The Comcast Cops Are Coming For Your Bandwidth

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Spammers and internet mega-junkies beware – Comcast is limiting the amount of data you can send and receive every month to 250 gigabytes, effective October 1. Reports in the

Houston Business Journal

indicate the move could be one more way Comcast is pushing customers around saying, “Various advocacy groups and the Federal Communications Commission have pointed out that Comcast’s actions could be anticompetitive, since, as a provider of cable-television service, the company has an economic interest in having consumers pay for services that allow them to view movies on their TV sets rather than letting them download films from the Internet for free.”

But wait a minute. 250 gigabytes translates into 50 million e-mails, 62,500 songs, 125 standard definition movies or 25,000 photos. Even with a large family, most households couldn’t reach those levels of usage, right?

“We’ve had an acceptable-use policy in place for many years,” Charlie Douglas, Director of Corporate Communications for Comcast tells Hair Balls. “Keep in mind, 250 gigabytes is an extremely large amount of data. Our typical customer uses two or three gigabytes a month. This program is aimed at folks who are using a massively disproportion amount of data compared to any other typical customer. They’re using so much data that they degrade the online experience for our other users. It’s a very tiny group of customers, just a fraction of 1%.”

When asked about the criticism that the policy is a method of pushing movie-watching customers off the free internet and on to paid cable service, Douglas says, “Even with the policy, that’s 125 movies a month. Could you watch four movies a day for 30 days in a row? That’s a close to eight hours a day you’d be watching.”

That is a lot of movies (unless we’re talking porn in which case four movies a day might be on the low end of the scale).

But S. Derek Turner, research director for the advocacy group Free Press, has a different take on things. Turner tells Hair Balls, “The cap is not going to affect the average household today, that’s true. But it’s easy to see how a 250 gigabyte cap would affect consumers in just a few years or even in a matter of months.

“Two-hundred-fifty gigabytes is essentially the equivalent of four hours a day of HD television viewing. As consumers increasingly become familiar and embrace viewing video content online, it’s very easy to see how a 250-gigabyte cap would impact the average family. The average household today consumes just over eight hours a day of television. They usually get that from their cable provider, but the internet opens up a gateway to access content directly. People can go straight to the source or to third-party sources like Apple TV or Netflix. That could quickly add up to more than 250 gigabytes.”

Turner admits the use of caps on service isn’t against the law, but warns consumers to watch out for possible abuse. “Comcast should regularly increase that cap,” he says. “They should provide a method for consumers to monitor usage. Right now, … Comcast says ‘Go Google "bandwidth monitors" and download one for yourself.’ And there are real questions about advertisements. It doesn’t seem fair for consumers to pay for flash advertisements that they don’t ask for. Or SPAM. Just because it hits your modem, should you have to pay for it, even though it gets filtered out before you see it?”

Hmm, we’ll keep you posted (but not by e-mail, since that would leave you with only 49,999,999 more a month).

Olivia Flores Alvarez

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