RealTime IT News

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 worried.

Charlie Douglas, a spokesman at Comcast, told InternetNews.com 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.