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Subscribers now have a visible limit on their internet usage

ISP giant Comcast announced an official, 250 GB usage cap for its subscribers Thursday, which it plans to deploy October 1.

"250 GB/month is an extremely large amount of data," reads its official release, "much more than a typical residential customer uses on a monthly basis."

The "median" usage per customer is within 2 - 3 gigabytes per month, says Comcast. In order to exceed the data cap, a customer would have to send more than 50 million e-mails, download more than 62,000 songs, or watch more than 125 standard-definition, 2 GB movies per month.

Comcast's new policy on data consumption appears to be just a part of an overall initiative to reshape the way customers use its network. Last week the company announced its "fair share" program, which is designed to throttle a customers' connection when they consume too much bandwidth. Rumors of a bandwidth cap had been in circulation for quite some time -- Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner were reported to be experimenting with the concept -- but the actual thresholds implemented proved to be much higher than predicted.

With the increasing popularity of internet-based video and software distribution, ISPs throughout the world are finding ways to curb customers' internet usage. While data caps are commonplace outside the United States, publicly-announced limits are incredibly rare among the U.S.' largest ISPs. Particularly egregious users have run into invisible limits, however, and a handful of heavy downloaders have seen up to a year's suspension of service due to crossing the company's "invisible line in the sand" despite paying for service advertised as unlimited.

Curiously, the announcement hints that the invisible threshold may have been 250 GB all along. "This is the same system we have in place today," says the announcement. "The only difference is that we will now provide a limit by which a customer may be contacted. As part of our pre-existing policy, we will continue to contact the top users of our high-speed Internet service and ask them to curb their usage."

AT&T Wireless users who exceeded an invisible 5gb quota -- a lot, considering that the network is designed for PDAs and Smartphones -- quickly learned of similar sanctions last year.

Subscribers who exceed their quota "may be contacted by Comcast to notify them of excessive use."

"At that time, we'll tell them exactly how much data per month they had used. We know from experience the vast majority of customers we ask to curb usage do so voluntarily," reads the release. Customers will be notified of the change through banner ads posted on the home page, as well as flyers to be included in upcoming billing statements.

A previous attempt to curb subscribers' usage, which ended up selectively meddling in a few different types of internet traffic -- BitTorrent, namely -- attracted the ire of the Federal Communications Commission due to a "discriminatory" preference against certain kinds of data. After almost a year of this, Comcast answered the FCC's demands with a handful of new programs designed to clamp down on excessive usage regardless of the protocols involved.

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RE: Hmm. . .
By FITCamaro on 8/29/2008 8:45:27 AM , Rating: 4
I do agree that 250GB is a pretty high limit. But the problem is that things only get bigger over time. So this limit needs to as well. I mean I downloaded the Warmhammer Online beta which was 10GB. No I don't think the average person will exceed 250GB a month. Even the average tech geek unless they're pirating HD quality movies all month.

But what about 5 years from now? Or 10? By then average PC games will likely be in the 20-30GB range. HD video will be commonplace. Web pages are only getting bigger. And more.

I fear that this cap will basically let Comcast say, "Well we don't need to upgrade our available bandwidth anymore since we've got people locked down to 250GB." and for the next 10 years or more it'll stay there.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Digimonkey on 8/29/2008 9:01:19 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with what you're saying that data amounts only increase over time. I remember back in the day trying to figure out how any one could possibly fill up a 1 gig hard-drive, but back them games only took up about 5-10 megs.

However, I believe they set the cap based on average usage so in the future will raise it if that average usage start's hitting their limit. I don't think they want to anger any of their customers, especially those with other internet provider options.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Cheapshot on 8/29/2008 9:02:26 AM , Rating: 3
and the question comes to my mind... how will this affect online gaming? Does gaming cause the meter to tick?

RE: Hmm. . .
By 67STANG on 8/29/2008 5:31:04 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. Your online game is using bandwidth... Don't know how you could crest 250GB gaming though.

RE: Hmm. . .
By rudolphna on 8/30/2008 10:04:50 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, WoW really doesnt use much bandwith. I can play it all day, and I only see maybe 40MB downloaded and like 8MB uploaded. Not bad at all. It would be impossible to top 250 on online gaming like that.

RE: Hmm. . .
By FITCamaro on 8/30/2008 9:37:45 AM , Rating: 2
Online gaming, while a constant steady stream of packets, is using a few kilobytes at a time. You'd have to be gaming 24/7 every day of the month to severely impact your bandwidth usage.

