Comcast cuts off big Internet users

Bandwidth - Though the cases are few, customers complain that
they don't know the limit they are supposed to stay below

originally online at

Monday, September 10, 2007

The rapid growth of online videos, music and games has created a new
Internet sin: using it too much.

Comcast Corp. has punished some transgressors by cutting off their Internet
service, arguing that excessive downloaders hog Internet capacity and slow
down the network for other customers. The company declines to reveal its
download limits.

"You have no way of knowing how much is too much," said Sandra Spalletta of
Rockville, Md., whose Internet service was suspended in March after Comcast
sent her a letter warning that she and her teenage son were using too much
bandwidth. They cut back on downloads but were still disconnected. She said
the company would not tell her how to monitor their bandwidth use in order
to comply with the limits.

"You want to think you can rely on your home Internet service and not wake
up one morning to find it turned off," said Spalletta, who filed a
complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Cable and Communication
Services. "I thought it was unlimited service."

As Internet service providers try to keep up with the demand for
increasingly sophisticated online entertainment such as high-definition
movies, streaming TV shows and interactive games, such caps could become
more common, some analysts said.

It's unclear how many customers have lost Internet service because of
overuse. So far, only Comcast customers have reported being affected.
Comcast said only a small fraction of its customers use enough bandwidth to
warrant pulling the plug on their service.

Cable companies are facing tough competition from telephone giants such as
AT&T and Verizon, which are installing new cables capable of carrying more
Internet traffic.

The cable companies collectively spent about $90 billion in the past decade
to improve their networks. And on cable networks, several hundred
subscribers often share an Internet connection, so one high-traffic user
could slow the rest of a neighborhood's connections. Phone lines are run
directly to each home, so a single bandwidth hog will not slow other

As Internet users make more demands of the network, cable companies in
particular could soon end up with a critically short supply of bandwidth,
according to a report released this month by ABI Research, a New York
market-research firm. This could lead to a bigger crackdown on heavy
bandwidth users, said the report's author, Stan Schatt.

"These new applications require huge amounts of bandwidth," he said. Cable
"used to have the upper hand because they basically enjoyed monopolies, but
there are more competitive pressures now."

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas declined to reveal specific bandwidth

"It's our responsibility to make sure everyone has the best service
possible," he said, "so we have to address abusive activities so they won't
damage the experience for other customers."

Companies have argued that if strict limits were disclosed, customers would
use as much capacity as possible without tipping the scale, causing
networks to slow to a crawl.

Some customers are unaware they are using so much capacity, sometimes
because neighbors are covertly connecting through unsecured wireless
routers. When they are told of that possibility, many curb their use after
an initial warning, Douglas said. Others, however, may be running
bandwidth-hungry servers intended for small businesses from their homes,
which can bog down a network serving a neighborhood. Comcast said it gives
customers a month to fix problems or upgrade to business accounts before
shutting off their Internet service.

Other Internet service providers, including Time Warner Cable, Verizon and
AT&T, say they reserve the right to manage their networks, but have not yet
suspended service to subscribers. Some AT&T customers use
disproportionately high amounts of Internet capacity, "but we figure that's
why they buy the service," said Michael Coe, a spokesman for the company.

Cox Communications said the bandwidth demand on its network has doubled
every year for the past six years. It has boosted its speeds twice in the
past 18 months to keep up and offers tiered service plans for heavier
users, spokesman Alex Horwitz said.

"We don't spend a lot of time enforcing (bandwidth) caps, but we contact
customers when their usage is egregious enough for it to impact the
network," he said. "Instances are few and far between."

Schatt, the ABI Research analyst, said he expects cable companies to spend
about $80 billion during the next five years to increase network capacity.
In addition, they may acquire airwaves at an upcoming federal auction and
could lay fiber-optic lines over their existing cables. Switching to
digital-only programming also could help conserve capacity.


Time Warner Cable tries metering Internet use
6/2/2008, 2:37 p.m. PDT
The Associated Press

currently online at

NEW YORK (AP)  You're used to paying extra if you use up your cell phone
minutes, but will you be willing to pay extra if your home computer goes
over its Internet allowance?

Time Warner Cable Inc. customers  and, later, others  may have to, if
the company's test of metered Internet access is successful.

On Thursday, new Time Warner Cable Internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas,
will have monthly allowances for the amount of data they upload and
download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, a Time Warner
Cable executive told the Associated Press.

Metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with Internet usage, which is
very uneven among Time Warner Cable's subscribers, said Kevin Leddy, Time
Warner Cable's executive vice president of advanced technology.

Just 5 percent of the company's subscribers take up half of the capacity on
local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable Internet service providers
report a similar distribution.

"We think it's the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the
infrastructure," Leddy said.

Metered usage is common overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are
looking at ways to rein in heavy users. Most have download caps, but some
keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come
nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first
major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then
suspend, those who go over.

Phone companies are less concerned about congestion and are unlikely to
impose metered usage on DSL customers, because their networks are
structured differently.

Time Warner Cable had said in January that it was planning to conduct the
trial in Beaumont, but did not give any details. On Monday, Leddy said its
tiers will range from $29.95 a month for relatively slow service at 768
kilobits per second and a 5-gigabyte monthly cap to $54.90 per month for
fast downloads at 15 megabits per second and a 40-gigabyte cap. Those
prices cover the Internet portion of subscription bundles that include
video or phone services. Both downloads and uploads will count toward the
monthly cap.

A possible stumbling block for Time Warner Cable is that customers have had
little reason so far to pay attention to how much they download from the
Internet, or know much traffic makes up a gigabyte. That uncertainty could
scare off new subscribers.

Those who mainly do Web surfing or e-mail have little reason to pay
attention to the traffic caps: a gigabyte is about 3,000 Web pages, or
15,000 e-mails without attachments. But those who download movies or TV
shows will want to pay attention. A standard-definition movie can take up
1.5 gigabytes, and a high-definition movie can be 6 to 8 gigabytes.

Time Warner Cable subscribers will be able to check out their data
consumption on a "gas gauge" on the company's Web page.

The company won't apply the gigabyte surcharges for the first two months.
It has 90,000 customers in the trial area, but only new subscribers will be
part of the trial.

Billing by the hour was common for dial-up service in the U.S. until AOL
introduced an unlimited-usage plan in 1996. Flat-rate, unlimited-usage
plans have been credited with encouraging consumer Internet use by making
billing easy to understand.

"The metered Internet has been tried and tested and rejected by the
consumers overwhelmingly since the days of AOL," information-technology
consultant George Ou told the Federal Communications Commission at a
hearing on ISP practices in April.

Metered billing could also put a crimp in the plans of services like Apple
Inc.'s iTunes that use the Internet to deliver video. DVD-by-mail pioneer
Netflix Inc. just launched a TV set-top box that receives an unlimited
stream of Internet video for as little as $8.99 per month.

Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, has suggested that it
may cap usage at 250 gigabytes per month. Bend Cable Communications in
Bend, Ore., used to have multitier bandwidth allowances, like the ones Time
Warner Cable will test, but it abandoned them in favor of an
across-the-board 100-gigabyte cap. Bend charges $1.50 per extra gigabyte
consumed in a month.