Wednesday, November 05, 2008

ATT, Comcast, Time Warner all experiment with or implement home broadband usage caps


Telecommunications companies are starting to become more specific about bandwidth limits or bandwidth-variable pricing for home broadband use.

According to Dan Costa at PC Magazine, Comcast has limited most home users (numbering 12.9 million) to 250 gigabytes a month, officially since Oct. 3, 2008, but covertly since 2005. Apparently this observation explains the infrequent occurrences where Comcast has terminated a few broadband customers. Costa’s story, also from Oct 3, is titled “Comcast’s broadband usage cap won’t hurt my mom,” here. Costa does agree that, even with “Democrat” (and probably Obama) supported Net Neutrality arguments accepted, heavy users should pay more. Indeed, a fair pricings structure is essential to providing service to lower income people, seniors, or people in rural areas—an objective that the new administration will want to enhance.

Time Warner is testing a much more restrictive cap in Beaumont, Texas, where the cheapest plans cap at 30 gig, and where over 40 gig you pay a buck a gig. That could add up for very heavy users. But that it is the point: it is a few super users who cause the slowdowns and stalls (and perhaps signal/noise problems) that can affect all users.

Today (Nov 5) Chloe Albanesius reported in PC Magazine (story) that AT&T will implement a system that would limit most home customers to 150 gigabytes a month. New AT&T customers in Reno, NV would be allowed 20 to 150 gig, depending on “speed tier.” AT&T will also charge $1 per gig for overage and notify customers 60 days in advance. AT&T also says it will provide customers with a bandwidth measuring tool and notify when customers exceed 80% of their limits.

Shared web hosting plans often have limits, which expanded considerably around 2006 and may have contracted slightly. A $30 a month plan is likely to allow 10 gig of disk space and 500 gig of bandwidth.

By way of comparison, a Verizon wireless national broadband plan would allow 5 gig for about $60 a month.

A very heavy user of video, high definition and Bit Torrent can apparently go through a few gig in one evening. Most home users and even “ordinary” bloggers probably would not approach 1 gig a day, it seems, although some of the plans (like Beaumont) sound like they have limits that could be approached. The Comcast limit of 250 gig sounds pretty generous for almost any reasonable use, at least now.

I can see problems down the road. Say you’re an independent film maker, do your own editing with Premiere or Final Cut Pro and want to share your own work (legally, when its yours) with P2P. That could use a lot of capacity.

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