I mean assuming you were sending and receiving 6KB every second with constant usage 24/7 for 30 days would be about 15.5GB. 6KB is an extremely high estimate I think. And even at that you still have plenty of bandwidth left for other things that month.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Lord 666 on 8/29/2008 9:14:01 AM , Rating: 3
Its not that small when you consider around October Netflix will enable Xbox 360 streaming movies. I only view this as Comcast trying to prevent users from taking advantage of the free streaming movies from Netflix. Considering the large population of Xbox users, there will be many more people watching the movies on their TV.

Masher - If you want an IP idea, how about this one. Instead of the Killawatt device that measures electrical useage, you can create a home meter that measures broadband home useage.

With our EVDO Rev A cards, we hover around 2.5gigs monthly just using Cisco VPN and the electronic health record application. Citrix/RDP isn't an option because paper charts are scanned using a thick client on PC.

Breakdown of legal usage for most users;

1. Xbox Live downloads (60mb - 1gig per download)

2. Xbox Live voice and gameplay (Voice has to be around 30k and about 200-300k for interaction)

3. Netflix streaming movies (Xbox and from their website) 1-2 gig each?

4. Gaming - Should be around 30k voice stream and maybe tops 200-300k interaction.

5. Telecommuters - Working on client environments from home and retrieving email/voicemail could range drastically. Considering I have some work engagement 7 days a week (leave computer on to just sync data) Lets peg this at 500mb a day.

6. Webcams - 300 to 400k total steams?

7. Comcast VoIP - does this count against the limit?

RE: Hmm. . .
By Mitch101 on 8/29/2008 10:51:32 AM , Rating: 2
I would vote you up for that if I didn't already post and add to it.

3. Netflix streaming movies (Xbox and from their website) 1-2 gig each? (Est 700-1.4gig each)
(HD movies will be even more and possibly a deal breaker) (Est 4-9gig each)

8. TV Shows. My HD Direct TV unit has Video on Demand and we download a lot of shows to catch up on series or build interest in a series. If we get hooked like Dexter we watched the first 2 seasons in about a month all from VOD.

Patches but this can vary. Mainly referring to Wow and Windows service packs not to mention playing online as you already have.

9. Napster/iTunes/Rhapsody - They include video as well as music.

Good pointing out Voip services.

I did the calculations below and I came to the conclusion that if your skeptical about the limit then its time to consider DSL. Heck I might only get 3meg bandwidth but will never have to worry about a 250 gig limit. I run a real estate website and a backup of the site can eat that up very fast.

RE: Hmm. . .
By walk2k on 8/29/2008 7:24:14 PM , Rating: 2
The cap does not apply to Comcast phone service no.

RE: Hmm. . .
By FITCamaro on 8/30/2008 9:42:54 AM , Rating: 2
I don't believe Netflix plans to offer HD movies on its streaming service anytime soon. Most people don't have the connection for it to work properly.

And wouldn't your Direct TV box get the show through the satellite network? Not your internet connection? I don't have satellite so I don't know.

And if you run a real estate website, you should probably just get a business class connection. I doubt those would be capped.

RE: Hmm. . .
By GaryJohnson on 8/30/2008 9:53:26 AM , Rating: 2
And if you run a real estate website, you should probably just get a business class connection. I doubt those would be capped.

Especially if doing backups of that site can eat up 250GB fast. Either you have a huge site (like or something) or you seriously need to consult someone about optimizing your media for the web.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Azzr34l on 8/29/2008 11:44:23 AM , Rating: 2
Just a note about Telecommuters such as myself - I suspect most full time Telecommuters that work for a larger organization whose employer pays their phone and IP bills are on commercial accounts, not residential ones. The commercial accounts are unaffected by this because of the SLAs in place. I suppose they could modify the SLAs in the future though....

RE: Hmm. . .
By Lord 666 on 8/29/2008 3:13:53 PM , Rating: 2
Yet the commercial accounts are still going over the same wire within the same node... completely destroying Comcast's argument in the first place.

I used to work for Comcast just went cable modems were being introduced. The infrastructure is simply not there to keep up with demand in certain areas. However, this comes down to Netflix and VoIP services competing with Comcast.

RE: Hmm. . .
By natebsi on 8/29/2008 12:39:20 PM , Rating: 2
I don't disagree that there a legal uses for excessive bandwidth usage, but come on now... Do you really do all of those things all day, every day? 250GB's works out to about 8GB's PER DAY! That is a tremendous amount of data to use consistently, and I the overwhelming majority, well over 99% I suspect, would never come close to using that in a month.
I'm not saying I agree that bandwidth should be limited, but I can see comcasts point.

