Comcast to Cap Monthly User Bandwidth

Comcast to Cap Monthly User Bandwidth

by August 29, 2008

ComcastProfound Impact on Online Gaming Possible

This may not sound like a gaming story on the surface.  However, users of any game with online play, PC or console, as well as those planning to use computers or consoles to download volumes of content–even legally–need to take notice.

Comcast, the second largest Internet provider in the United States, announced yesterday it would cap all users’ monthly bandwidth allotment to 250 GB a month.  The change will take place October 1st as part of the company’s new Acceptable Use policy.  No tools will be provided by Comcast for customers to monitor their use.

Should a user exceed the limit, Comcast will give that user a courtesy call the first time.  Should it happen again, however, the service will be immediately suspended for 12 months.

The bandwidth cap was widely expected after the Federal Communications Commission gave Comcast a slap on the wrist for downgrading P2P speeds for some users, and violating Net Neutrality guidelines.  As part of that sanction, Comcast must now disclose to consumers how it monitors traffic on its network.

Comcast justifies the move by saying the average user only uses 2-3 GB of bandwidth a month, and that the cap only equates to downloading 125 movies in standard definition.

Still, the gaming community can easily exceed that number given the ability to download and play games online on the PC and through gaming consoles like Nintendo Wii or Microsoft’s XBOX Live service.  Furthermore, given Microsoft’s intent to expand the Live service and offer movies for download via Netflix, those downloads can add up quickly.  Add to that services such as iTunes and YouTube and their plans to offer content soon in high definition, and other items such as Vonage and other VoIP services, and the numbers can add up quickly.

Some claim this is Comcast’s way of ensuring their digital cable TV service stays relevant in an increasingly on-demand environment that’s ready to offer HD content.  Other more disgruntled Comcast users are speaking out on the Internet, demanding FCC intervention and claiming they will switch to less speedy DSL services or FIOS.

Gaming-wise, we found one comment that is of concern on CNet:

The biggest problem is going to be MMOs. While the normal gameplay bandwidth shouldn’t cause problems, downloading clients will use up a good chunk of the cap. Then if you do movies, music, etc on top of that, you may get your “first” warning.

The same thread has another comment that paints a much more disturbing picture:

I work for a telephone company who provides broadband services. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s a smaller company. This is how it will play out. Some Vontage subscriber will hit the cap and get their service suspended and it will knock out their phone. Subscriber complains to Vontage that their phone doesn’t work. Vontage does some tests and finds out that Comcast is blocking the service. Vontage tells the subscriber to complain to Comcast.

Comcast tells subscriber “Too bad, but you hit the cap.”
“But I have VoIP phone service with Vontage and my phone doesn’t work now.”
“Too bad, you hit the cap so you’re account has been suspended.”
“Really? And what if I have an emergency where I have to call 911 and can’t because you broke my phone?”
“Too bad, you hit the cap so you’re account has been suspended.”
“And what if someone dies as a result?”
“Not our problem.”

The PUC and the FCC will have a field day with this, especially if they remove someone’s ability to call 911 – Emergency and someone dies because of it. I *GUARANTEE* you that something will happen then.

What do you think?  Should Comcast be allowed to institute such a bandwidth cap in an increasingly growing Web environment?  Should the US government intervene, or is this basic economics at work?  Are you a Comcast users and will now be playing games online less because of this?  Let us know in the comments below.