Comcast has made it official: Home Internet service customers are limited to 250GB of data per month. According to the company, the move is in response to heavy usage by some customers that can cause network congestion.
The new policy was posted on Comcast's Web site early Friday, and the meter starts running on Oct. 1.
Charlie Douglas, director of corporate communications for online services, said, "The amount of data measured is aggregate monthly usage of uploads and downloads."
And Comcast has added some teeth to the usage limit -- the first time the limit is exceeded, the offending customer will receive a phone call from a Comcast representative. The second violation will result in a shutdown of Internet service for one year.
The amended service policy states in part: "It's no secret we've been evaluating a specific monthly data usage or bandwidth threshold for our Comcast High-Speed Internet residential customers for some time." The threshold is high for the majority of Comcast users.
Examples of what a 250GB limit equates to are cited in the amendment, such as sending 50 million e-mails, downloading 62,500 songs, 125 standard-definition movies, or uploading 25,000 high-resolution digital photos. The policy says the median monthly usage for residential Comcast customers is 2GB to 3GB per month.
Some observers say Comcast has a reasonable argument. The company has expanded rapidly into business and residential phone service, meanwhile maintaining its large cable-television enterprise. There is only so much available bandwidth at any given time.
Comcast is moving data, voice and television and high-definition video over the same pipes. It only takes a few peer-to-peer file-sharing applications to cause unexpected congestion.
Making Policies Public
Comcast's previous efforts to address the problem brought a rebuke from the Federal Communications Commission. Comcast was caught throttling down the connections of BitTorrent P2P users on its network without their knowledge.
When the matter came before a congressional subcommittee, Comcast admitted to the practice and was ordered to stop gating individual connections. The FCC and Congress felt the targeting of individual accounts without notification was the main issue.
In its new policy Comcast is not limiting bandwidth on the sly, nor is it keeping its policies private. In fact, the company is posting a banner ad on its home page and sending flyers detailing the new policy to each of its customers in September. The company has also posted suggestions for using download-metering software that will track usage, much like the minute counters on cell phones.
Douglas emphasized, "This does not affect our commercial customers." Comcast has been aggressively moving into unified data services for commercial accounts, and some, especially those involved in backup and disaster recovery, could go over the 250GB limit, but that service is separate from residential accounts, said Douglas.
"We need to remember that the amount of usage we are talking about, more than 250GB a month, does not apply to more than 99 percent of our customers. So the less than 1 percent who are notified today receive a phone call from Comcast asking them to moderate their usage, which the vast majority of them do voluntarily," Douglas said.
Other broadband providers are also likely to publicize limits.