In less than a week, Comcast will officially implement their 250GB bandwidth cap. It’s no surprise that they’re the first massive US service provider to pull this move in the home broadband market — two factors are significant: first is the pooled structure of their network.Second is the fact that Comcast is, first and foremost, a cable provider. I already see ripples pointing towards a scenario, where customers are strongly encouraged, almost coerced, to choose video that Comcast offers them.
As I mentioned, Comcast’s local nodes are shared throughout a neighborhood â€“ often a node is made up of hundreds of individual households. When a handful of users are downloading heavily in parallel, it can slow the entire cluster down. This is why Comcast was filtering Bittorrent traffic (until the FCC ordered them to refrain from blocking). And it’s clearly part of why they’ve instituted this 250GB cap; however, I don’t believe it’s the entire story.
Comcast notes that with the allotted 250 gigs, you’ll be able to send approximately 50 million emails, download 25,000 pictures, and so on. What they don’t mention is that your 250GB will only get you around 100 hours of HD video, about 3 hours a day for your household (that’s a rough approximation). While no one is going to go over their cap sending emails, it’s easy to imagine a family quickly hitting that ceiling with HD video. All it’s going to take is a few folks going way over their cap, being forced to pay $1.50 per extra gig, and everyone will be afraid to download HD video. This threat will put pressure on Comcast broadband subscribers to watch video on their cable television setup.
It’s also conceivable that Comcast might “help” their customers avoid penalties by offering “Free HD Video Over the Internet” that could be viewed without incurring any extra bandwidth usage. It would be a natural move for the cable giant, and would also fly in the face of the net neutrality principles that have succeeded in shutting down their Bittorrent filtering. The “free” bandwidth would no doubt be subsidized by the content creators or other sponsors. It would give Comcast an unprecedented influence over what sort of high-resolution video their customers actually watched, and it reeks of cable television.
The above “Free HD Video Over the Internet” is a riff on Tim Wu’s â€œtermination monopoly,â€ which he describes as an ISP leveraging their subscriber base â€“ giving preferential access to the highest bidder (be it Google, Amazon, or ABC). The internet has demonstrated time and time again how awesome and unexpected things can happen, especially when people aren’t solely motivated by profit. When ISP’s begin leveraging their termination monopolies, it really alters the egalitarian landscape of the internet, especially with regard to HD video.
In related news, Verizon recently said they don’t plan to cap bandwidth (note that they don’t have the pooled network structure that Comcast does). Of course it’s awesome news for Verizon customers, but a significant percentage of the US home broadband market is served solely by Comcast. Stiffer competition among internet providers would turn this into a non-issue, but sadly most US markets are stuck with a weak duopoly at best.
The Comcast “Free HD Video Over the Internet” scenario should have you worried, especially if you’re a fan of media decentralization, innovation, and equal access. If you’re a Comcast customer, now may be a good time to jump ship in favor of a new ISP (Verizon?). For those without the option, I suggest you contact Comcast with a highly negative review of their new policy and keep track of what FreePress.net is up to.
Note: the woman in the above image got pissed at Comcast and destroyed one of their offices. While we think she’s cool, we don’t recommend this approach. Just boycott ‘em.