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Comcast gets another mouthful

What are the words of the day at the FCC’s headquarters? President Reagan’s famous maxim: “trust but verify.” So goes the Commission’s approach towards whipping-boy Comcast, who – despite Comcast’s own inroads towards a path of redemption – still appears to be not good enough in FCC Chairman Martin’s narrowed eyes.

Quick note: that Reagan quote is the FCC’s words (PDF), not mine.

Now, the FCC wants specific details on Comcast’s stated “compliance plan,” right down to the nitty-gritty: specifically requested are the “precise contours” of the “network management practices at issue” – read: data discrimination – including names, dates, and the thresholds set on all of the various network equipment it used, as well as a specific list protocols it affected.

This order comes hot off the heels of the FCC’s August 1 announcement, in which Martin & Co. shot Comcast with frowny glances and a wagging finger. It demanded, on threat of “interim injunctive relief,” specific details on Comcast’s network management practices, as well as the aforementioned “compliance plan” with specific details on data discrimination’s successor. While I initially wrote that Comcast’s August 20 announcement appears to have satisfied the FCC’s demands, I now know that I was wrong: Comcast left out a number of important details – things like the specific thresholds necessary to trigger bandwidth throttling – that the FCC immediately pointed out.

(Indeed, judging by the timing of both the FCC’s and Comcast’s announcements – they both released on the same day – I consider it possible that one announcement was written without knowledge of the other.)

With Comcast’s new plan of throttling individual bandwidth hogs and its reported consideration of everywhere-else-but-the-USA style bandwidth caps, however, I can’t help but wonder if we’re heading down collision course of sorts: on one side, there are a number of content providers pushing Video-on-Demand via the World Wide Web – like Microsoft's Xbox 360 and its just-announced Netflix integration, for instance, or Hulu, or Joost. On the other side, we have ISPs testing metered bandwidth caps with abhorrently low allowances, like 5 or 20 gigabytes a month.

If both of those paths follow their course, I predict we’re going to have a big problem just as soon as WWW-based VOD hits critical mass: Johnny Gamer is going to use his Xbox 360 to happily burn through his entire Netflix queue on some large, long-running show like 24 or Stargate SG-1 – throw in a couple of movies for kicks – and he’ll open his mailbox to discover a truly massive bandwidth bill. The issue will blow up as soon as it’s featured on The Consumerist, and pretty soon we’ll have the FCC writing another set of nasty letters, this time about ISPs’ attempts to monopolize their TV businesses via discriminatory bandwidth allotments. (A similar battle already played out between telco/ISP hybrids and VOIP providers, although in at least one case it ended on a positive note.)

Worse, some of these online TV providers seem to be gunning for complete replacement of the traditional TV setup, and with the ongoing convergence of hardware and software I see this as a possible reality within the next couple of years. Those of us without any TV service – like me, and yes I am quite happy that way – may already be getting our fix through online services, illicit or not. I, for example, like to catch up on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s latest on Hulu. I haven’t metered my usage, but I prefer watching my shows in 480p, and the high-quality stuff that I like to streamrip off of YouTube and other Flash-based players is usually pretty large, especially when the video file in question is long.

We haven’t even begun to explore the other ways one can blow their bandwidth cap: A friend of mine currently lives and works in the Middle East, and with her paltry bandwidth allotment she refuses to buy games from services like Steam or Stardock Central; instead, she'll usually wait until she can purchase hard copies at the local commissary.

All in all, it’s an interesting time to be an American internet user, doubly so if you’re with Comcast. ISPs seem to be doing everything they can to put a lid on subscribers’ growing bandwidth consumption, and subscribers are finding more and more ways to put the crimp on ISPs. Where are we headed?



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Nailed it
By FITCamaro on 8/25/2008 8:25:38 AM , Rating: 3
Everything you said is correct. With even a 50GB limit, the average person can easily hit that. A demo or two off Xbox Live or PSN. A fair amount of YouTube videos. Some heavy internet browsing and online gaming. And using an IM client. You can easily hit that cap.

