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Mediacom Warns Top 0.05% of Uploaders to Cut It Out, Cites Network “Stress”

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Consumer News, Data Caps, Mediacom 3 Comments

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding traffic growth has apparently taken its toll on network capacity at Mediacom, forcing the company to reach out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account.

An East Moline, Ill. Mediacom broadband customer of 10 years was offended to receive a phone call from Mediacom’s “Fraud and Abuse Department” telling him he was overusing his gigabit internet account, which includes a 6 TB data cap. The customer was certain he never exceeded Mediacom’s data cap, and in fact recorded 2.5 TB of usage over the last month, well below his data allowance.

Mediacom’s representative explained the problem was not with how much he downloaded.

“He told me my upload was 450 GB over their average and if I didn’t reduce my usage they would either throttle or disconnect me,” DSL Reports‘ reader poonjahb wrote. “I argued that I used less than half of the total data allowed by my plan, but he said my 1.2 TB of upload was too much and that this was my warning.”

Other Mediacom customers across the Midwest also received similar letters in early January, and several contacted Stop the Cap! Many were already annoyed Mediacom had earlier imposed a data cap, but were incensed they were now being threatened when usage was well under that cap.

“I am paying for gigabit internet service just to never have to worry about a data cap,” said Cory, a Mediacom customer in Missouri. “It comes with a 6,000 GB monthly allowance, which is way more than I will ever use, but I still received a warning letter claiming I was uploading too much. I discovered I used about 900 GB over the last two months, setting up a cloud backup of my computer. At most I can send files at around 50 Mbps, which they claim is interfering with other customers in my neighborhood. I don’t understand.”

Several filed complaints with the FCC, which the agency forwarded on to Mediacom customer service. Most received form letter replies.

COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Traffic Surge, Mediacom Tells Stop the Cap!

“Mediacom routinely reviews both download and upload usage trends to determine if any customers are using a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users,” explains Thomas J. Larsen, senior vice president of government and public relations at Mediacom. “If a customer falls into the top 0.5% of downstream or upstream capacity users in a given month, they may receive a letter or call from Mediacom regarding their usage. This would apply to both business and residential customers. The reason for contacting the customers is to explain that their usage patterns may be degrading the performance of the network and affecting other users.”

Larsen pointed to statistics from the cable industry’s largest trade group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, which reported a 31.8% total cumulative growth in downstream internet traffic and a 51.1% increase in upstream traffic since the spring COVID-19 lockdowns back in March 2020.

A Mediacom letter sent to customers complaining to the FCC about the practice cited network “stress” caused by excess upstream traffic. Larsen told Stop the Cap! the company regularly reviews customers’ download and upload traffic trends, looking for outliers that use a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users. Larsen would not admit if heavy users were noticeably affecting other customers with congestion-related slowdowns, but said the company was “reaching out … more frequently than before” to the top 0.5% of traffic generating users anyway. He also noted this policy equally applied to both residential and business accounts.

“This is not the easiest topic to explain because internet usage is growing rapidly in this work from home/study from home environment, so it is difficult to give an exact number that puts a customer into the 0.5% category because that number changes from month to month,” Larsen noted. “Understandably, that may make the policy seem arbitrary when we are really just trying to stay in line with moving usage trends.”

Internet Service Providers Have Wide Latitude to Cut Off Heavy Users

Virtually every internet service provider has a provision in their acceptable use policy allowing them to terminate or restrict service when a customer causes problems for that provider. Mediacom is no exception, telling subscribers “without limitation, customer’s usage of the service cannot restrict, inhibit, interfere with or otherwise disrupt or cause disruption, performance degradation of other users or impair or threaten to impair the operation of Mediacom’s systems or network.” This policy is in addition to whatever data usage plans are in place.

But Larsen insists Mediacom is not trying to alienate its customers.

“[We want to] work with our customers to address this issue in a productive manner,” Larsen told Stop the Cap!

At the moment, the only solution seems to be to reduce usage enough to stay off of the company’s “top 0.5%” radar.

