Published on July 13th, 2011 | by Alexis Argent0
Protesting ISP Bandwidth Caps – A Losing Battle?
One Comcast customer’s fate should be a clarion call to action for all who cherish broadband access—and the cloud.
Here’s a warning for you: Those carefree days of unlimited data consumption are coming to an end. Bandwidth caps will come and riding along side them will be our new digital reality: Watching the meter.
I didn’t always believe this. Up until recently, I considered bandwidth caps primarily a mobile problem. Most mobile data plans will cap you at 2GB to 5GB before charging you more for additional data usage. I even sympathized with the service providers, whose mobile infrastructures were being overwhelmed by millions of smartphones sucking rich data through their not nearly dense-enough mobile data networks.
I’d heard about data caps for home broadband customers from a few ISPs, but the actual caps were so high that I thought no average customer would ever reach them.
A single story changed my mind. Andre Vrignaud is not exactly your average or typical home broadband customer, but he’s not as different as you might think. He takes photos, listens to Pandora music, watches videos, shares his access with guests when they arrive, and uses cloud-based services. In the case of his photos and cloud use, Vrignaud uploads some hefty files, and he and his roommates managed to use up more than 250GB in one month. Comcast, his service provider, has a 250GB cap. Vrignaud was given a warning, and he did what he could to decrease consumption.
A month later, he was kicked off Comcast for 12 months, with absolutely no chance for appeal. Vrignaud didn’t know that Comcast counts all data usage—downloads and uploads. Vrignaud probably would’ve more radically altered his usage patterns had he known. But Comcast reportedly knocked him off without even detailing which files or activity hurt him the most. For reference sake, here’s an excerpt of Comcast’s data policy:
Comcast has established a monthly data consumption threshold per Comcast High-Speed Internet account of 250 Gigabytes (“GB”). Use of the Service in excess of 250GB per month is excessive use and is a violation of the Policy. Let’s try and leave aside the fact that, despite all the detailed policy info, Comcast’s hard-nosed actions make it seem almost evil. What are the implications?
Vrignaud was not hosting a pirated content server. He wasn’t serving illicit data from his home. He was trying to live a digital life and by using cloud services, ensure that his precious data and photos weren’t lost.
Everyday consumers are being encouraged to consume mass quantities of data via streaming and non-stop Web page and data consumption. The industry is pushing the cloud. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and, now, Apple are all delivering richer and richer cloud services that encourage us to store and access more and more from their cloud services.
Granted, most, like Apple, will offer a paltry 5GB of free storage—an amount that will scarcely satisfy the average broadband user. Microsoft gives Windows Live members 25GB free, which is more realistic, but still probably not enough.
Vrignaud saved his digital images in RAW format, which means they were huge, and was storing them with Carbonite, a cloud-based back-up service. Most consumers store digital images that are far smaller—for now. Megapixels on cameras continue to rise and some cameras offer features that take multiple images in one clip, which results in larger and larger files. Every camera shoots HD video. Cloud providers would obviously encourage you to store and access all of it on their services. What about ISPs?
On the one hand, they might squawk about the increased stress on their broadband networks. That’s why services like Comcast implemented bandwidth caps, right? Or is it?
I think ISP networks can handle the stress. What they’re really after is money. They know consumers will reject “metered” Internet access, but know consumers can understand threshholds. If you go over the threshold, the ISPs can start charging you for metered access.
Charging is the key word here. I think ISPs are tired of everyone else—Web sites advertisers, media conglomerates—making money through increased traffic and more eyeballs, while the only way they can increase revenues is by signing up more users or offering ever-faster data rates at higher prices, which means building out the network infrastructure and spending even more money.
Obviously Comcast’s actions don’t quite sync with this hypothesis. Why didn’t Comcast simply offer a business class broadband service to Vrignaud? On the other hand, perhaps, Comcast wanted to make an example of him, as some sort of signal for future intentions: “You, dear customer are merely a visitor on our network. We control. You pay. We decide. You comply.”
It’s true, ISPs have the control. Most are local monopolies: without them, some people do not have broadband access. More and more of these broadband providers will soon use this power to apply caps or meters that will radically change how we access and store content and how we pay for that privilege. These actions could kill the cloud revolution before it gets started.