By Martin Bosworth
If you’re a Comcast subscriber who likes to use your connection for downloading videos, playing games, or anything more intensive than surfing the Web and checking e-mail, watch out–your connection could get restricted or shut off without any notice.
The company has a limitation that, if broken, can result in a 12-month suspension of service. The problem, according to customer complaints, is that the telecom giant refuses to reveal how much downloading is too much. This problem with Comcast actually goes back a couple of years–check out this CNet article from 2003, for instance, or this massive Broadband Reports discussion thread. The problem is not limited to Comcast either–Joe Enoch reported last year that Verizon Wireless enacted the same clampdown on its so-called “unlimited” wireless broadband service.
The reason is simple–cable and telecom companies don’t want to spend money on expanding broadband buildouts unless they’re to rich neighborhoods with a higher likelihood of paying top dollar for expensive services. Given that, it’s easier to enforce download and upload limitations and cut people off the network for hogging too much bandwith.
But as John Borland noted in the CNet article, no ISP wants to flat-out admit they cap bandwith usage, because that’s the kiss of marketing death. So you have these invisible “floating” caps that can strike without warning, even if the user wasn’t doing anything more intensive than uploading a video to YouTube. Thanks in no small part to Joe’s exposing the issue, Verizon has since explicitly admitted in its terms of service that anything higher than a measly 5GB will get you kicked off the network. I’d be amazed if anyone would want to use such a service unless it was corporate policy.
But this is another example of how the uncompetitive cable/telecom duopoly in this country enables such arbitrary business decisions. Overall broadband growth is on the decline in America, and much like credit card companies, the incumbent providers will unlock the higher speeds and offer more bells and whistles to retain customers or fight for restless subscribers to other services, rather than actually offer better terms of service or expand to underserved areas.
Incumbent cable and telecom companies never anticipated the explosive growth in user-generated content and file-sharing, and rather than gain new revenue streams and customers from building out more and faster connections, it’s easier for them to simply kick out people who have the temerity to use the Internet to its fullest–once their revenue goals are met, of course.