Mediacom’s Warning Letters Uncommon Among Other Providers

Mediacom’s crackdown on heavy usage has not been copied by most other U.S. providers. Although traffic growth has been measured by virtually every provider in the country, most providers are mitigating possible service degradation by aggressively upgrading capacity or quietly node splitting neighborhoods experiencing the highest traffic growth, which immediately eases congestion issues.

The company did not indicate if its usage crackdown was temporary or if any planned network upgrades would allow it to ease restrictions sometime in the near future.

Other small providers dealing with congestion issues found a better solution sending letters to high traffic customers explaining forthcoming upgrades and temporarily requesting they limit upstream traffic during peak usage times, while not penalizing them for any off-peak traffic. That might prove to be a useful compromise between Mediacom and its customers and preserve goodwill.

Spectrum Lowers the Gigabit Service Installation Fee… for Some

Spectrum is offering certain new customers a discount on the usually high installation fee for its gigabit service tier.

Normally, Spectrum expects new gigabit customers to pay a compulsory installation fee of $199.99 and $109.99 a month for internet only service. But customers living in areas where significant competition exists are now finding far more generous promotions, including 24 months of gigabit service for $89.99 a month with an installation fee of $49.99.

Spectrum prices can vary wildly depending on how much competition is around. A new customer in an uncompetitive area can expect to pay around $310 for the first month of gigabit service and installation fees. In competitive areas, customers will pay half as much — around $140 — for the exact same service. In both cases, in-home Wi-Fi is included at no extra charge.

The best way to check where you stand is to visit the Spectrum website and enter a specific street address to verify exact pricing.

This is pricing representative of a competitive service area.

If Spectrum is your only option for high-speed internet, you are likely to encounter these prices.

Spectrum Boosting Speeds in Parts of Western N.Y., Finger Lakes Region and Central Florida

Phillip Dampier December 15, 2020 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 5 Comments

Spectrum customers still stuck with 100/10 Mbps Standard Internet speed may want to reboot their modems and check if they have gotten a free speed increase this week.

Stop the Cap! has heard from customers in the following areas, all reporting their Standard Internet speed has doubled to 200/10 Mbps:

  • Rochester, N.Y. and surrounding Finger Lakes region
  • Buffalo, N.Y., and parts of Western New York
  • Central Florida, including Winter Springs

Charter Communications has already upgraded just over half of their Standard Internet customers nationwide to 200/10 Mbps. Upgrading the remaining 40% of customers has taken over a year and is still a work in progress. Charter may have delivered these recent speed hikes in part to placate customers notified this month their broadband service was increasing an additional $5 a month.

Spectrum’s other speed tiers remain unchanged.

Increased Investment and Fierce Competition Brings 1.5 Gbps Internet to Western Canada

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2020 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Shaw, Telus No Comments

Shaw is western Canada’s dominant cable operator.

While American cable companies have cut back investing in their high-speed broadband services as competition languishes, a price and service war has erupted between western Canada’s biggest cable and phone companies, with consumers winning the benefits of increased investment and fierce competition.

Shaw Communications, the largest cable company west of Ontario, has just upped the ante with the introduction of 1,500/100 Mbps unlimited internet service for $127 (all prices in $US) a month. The new speed tier, known as Fibre+ Gig 1.5,  is delivered over Shaw’s existing DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband network, and is already available in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria, and is gradually expanding outwards to smaller cities, including Banff in Alberta, and Burnaby and Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia. Shaw also offers a traditional gigabit unlimited plan in most of its service area, offering 940/25 Mbps for $88/month. Both high-speed plans include a two-year contract.

“The hard work and investments we’ve made in building, upgrading and expanding our Fibre+ and Fast LTE networks and services — nearly $22.8 billion over the past seven years — allow us to deliver these ultrafast speeds to western Canadians over our existing infrastructure,” said Zoran Stakic, chief operating officer and chief technology officer. “These ongoing investments are the foundation to providing our customers service beyond one gigabit today and ultrafast speeds to more places in the future.”