That said, I think this suck, not because of the cap, but because as others have pointed out, this is just a first step. Once they get users used this idea, they will be much more emboldened in lowering that limit in the future should they see fit.
Even worse, you can bet every other ISP will be watching this closely (just like airline fuel surchages started by a single airline). If there isn't too much fallout, I bet others will follow suit.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Alexstarfire on 8/29/2008 2:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
Multiplayer gaming doesn't even come close to 200k, let alone 300k. If you mean kbps.... then perhaps. But games don't even use 100KB/s.

And I'd be very interested in that device. I'm on the internet like 24/7 just about... thanks to people stopping the recording on my shows on the DVR. Those bastards force me to go download the latest episode after it's been uploaded.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Darkk on 9/1/2008 1:12:15 AM , Rating: 2
7. Comcast VoIP - does this count against the limit?

Nope. It's a separate service. Comcast is putting a cap on DATA service for your PC, not your phone long as VOIP is being provided by Comcast.

Even you have Vonage, I wouldn't worry too much as it takes up little bandwidth anyway.

RE: Hmm. . .
By Aloonatic on 8/29/2008 11:03:48 AM , Rating: 2
wow, 250 GB seems a pretty good "limit", assuming anyone actually reaches that of course.

I quess 0.01% of their customers might.

Traffic limits are pretty common over here in the UK, are they oft seen in the US?

Typically, "full speed" broadband (~8Mbps) is free when bundled with TV and phone at a fairly reasonable price with a limit of 2GB and many people are happy with that, but they are typically households without children.

Then there's the 40GB to 80GB range which is the most common, where you start to pay for your internets and then you can pay extra for "unlimited" which I guess is what this 250 GB is replacing?

I think I'm on the 40 GB limit, have never gone over it with my current provider, I did go over the 2GB one for a few months, which got me a couple of advisory letters and the I was forced to trade up package, which was fair enough.

It does seem that increased demand will be happeneing for many hoseholds though, especially children.

The days of just 1 computer attached to the interwebs is over in thees housholds. Now many have a PC, a couple of laptops, a games console and then mobile phones, PSPs and DSs all sucking in the packets and spitting them back out again.

Not to mention the doenloadable HD TV/Films that we have been promised, as FitCam pointed out and a move towards full games being available for download.

The BBC iPlayer is a big hit over here (apparently) and people will only want it to get better, quality wise, which is going to cost someone.

I guess ultimately, as demand increaes these caps are the only way realistically for ISPs to enable growth in net use to happen but seem a bit of a weird way of doing it, allowing more to use the internet more by imiting the amount that some use it.

It's only fair that you pay for what you use though.

In 5 or 10 years time there will be a whole load of new contracts out there, this one will be but a distant memory and we'll all be fighting for our lives in a post apocolyptic ocean world with each other and homeless polar bears by then anyway.

/rambling Friday afternoon comment

RE: Hmm. . .
By mars777 on 8/29/2008 7:20:04 PM , Rating: 2
Uhm, here in Croatia we have 20$ for a FLAT 2MB line up to 16Mb FLAT lines for 80$. Non flat costs half of that.

And i thought these were insane prices...

RE: Hmm. . .
By Aloonatic on 8/30/2008 4:01:59 AM , Rating: 2
That is quite expensive, if they are monthly fees and no discounts or other charges apply.

On ADSL networks:

For about £12/$25 a month you can get unlimited* 8Mb broadband in the UK, including free weekend and International phone calls and line rental**.

This is "up to" 8Mb of course, averages around 5Mb or 6Mb typically.

On Cable:

2Mb = £10/$20 a month.

10Mb = £17/$35 a month.

20Mb = £29/$60 a month.

Cable can be half price all year if you take one of the telephone packages, and extra discounts for taking TV too. They can be haggled with quite easily as well.

Both ADSL and Cable:

Most companies offer half price for the first 6 months of the 12 month contract.

All come with free wireless router.

Switching is a lot easier and faster now as the regulator got on their backs about it and usually takes a couple of weeks at the most, depending on the calibre of muppet you get on the phone when you as for migration codes and set up your new account.

If anyone's interested:

I'm with SKY and get all the traffic I need at 8Mbps (actualy around 6 Mbps so I am lucky really), plus sat TV, plus phone line, plus line rental for around £33/$70 a month.

Could be cheaper now and I will be changing when my contract runs out soon.

With these bundles on the ADSL networks speed can vary quite dramatically in different areas. SKY seem to be quite hit and miss, luckily for me they are pretty good where I live.

* Unlimited comes with a "fair usage" policy of course, but that typically means that if you are sending or receiving a lot of data your connection will be slowed during peak hours.

** Is "line rental" just another one of those extra charges that we accept in the UK only or are people in other countries conned into paying for the up keep of a network which isn't updated regularly, even though they have charged you for doing this for years and years and years and now say that they need to charge more to update the equipment for "the information age"?

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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