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Comcast Caps Broadband Usage

2 Sep, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, Oct. 1 will begin capping monthly broadband data use at 250GB per subscriber in an effort to rein in excessive downloading and peer-to-peer activities among its heaviest users.

Subscribers who exceed the cap, which is the equivalent of downloading 62,000 songs, 125 standard-definition movies or 50 million e-mails, will be issued a warning. Those who receive more than two warnings over a six-month period are subject to having their Internet service terminated for a year.

Philadelphia-based Comcast said the restriction was necessary after rampant downloads of movies, photos, videos and music files by an undisclosed number of its 14 million Internet subscribers affected data delivery speeds across its network.

Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas said usage monitoring has been in effect for some time but never with a quantifiable amount defined as excessive.

“We decided it would be in our best interest to release a number,” Douglas said.

He said more than 99% of Comcast’s Internet subscribers don’t approach 250GB in data use per month.

The restriction affects a segment of subscribers Douglas characterized as “tiny” and engaging in a “massively disproportionate” amount of bandwidth that “literally degrades” the Internet experience for all users.

The average Comcast subscriber reportedly uses 2GB to 3GB storage capacity per month.

Other cable operators, including Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, have initiated trial usage programs aimed at billing consumers for excessive downloading rather than charging a flat monthly fee.

Douglas said 250GB limit shouldn’t impact users who employ third-party storage systems to track their movies, photos and songs.

“You would have to watch three or four movies a day, 30 days in a row, to come close to the limit,” he said.

Douglas said the cap is generous and will be revisited periodically, especially as high-definition programming becomes more prevalent.

Fred von Lehman, senior intellectual property attorney with Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, applauded Comcast’s public disclosure about usage and agreed the 250GB ceiling left a lot of “breathing room” for the average user.

“But remember that today's ‘bandwidth hog’ is tomorrow's average user,” Lohmann said.

He said the usage cap poses a potential risk to competition in video services. The lawyer said imposing residential caps could make it more difficult for competing download services, including Hulu and Vuze, to gain a foothold against cable TV offerings.

Lohmann said the issue underscored the need for ISPs to improve their networks to handle more bandwidth as well as better information for policymakers who regulate electronic commerce.

“We currently don't know how much bandwidth average consumers actually use,” he said.

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