During Period of Measurement
2,300 MB 6,900 MB 11,000 MB 20,700 MB 27,600 MB
Max Threshold Bytes Upstream
During Period of Measurement
460 MB 460 MB 1,380 MB 3,680 MB 4,600 MB
Period at Standard Speed 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight

Company officials have been telling Cable One customers some of these complicated usage formulas are about to be relaxed as they introduce their new 50Mbps DOCSIS 3 broadband service.  With Cable One delivering service primarily in small cities and rural areas, the arrival of 50Mbps broadband has generated considerable excitement, until customers learned the cable company has decided to market it like a cell phone plan.

Cable One primarily serves small cities and towns in the central and northwestern United States.

“The new 50Mbps plan is downright bizarre here in Fargo, N.D.,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Paul.  “It actually costs less than their 10Mbps plan — I was quoted $45 a month for the broadband-only option, $35 if I signed a two year contract.  That actually saves me money as I currently spend just over $50 a month for their 10Mbps plan.”

But Paul learned the super fast broadband plan comes with some major strings attached.

“It is limited to 50GB of usage per month on what they are calling their ‘data plan,'” Paul shares.  “The customer service representative said it was like ordering a data plan with your wireless phone.”

Currently, the 50GB limit is the only data plan on offer, and the usage cap does not apply to usage overnight from midnight until noon the following day.  But those exceeding it at other times face a $0.50/GB overlimit fee.

Paul also says Cable One appears to be ready to dispense with the complicated speed throttle it uses on its mainstream 3-12Mbps broadband plans.  Cable One traditionally gave customers a daily usage allowance ranging from 1-11GB, after which accounts were subject to throttled speeds for the next 24 hours.

“Customers have complained about the slow speeds, throttles, and usage limits for years, if only because they couldn’t navigate all of them and Cable One’s usage measurement tool is often offline or inaccurate,” Paul writes.

“I first learned about Stop the Cap! when Cable One tried to charge some of our local residents $1,000 for cable equipment lost in a fire,” Paul says.  “Cable One has been so bad my wife was hoping Mediacom… Mediacom, would deliver us from them with a buyout.”

Cable One is an example of a cable company that has gone all out with Internet Overcharging, delivering customers an expensive and speed throttled broadband experience.

“Even though the lower price for the 50Mbps plan looks nice, it’s not if you start going over the limit,” Paul says.  “Sorry, broadband is not cell phone service.”

He is sticking with his current 10/1Mbps service plan.

Cable One representatives argue very few customers exceed any of the company’s plan limits, less than 1 percent exceeding them consistently.

Currently there are 5 comments on this Article:

  1. Ian L says:

    With 10M service, multiplying the daily cap by 30, gives you a bit over 135GB per day in downloads alone; including uploads, you’re sitting around 150GB of total transfer before throttling (but not overages) kick in. 100GB of usage (being conservative) on the 50M plan would run you $25 in overages…150GB would kick your bill up to ~$100, comparable to other cable companies’ 50M tiers.

    Playing Devil’s Advocate, if you don’t use much data, CableOne’s 50M package is a great deal, compared to other cable providers who would charge double CableOne’s rate for the service. Lots of speed for a low price. Also, overages aren’t that spendy. However if you’re someone who would buy 50M service from a “normal” provider, CableOne is a poor deal. 250GB of data transferred on CableOne’s package would result in a $150 charge.

    The bigger question of this whole exercise if what CableOne is paying for their backbone network. With DOCSIS 3 you really don’t have huge last-mile contention issues, so the question moves to how much per meg CableOne is paying. If they are paying $50 per meg plus transport costs, that’s one thing, and 50 cents per GB to the home doesn’t sound too bad. If they’re paying $10-$20 OTOH, that’s a bit of a rip; overages should be in the 25 cent range, if that.

    • jon dough says:

      Even if Ian L’s calculations were correct – seems a little high – the ‘acceptable use policy’ that I’ve seen includes a section about “excessive use” – not mentioned in this article.

      If I understand it properly, for a 10Mbps plan the user that exceeds the DAILY threshold of 5 GBytes for more than one-half the billing cycle days is liable to remedial action possibly including termination. The application to the elite 50 MByte plan is confusing to me.

      Using Ian’s 135GByte daily download total, – this allows 5.6GBytes per hour and if done between 12PM to 4PM this would cause a reset to the ‘standard’ speed betwen 4PM and 12AM which would result in a lower result.

      I doubt that Cableone is doing much that other internet service providers are doing and it is the wise user that reads the small print (which is 99% of the policy). Generally I am satisfied with the service so far but am keeping an eye on the changes.

  2. Kevin says:

    As a web developer I am in a troubled spot with this data mongering that is going on. What really irritates me is that the faster the connection the tighter the cap and what pisses me off the most is to see the commercials that promote their new 50MBPS connection where you can download faster and watch movies etc. All the while there is no mention of the 50GB a month limit that will cost a true movie buff a pretty penny using any of the services they are promoting in their ads.

    Since day one on this service I am punished on a daily basis and I can tell you that it is not only from 5pm to midnight. In fact until just recently I my connection was slowed by half every day starting at 8am and I did not get what I was paying for until after midnight. So any work I had to do needed to be done when a normal person is sleeping. Couple that with overloaded nodes and you have a real broadband nightmare.

    @Ian – let’s compare the other cable companies with your statement. Although Comcast charges more for overage they also give you 250GB a month and compared to CableOnes 50GB a month that is a huge difference. CableOne is budgeting their bandwidth like a cell phone company and it is pathetic!

  3. Don't Like Cableone says:

    Not to seem like a smart ass, but they offer 50 Megabits, not bytes. 50 megabits is like 6 megabytes. My theory is what’s the point of having fast internet if it’s just going to get you to that 50gigaBYTE cap quicker??? I’m trying the free trial right now and let me tell you, I was at 50gBs within three days. I download like crazy, use the internet like crazy and netflix is our “TV”. If they removed the cap or at least given us 3MBs for 50 a month, I’d be fine. But this idea of internet being as though it were a cell phone plan was something I never realized and I agree, it’s down right lame. I’m not a fan of monopolies. But there isn’t any other cable service were I am residing for school, and that is in a little town in Idaho called Rexburg. If there was another Cable company here, then maybe prices would be competed. And I never understood why Cable one advertises there cable company as the best company even when I already have their service and there is no other calbe company around… strange.

  4. It’s only the 17th and I cannot stream anything ! Disappointed to say the least.

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