Comcast's New Broadband Cap… Is Still A Cap

Dave Zatz —  May 17, 2012

broadband-meter

Comcast is out with a conveniently timed announcement going over their intention to replace broadband caps with… “improved data usage management approaches.”  However, despite management spin, to my eye they’ll continue to deal in data caps. Look, you’re either providing unlimited access or you’re not. Having said that, Comcast’s 250GB limit instituted in 2008 and upcoming 300GB limit are generous — most folks would be hard pressed to hit those ceilings on a regular basis. And it’s certainly more generous than Time Warner Cable’s 40GB trials or the typical and paltry 2GB a wireless provider might offer – even for home access.

We actually support metered usage and appreciate what looks to be clearly labeled tiers and overage fees. However, Comcast’s Internet service isn’t exactly provided as a dumb pipe, regulated like any other utility, and they display what appear to be various conflicts of interest. (And why is HBO GO still prohibited from Roku devices?) So you can be sure we intend to closely monitor these “trials.”

(Photo remixed by Todd Barnard and sourced from Elizabeth WestFlickr.)

6 responses to Comcast's New Broadband Cap… Is Still A Cap

  1. Assuming Comcast uses their first approach, where higher tiers get higher caps, I can’t see a lot of people complaining. Also the $5 per GB overages are a lot better than what other providers offer and much more user friendly than the 1 year ban on service that they have now.

    All that said, I predict that Comcast will go with their second approach (300 GB for all tiers) and give a reason that offering different caps for different tiers is “too confusing for customers” and the overage charges will be a lot less “generous”.

    Personally, I’m on Comcast’s Blast! tier and have never come close to the current 250 GB cap so this won’t really affect me one way or the other unless Comcast decides to raise rates because of this. Then again when has Comcast ever needed a reason for raising rates?

  2. Why support metered usage for wired broadband?

    Once the infrastructure is upgraded to DOCSIS 3, there’s essentially no variable cost in serving up another few hundred GB.

    If they’ve oversold the node they could always throttle at peak times.

  3. Remind me to draft put for the legislation to draft Dave as National Commissioner of Technology!

    :D

  4. Bill, if I could have unlimited, I would. But assuming unlimited data will become a thing of the past, instead of caps, tiers, or overages how about we just pay per gigabyte. Like water or electricity. Comcast has so many conflicts, I wonder about their long term ability to remain “fair” as they mention three times in their blog post. They sell Internet and TV access at the same time the own the pipes, own some studios and channels, sell local advertising, and offer competing online video services (Xfinity, Hulu). Comcast should voluntarily go to a metered approach, versus tiers or buckets, because if they’re forced to handle it like electricity or water, there would be little incentive to improve or expand infrastructure. So let’s say Internet access requires a $20 monthly fee and then we pay X cents per GB based on real usage.

  5. Look, this is complicated. Comcast is one of the better ISPs, excluding FiOS (which is only available to a tiny percentage of the US population and will no longer expand). They offer good speeds in most areas, and the cap they have imposed isn’t crazy low.

    HOWEVER, everybody seems to believe that TV is going to evolve and over the top services are going to replace conventional cable TV over the long haul (e.g. the cord cutters become the mainstream). This is IMPOSSIBLE with these current caps.

    Assume we want decent quality video. Using h.264 you can get good HD quality with 8Mbps, around half of what a typical cable system would use with MPEG-2. At 8Mbps we use up 3.6GB per hour of watched TV. At 30 days per month, that’s 108GB per hour per day. Except that US households average a little over 3 people based on the most recent census, and a little over 2 TVs. if anybody watches TV separate from the other people (increasingly true these days), the number will be higher than that. So how much TV can you watch with that 300GB cap? Probably something like 2 hours per day. 8-10 primetime period. No 6pm or 11pm news. No daytime TV by stay at homes. No kids programming during the day.

    This is not enough to allow competition between OTT TV and cable. It may be a very nice number for most people TODAY but it isn’t high enough in the long run.

    The average american today watches a little over 4 hours of TV per day. Assuming 2/3rds of the viewing is shared (probably optimistic), that’s still 8 hours of TV per household per day unique. Meaning these caps would have to be ~1.2TB to support typical viewing habits using OTT TV.

    At $10 per 50GB, assuming Comcast actually allows that, a typical family would spend $45 + 18 x $10 = $225 for the internet. Without paying ESPN or HBO or Netflix or Hulu Plus for the right to stream their content.

    And that’s not including streaming pandora, Carbonite backups, program upgrades, game downloads, photo sharing, podcast downloads, etc which there needs to be some budget for.

    I don’t expect Comcast to support this today. But the policies that are being put in place and the expectations for the future need to change.

    Without the FCC or congress weighing in, without some rules requiring network neutrality, Comcast will neuter the potential for OTT video before it gets going. As you should expect them to do if you are a shareholder.

  6. “Without the FCC … weighing in, without some rules requiring network neutrality, Comcast will neuter the potential for OTT video before it gets going. As you should expect them to do if you are a shareholder.”

    Well, that’s why the Xfinity trial balloon is so important, no?

    If Comcast can exclude their IP traffic from their caps, then net neutrality just withers on the vine. If Comcast’s IP traffic has to play by the same rules as OTT IP traffic, then things are different.

    In the latter scenario, it’s worse for Comcast shareholders, but better for the public interest, and in line with the FCC’s current policy of wireline net neutrality.