As a sidenote: PSN sucks. Took four and a half hours to download the Star Wars: Force Unleashed demo on my PS3. Took 30 minutes on my 360. Granted the PS3 version is bigger. But not 800% bigger. And both looked the same.




RE: Nailed it
By killerroach on 8/25/2008 11:23:06 AM , Rating: 3
Really? Took about two hours on my PS3, and that was basically just the fact that the WiFi in my apartment sucks. Can't really download any faster than that.

Only time I've ever had download issues off of PSN was the day the DMC4 demo came out... wow, that was painfully slow.


RE: Nailed it
By FITCamaro on 8/25/2008 1:27:54 PM , Rating: 2
Well I started the PS3 download first and then the 360 one. So its not like I was doing it at two different times.


RE: Nailed it
By someguy123 on 8/25/2008 2:41:03 PM , Rating: 3
wait what? are you saying you downloaded something at the same time on both consoles? it could have been that your 360 connected after your ps3 and that gave it's download connection priority over your ps3.

i don't have a ps3 but I haven't heard any speed complaints from my friends who do, except of course the update that seems to require a while to download and install, and some games requiring game installations beforehand.


RE: Nailed it
By FITCamaro on 8/25/2008 3:47:37 PM , Rating: 2
What do you think is giving my 360 priority over my PS3 connection?


RE: Nailed it
By someguy123 on 8/25/2008 4:30:48 PM , Rating: 2
i don't know the reason for it but i've noticed when you download multiple files on your computer the newest download seems to take all of the bandwidth compared to the earlier download (if both downloads were off websites that could maintain my full 6mbps), where the download I started earlier would drop quite a bit until the new download finished.


RE: Nailed it
By mmntech on 8/26/2008 2:35:59 PM , Rating: 2
It only took me about 45 minutes to download the Force Unleashed demo off PSN. I'm using a wired connection. You might have a problem with your router.

The first part of your post is definitely correct though. HD video is starting to be made available for download. Video games too. 50gb caps are no longer enough. Yet there is actually talk of some ISPs lowering their caps. In this day and age, there needs to be unlimited data plans made available, especially if we're moving towards downloadable content.


RE: Nailed it
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 8:36:54 AM , Rating: 2
I use wired connections as well. Going through a WRT54GL.


5 Gb a month is plenty
By lifeblood on 8/25/08, Rating: 0
RE: 5 Gb a month is plenty
By FITCamaro on 8/25/2008 9:09:53 AM , Rating: 4
Its a 5GB a month cap. It's not dependent on how fast you download that 5GB. Just what you're allowed to use. So if you download a 1.5GB game demo or a 400MB TV show, that's 8-20% of your monthly allotment gone right there. And I seriously doubt your connection is so slow that a 1.5GB demo would take more than a few hours to download.

Average use could easily chew up 5GB a month. Unless you just check your email once a day and read the news.


RE: 5 Gb a month is plenty
By lifeblood on 8/25/2008 9:52:29 AM , Rating: 2
I was being sarcastic. The point I was trying to make was that not only does Comcast throtle it's customers, it provides lousy service to boot (in my experience). Believe me, I am in complete agreement with you and the OP.


RE: 5 Gb a month is plenty
By AlexWade on 8/25/2008 5:29:29 PM , Rating: 4
A bandwidth cap is really just a wait to raise prices while being able to say they didn't raise prices. Sort of like how my local government didn't raise taxes, just raised the value of my property. In the eyes of my county, my car is worth more this year than last year. Well, same principle with the ISP's.


By iocedmyself on 8/25/2008 2:13:23 PM , Rating: 2
Ok well i pay $60 for my 16/5 service since it's only about $15 more a month than the 8/2.5 service. As comcast markets their speeds by using a 6mb connection when comparing against DSL, it's a fair assumption that you'll get a minimum connection of 6mb/s download. Going up to the performance package of 8Mbit, it is a fair assumption that you'll be getting sustained bandwidth above the previous price package....