“We know that there’s a growing segment of people — including heavy gamers, content creators and super streamers — who need access to ultrafast internet services, and that need has only increased during the pandemic as many of our customers manage the reality of having multiple people working from home and sharing bandwidth,” said Paul Deverell, president of Consumer, Shaw Communications. “With the launch of our Fibre+ Gig 1.5 product, we are delivering the speeds and capacity needed by today’s super users and data-heavy customers, while confirming Shaw’s position as the western Canadian leader in gigabit speed deployment.”

Telus is western Canada’s largest phone company.

Shaw’s increased investment is designed to fend off its chief competitor, Telus. In 2020, Shaw discovered a growing number of its broadband customers defecting in favor of Telus, the region’s telephone company. Telus is expanding its own high-speed offering, which relies on fiber to the home service. In some areas, Telus offers 940/940 Mbps service on a two-year contract for $76 a month and a 1,500/940 Mbps plan for $127 a month — which matches Shaw’s price but vastly exceeds Shaw in upload speed. To further sweeten the deal, Shaw gives its premium-speed internet customers discounts on Shaw Mobile services — including the exclusive rate of $25 per month on Unlimited Data wireless plans for Shaw Fibre+ Gig 1.5 and Fibre+ Gig internet subscribers.

Shaw claims its infrastructure has made it possible to offer gigabit service to at least one million more western Canadians than Telus. Telus has been gradually scrapping its legacy copper wire network in favor of fiber optics, but will likely take over a decade to complete the transition in significantly populated communities.

While Canadian cable companies are pushing DOCSIS 3.1 to the limit, American cable companies have taken it easy this year, reducing estimated budgets for network investment, returning to data caps, and putting further upgrades to next generation DOCSIS 4.0 on hold for at least a year or two. With AT&T and Verizon distracted and focused on spending billions to build 5G wireless networks, both companies have stopped significant expansion of fiber-to-the-home service for residential customers, reducing competitive pressure on cable operators. This reduced competition allows cable companies an opportunity to raise rates on broadband customers, and Charter Spectrum has done exactly that, announcing a general $5/month increase on residential internet service to take effect by the start of 2021.

FCC Considering 18-24 Month Delay of $9 Billion Rural 5G Subsidy Until Accurate Coverage Maps Appear

The FCC is likely to delay for up to two years a massive $9 billion subsidy program that will provide 5G wireless service in rural America because the agency’s broadband coverage maps are too flawed to credibly determine where the money is needed.

The delay is just the latest in a series of speed bumps that have slowed down rural wireless service expansion, hampered mostly by service coverage maps that typically over-promise service that just doesn’t exist in many areas.

A revised subsidy program would double the funds available for rural wireless service, but delay projects at least 18-24 months, with the first awards granted sometime in late 2022.

The wireless subsidy program is designed to enhance rural wireless/mobile coverage across the United States. The FCC estimates about 83% of rural America is currently covered by 4G LTE service providing an average of 10/3 Mbps. In urban and suburban communities, 97% of areas have 4G coverage and often at faster speeds. Small, independent wireless carriers have popped up to serve rural states and regions that have been ignored by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, but coverage gaps still remain far from well-traveled interstate highways or in mountainous regions. Carriers have typically considered those areas unprofitable to serve, failing Return On Investment formulas that expect investments to pay off within a certain number of years. Wireless subsidies cover a portion of the cost to build and operate unprofitable rural cell towers, coaxing wireless companies to be more willing to expand coverage.

The ongoing problem of wireless coverage accuracy has had a direct impact on rural funding programs that have rules forbidding spending in areas that already have coverage. Wireless companies with overeager marketing departments have routinely issued coverage maps claiming solid 4G LTE coverage in areas where many claim it doesn’t exist. The conflict over accurate coverage maps became so contentious, the FCC canceled plans to spend billions on wireless subsidies in late 2019 until more accurate coverage maps could be created.

Next week the FCC plans a vote to authorize the new $9 billion subsidy program, but funds will likely be held until wireless companies can prove their coverage claims and update coverage information so the FCC can pinpoint areas that can qualify for the funds.

“This approach won’t be the fastest possible path,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote. “But it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed.”

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