Comcast has made it official with a new policy posted on its Web site early Friday: Starting Oct. 1, home Internet service customers will be limited to 250GB of data transfer per month. According to the company, the move is in response to heavy usage by some customers that can cause network congestion.
Charlie Douglas, director of corporate communications for Comcast's online services, said, "The amount of data measured is aggregate monthly usage of uploads and downloads."
Comcast has added some teeth to the usage limit as well: 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.
No Secret Here
Comcast's 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."
Comcast says the 250GB threshold is quite high for the majority of its home users, given that the median monthly usage for its residential customers is 2GB to 3GB per month. According to examples cited in the ammendment, that amount of data transfer could allow for sending 50 million e-mails, downloading 62,500 songs, 125 standard-definition movies, or uploading 25,000 high-resolution digital photos.
Douglas emphasized that the new policy does not affect Comcast's 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.
Blocking the Bandwidth Hogs
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 moves data, voice and television and high-definition video over the same pipes, and it only takes a few peer-to-peer file-sharing applications to cause unexpected congestion.
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.
Setting the Trend
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.
While forecasting the end of unlimited Internet usage based on Comcast's latest move may be a bit of doom and gloom, some industry watchers point out that it may be the start of a trend in that direction. Given Comcast's position as a heavyweight in the industry, other broadband providers may follow with their own limits on Internet usage, as well.