Thursday, September 4, 2008

Comcast’s 250 GB Cap and Some Inside Info on Network Management

Karl Bode at Broadband Reports broke the news this morning (now confirmed) that Comcast will institute a 250GB bandwidth cap starting on October 1st. Nobody likes a cap, but as far as they go, this one’s pretty generous. It’s also far from unprecedented. Time Warner Cable made a lot of (negative) news when it started trialing a 40GB cap earlier in the year. But some of the smaller cable operators have been capping or metering for years. CableOne, for example, limits downloads and uploads during the time period between Noon and Midnight. The base plan allows for 1.3GB downstream and 131MB upstream in a day, and if you exceed those caps, the operator will slow down your connection. Meanwhile Sunflower Broadband appears to offer only 1GB downstream per month in its base plan. On the other hand, you can add extra gigabytes for only a dollar each in advance or the operator will charge you two dollars after the fact.

The one bit of good news around the fact that the big cablecos are getting into the capping game is that at least now we’re having a discussion about what’s reasonable. For example, should network management include caps, or slowed access for heavy users during peak times, or both? (I know “neither” is the ideal answer, but it’s also impractical.)

And, how much bandwidth is really enough? Keep in mind that the operators themselves don’t want to limit bandwidth too much because of the revenue potential from new services. As more IP devices hit the market, there are more opportunities for cable companies to sell broadband apps and even hardware/software bundles. Limitations on consumers are also limitations on cable revenue.

Which brings us around to the most important point. Capping and metering do not increase bandwidth capacity. Even as they set management policies for Internet use, operators still have to work continually to increase overall bandwidth availability. Good for the consumer, good for the cable company. Hell, it’s good for the country too.

Now one little extra tidbit. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that bandwidth management is more important in some places than in others. Apparently network management technology gets turned off by accident on occasion, and in one instance I heard about just this week, a not-to-be-named operator had network management accidentally turned off for two weeks before anybody noticed! I’m thinking the operator is probably not based in a college town.

Comcast’s 250 GB Cap and Some Inside Info on Network Management
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