Comcast took over time warner in houston at the begining of this year i think, from time warner. As much as comcast sucks time warner service was worse. But when the 16mb package was offered it was pitched as an 8mb connection with turboboost performance of up to 16mb. That kinda sounds like 8mb connection minimum with speeds going up to 16mb.

At some point the clarified the 16mb speed applied to the first 10 megabytes of a file download. Handy sometimes, but not what you expect for $60 a month.

With network TV offering streaming HD of primetime shows, along with things like netflix 5 GB a month doesn't cover a single show in an hour long time slot (avg hour long show clocking in at 44 minutes, in full 1080 HD equates to a file size of 5.5 gigs to 7 gigs) That kind of thing is enough to max out full connection speeds, so if you have more than one person with a computer on a network, they're screwed.

100 Gigabit ethernet is already in use in some places,10 gigabit wireless is being tested, 10 gigabit copper has been around for several years as well as 1 gigabit wireless.
In terms of actual data transfer speeds
100 Gigabit = 12,500 megabytes/second
10 Gigabit = 1,250 megabytes/second
1 Gigabit = 125 megabytes/second
100 Megabit = 12.5 megabytes/second
10 Megabit = 1.25 megabytes/second
1 Megabit = .125 megabytes/second

Comcast has 14 million broadband internet subscribers. which puts their monthly subscription fees for internet access alone between

$280,000,000 and $840,000,000

yearly fees at

$3,360,000,000 and $10,080,000,000

That's based on the $20 low end $60 high end, which assume that the user also has digital cable service as well, those without digital cable pay between $40/standard and $90/Performance Plus. It's estimated that the cost to ISP's is TEN CENTS /per Gigabyte of data transfered, and that's a high estimate. In there monthly cap experiments they've put additional charges at $1.25 to $7 for each gigabyte you go over.

Everyone making the claim that population densities are what allow places like japan to have the fastest conections, while the US is so slow due to low population density, it may have something to do with it, but the only reason? BE

Japan--------67 Mbps 337/KM
South Korea--43 Mbps 500/KM
Finland------21 Mbps 16/km
France-------17 Mbps 113/km
Canada------7.6 Mbps 3.2/km
US----------2.3 Mbps 31/KM

Yes, canada isn't fairly represented since 90% of their popluation lives in 10% of the countries area, that still would put them at about the same as us with more than 3 times the speed, finland has half the population density of the US and 9 times the speed while south korea has 50% more people in the same area as japan, but only 2/3s the bandwidth.

They've promised 10 Gigabit connection speeds for subscribers by 2010. Won't that be great? 1250 Megs a second with a 5 gigabyte cap, watch those $2000 cable bills pile up. If they try to put a monthly cap in place, they need to be boycotted.




By FITCamaro on 8/25/2008 3:53:31 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is how do you boycott when you don't have an alternative? Sure you can try satellite and DSL but in my area satellite sucks due to weather. You can say all you like that cloudy weather doesn't affect satellite but I used to work in Best Buy and Circuit City. On rainy days (not even lightning) the picture was always cloudy or static.


By soloman02 on 8/25/2008 6:39:57 PM , Rating: 2
I have DirectTV. It is not as bad as you make it sound. I also live in New Hampshire. The only times I have lost the signal is when it is really windy outside (IE 50Mph+ gusts), Raining like mad, or a thunderstorm is approaching. Also sometimes when it is snowing heavily the signal will drop. The picture is never "cloudy" or "static." When a thunder storm approaches (which happened way more than normal this summer) the picture can become choppy before it finally cuts out.


By Reclaimer77 on 8/27/2008 5:35:13 PM , Rating: 2
Uhhh Direct TV internet is not an option for me or anyone I know. Mostly because I enjoy online gaming which you CANNOT do on satalite connection no matter what anyone tells you. Direct TV has horrible latency like all of them do who send your packets to outer f%$#@@%^ space and back.


By Regs on 8/28/2008 10:08:42 AM , Rating: 2
Right, we have no alternative and the government and local governments allow these mini-monopolies. One town, one service provider, one communications network. The government could allow them to share lines again, but then we'll never build a more capable network.

