Comcast Redefines Unlimited Bandwidth
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How much bandwidth, exactly, is "unlimited"? That's the question confronting many Comcast subscribers in the wake of a recent story by the Washington Post
. The cable Internet provider's actions against some of its subscribers have wide-ranging implications; in this article we will look at the relevant issues.
The Post article details the experience of Sandra Spalletta of Rockville. Comcast suspended broadband Internet service to her household, consisting of herself and her teenage son. According to the warning letter Spalletta received in March, they were using too much bandwidth. Despite cutting back on downloads, they were disconnected.
Quite understandably, since Comcast advertises unlimited bandwidth, Spalletta filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Cable and Communication Services. "You have no way of knowing how much is too much," Spalletta complained to the Post. "You want to think you can rely on your home Internet service and not wake up one morning to find it turned off. I thought it was unlimited service."
Spalletta is not alone. The Post also mentions Joe Nova of North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Comcast also turned off his service because, so the cable provider said, he was using too much bandwidth. According to Nova, however, he used the service to watch YouTube videos, listen to Internet radio stations and chat with a webcam. While these applications consume bandwidth, surely Nova's use was not excessive in the face of Comcast's "unlimited bandwidth" promise. "Sure, I'm online a lot, but there's no way I could have been consuming that much capacity," Nova insists.
Comcast claims that only a small fraction of their 12 million customers have been cut off, but it won't give actual numbers. Worse, it won't even say how much bandwidth consumption is too much. If that sounds unfair and arbitrary, it is -- at least according to Bob Williams, director of a consumer web site run by Consumers Union. There are reasons for Comcast's behavior, and these reasons are strong enough that we may see other cable companies clamp down on big bandwidth users in the near future. We'll be taking a look at those reasons in just a moment; right now we're going to consider why this is becoming a problem.
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