Comcast: Same old story, but 250 GB cap now official

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) – Following a slap by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week, Comcast today said that it will limit the available bandwidth to each of its customers to 250 GB per month. If you exceed that limit twice within six months, you could face a termination of your service. Depending on your view, you may be upset or you may be relieved hearing that 250 GB number, but the real surprise may be that this number has been always in place. Comcast just did not talk about it, which means that Comcast has not answered the real questions yet: What are the current network management policies that involve bandwidth throttling and how will that change in the future?
 
Last week, the FCC ordered Comcast to disclose its network management practices, submit a compliance plan how the company will transition from discriminatory to nondiscriminatory network management practices by the end and disclose details about its future network management practices.

In an apparent first step, Reuters today reported that Comcast is setting a "data usage threshold of 250 gigabytes per account for all residential high-speed Internet customers”. 250 GB per month is quite a bit for residential use, representing 50 million e-mails, 50,000 MP3 songs or 124 standard-definition movies. This number should eliminate every bandwidth concern of regular residential users, even if they are planning on streaming Netflix movies via their cable connection. Of course, if you are downloading and sending data 24/7, 250 GB may not be enough.

Comcast said that if you exceed that 250 GB limit, you will get a call letting you know that the company has identified your account as one of those 1% that show “excessive use”. It will be a warning and the company will suggest an upgrade to a more expensive, commercial-grade plan. If you don’t upgrade and exceed that 250 GB limit a second time within six months, your account could be terminated for up to a year. Comcast said that a typical user on its network currently uses a bandwidth of about 2 GB per month.

What is interesting is the fact that Comcast always had that 250 GB policy and the company apparently always warned users in cases of “excessive use”. The only change is that those 250 GB, which were a secret until today, are now official. On August 18, we actually ran a story noting that such a cap was in place. Sources close to Comcast confirmed to us today that the company did not change its bandwidth cap this week and that 250 GB has been the cap for quite a while.

So, while this change to its “Excessive Use FAQ” is viewed as a reaction to last week’s FCC order by some, it is not. Comcast has yet to comply with the FCC order issued by September 19, as the terms of use, which include a blurry description the firm’s network management practices, were still dated January 25, 2008 at the time of this writing.  

Comcast still describes its network management, which the FCC found to be discriminatory, as a way “to deliver the best possible broadband Internet experience to all of its customers”, as “minimally intrusive” and as a practice that “will change and evolve along with the uses of the Internet and the challenges and threats on the Internet.” The problem is that Comcast has not yet responded to the FCC and detailed how, when and in which places the company throttles the available bandwidth. We still don’t know what software and hardware the company is using. And we don’t know how that will change down the road and if the FCC will consider that change as a “reasonable” measure.