I live in central NJ, in a town with a population of about 20k. The medium income per house hold is around 120k. I think we are more than capable of affording cable. Yet, Verizon does not want to touch us. Why? Comcast owns us.


Supply and Demand
By jRaskell on 8/25/2008 11:55:35 AM , Rating: 2
In the long run, the laws of supply and demand will eventually kick in. If current ISPs continue to further restrict their supply of bandwidth while at the same time demand for that bandwidth continues to increase, it will eventually open the door for other parties to step in and offer alternate forms Internet Service. What forms those take I couldn't say.

The current trouble is there is little to no real competition in the ISP market. Most of the providers have near exclusive service to a given area. Laying the infrastructure to provide Internet Service is extremely expensive, but as demand for bandwidth increases, alternative methods for providing that bandwidth WILL be developed and offered to consumers demanding it.

There may likely be additional short term growing pains involved, but in the long run these bandwidth caps will only help open the door for others to come in and offer consumers what they want.




RE: Supply and Demand
By murphyslabrat on 8/25/2008 1:34:38 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with that mindset is that you need an upstart willing to bite the bill. It's all fine and dandy when the start wouldn't cost hundreds of millions of dollars just for the infrastructure.


RE: Supply and Demand
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 8:40:53 AM , Rating: 2
About the only company fighting to get new service to people is Verizon. And the cable and phone companies are fighting them every step of the way saying they're one or the other for their FiOS service. Verizon is willing to bring FiOS to the whole country. But it won't happen as long as TW, Comcast, Brighthouse, AT&T, and Sprint have anything to say about it. They know Verizon's service is far superior to their own.


RE: Supply and Demand
By Spectator on 8/27/2008 3:11:05 PM , Rating: 2
In Scotland (Great Britain) they have/had one isp that uses the power grid for net access. Not really sure about the tech involved.

But that could be a possible solution. most of the infastructure is already in place?


As much as I hate it...
By Hieyeck on 8/25/2008 11:15:38 AM , Rating: 2
Most cable companies up here in Canada are switching to a new way to deal with bandwidth hogs such as myself: pay extra. I get 95GB included with the 10/1 package - plenty for most people, and I just shell out $1.25/GB for anything above. Now this may sound a little excessive, but they cap the extra bandwidth charge to $25/month. Frankly, I think that's the best solution - there's no invasion of privacy, just consume and pay. Of course, they still throttle torrents (can't be perfect), but from my observations, it seems to only be peak hours and only limited to upload.




RE: As much as I hate it...
By vapore0n on 8/25/2008 11:28:08 AM , Rating: 3
Over here we get something called "unlimited". But its not so unlimited if you have a "cap" on how much you can use.

Paying even more is ridiculous. How about paying less for those that dont use all their BW or GBs in a month?

Reminds me of cellphone companies. At least with ATT I have rollover minutes. Which I got like 5k right now lol


RE: As much as I hate it...
By Spectator on 8/27/2008 3:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
Here in the UK we already have caps/fair usage accross the board.

Some shopping around can get you a monthly allowance of 30gig peak (mon-fri 8am-10pm) and 300gig off peak after 10pm and all weekend for £20 a month. its £1 per gig after your quota.

that said I get 750k/sec peak times. and 300-450ksec off peak. Thats all over copper phone line (8mb adsl).

Next year sees the rollout of 21mb over the copper.

So it will be even faster to reach 30gig when getting 2mb sec D/L :)

And those poor suckers on Virgin Media copper. the top 5% bandwidth users in 1 week. get massively reduced speed for the whole of the next week.. yes the whole week all 7 days!!. lol


Satellite - no other way
By Complinitor on 9/1/2008 10:01:32 AM , Rating: 2
I live out in bumble-f Virginia and the only way to get the Interwebs is via satellite. It sucks, period. I'd gladly take Comcrap's limit. It's way higher than the limit I have now with Hughenet and I'd be able to use things like 360 Live, Skype/Vonage, and anything else that requires better than a 100Kpbs uplink.




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