Comcast’s Answer to Downloaders: Monthly Limits

BitTorrent downloaders who thought they had scored a victory when the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered Comcast to stop interfering
with BitTorrent traffic aren’t necessarily in the clear: The nation’s
largest cable ISP is moving ahead with plans to impose download limits.

As part of a punishment from the FCC, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) was ordered

to disclose its data management policies and disclose a new traffic management policy.

Well, Comcast users got one.

Beginning Oct. 1, Comcast subscribers will be subject to a monthly limit

of 250 gigabytes (GB) for all downloads. The number will be in aggregate,

meaning everything from e-mail to Web traffic to downloads to streaming

music are thrown into the pile.

The company spelled it out in an amendment to its
Acceptable Use Policy. “If a customer exceeds more than 250GB and is one of
the heaviest data users who consume the most data on our high-speed Internet
service, he or she may receive a call from Comcast’s Customer Security
Assurance group to notify them of excessive use,” it states.

Additionally, the average consumer is taking advantage of an increasing

number of high-bandwidth online applications, like Netflix downloads, video-on-demand, YouTube, online games like World of Warcraft and streaming music.

But Comcast suggested that the vast majority of users shouldn’t be


Charlie Douglas, a spokesman at Comcast, told

that to reach his or her 250GB limit, a user playing a first-person shooter

game on Microsoft’s Xbox Live service would have to play for 5,000 hours a

month — an impossibility. A 250GB limit also means sending the equivalent

of 50 million e-mails, or download 62,500 songs or 125 standard-definition

movies, the company said.

“Ninety-nine percent of our customers don’t come anywhere near that

amount,” Douglas added. Comcast has 14 million broadband customers, making
it the largest ISP in the U.S.

A generous limit?

Comcast’s 250GB limit is downright generous compared to Time Warner’s proposed

40GB limit. The company’s rival cable ISP service, RoadRunner, will

include an overage fee — so that customers who exceed their monthly allotment will pay for each excess gigabyte.

Comcast’s policy does not: As it stands now, the Comcast policy will be
to warn a customer who goes over the 250GB limit, and if they do it again
within six months, they could be tossed off the service for up to a year.

“We are not currently offering a consumption-based model where you could

purchase more gigabytes per month, but it is a model we are evaluating,” Douglas said.

Comcast was found to be throttling
the upload traffic of BitTorrent users last year, causing much hue and cry
from the Internet community. Hearings were held at Stanford University with
all five members of the FCC, but no ISPs showed up.

Following those hearings, the FCC earlier this month ordered Comcast to
modify its network management and criticized the company for engaging in
bandwidth manipulation without giving its customers adequate notice. Comcast
has since modified its customer policies to disclose that it does engage in
bandwidth throttling during time of high traffic congestion.

Comcast has also promised to change its network management practices to
ensure no discrimination against certain types of Web traffic by the end of
the year. The company is also rolling out speed upgrades that could offer
download speeds as high as 60Mbits/sec. Its current maximum download speed
is 16Mbits/sec.

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