Commentary

Comcast Officially Caps Bandwidth

Comcast, recently sanctioned by the FCC for blocking some peer-to-peer traffic, now officially says it will impose bandwidth caps of 250 GB a month on all residential customers. The company has actually imposed caps for a while now, but hadn't explicitly stated them.

Comcast says that most users won't be affected, given that median usage is around 2-3 GB a month. The company also says that 250 GB limit is relatively high -- enough to allow users to download around 125 standard-definition movies a month.

But the plan is still troubling. For one thing, some Web users who want or need to exceed the limits will be left with no good options. That's because there still isn't enough competition among broadband providers.

Another problem is that bandwidth usage is only going to increase over time. If Comcast is having trouble managing its network now, what will happen when median usage climbs higher?

Advocacy group Free Press, which previously complained to the FCC that Comcast had violated net neutrality principles, was quick to question the news of official bandwidth caps. "It remains unclear how the cap announced today helps solve Comcast's supposed congestion problems -- or how the cap will work with other usage limits Comcast has been considering," S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, said in a statement. "If the United States had genuine broadband competition, Internet providers would not be able to profit from artificial scarcity -- they would invest in their networks to keep pace with consumer demand."

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Comcast might have problems managing its network, but there's no question that the company has an interest in limiting Web use. Ultimately, if people can download as much video as they want from the Web, they have less incentive to keep up their subscriptions to cable TV. And it's clear that Comcast, like other cable companies, doesn't want to lose the revenue stream it gets from those subscribers.

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