Comcast Redefines Unlimited Bandwidth - Bandwidth-Hogging Applications
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It's no secret that applications that use a lot of bandwidth have become more and more popular in the last year or two. Audio and video streaming, high-definition movies, interactive games, podcasts, and peer-to-peer use have become more mainstream. While cable companies collectively spent $90 billion in the last decade building out their networks, it may not have been enough. "These new applications require huge amounts of bandwidth," notes Stan Schatt, author of a report by ABI Research that looks at the issue.
It's not just the applications used, however. Some customers wind up in the doghouse with their cable companies through little fault of their own. If they're running an unsecured wireless router, it's possible for their neighbors to secretly connect to the Internet through that router. The bandwidth used by that covert connection would then count towards their own limit. They'd notice only that their connection to the Internet seems a little slow -- until Comcast sends them a warning letter for excessive bandwidth use.
Then there are others who really are using too much bandwidth. They may be running servers intended for small businesses from their homes, and these machines eat bandwidth for breakfast. Comcast is within its rights in shutting down such users. Its Agreement for Residential Services has an abuse policy; one form of abuse is "Use of the Comcast network infrastructure in a manner that ...puts an excessive burden on the limitations of the network. Examples include: Using the Comcast network to run a Web-hosting server or any other commercial enterprise."
So much for running that web hosting business from your own home. But why is Comcast clamping down? The reason is technical. Every cable company has its network set up so that lines are shared by many subscribers; several hundred users sharing one line is not unusual. This means that one "bandwidth hog" can slow down Internet traffic for the entire neighborhood, leaving Comcast with a lot of irate customers on its hands. It's a classic case of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.
And how much is too much? Comcast won't say. Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas would only hint at it when he told the Post that a customer would receive a disconnection warning if he or she downloaded the equivalent of 1,000 songs or four full-length movies every day. "It's our responsibility to make sure everyone has the best service possible, so we have to address abusive activities so they won't damage the experience for other customers."
Using estimates I've seen elsewhere online, those numbers amount to four or five gigabytes a day. Dan Frommer, writing for Silicon Alley Insider, observes that "it's not an unreasonable amount if you're frequently downloading movies from Apple's iTunes or Amazon's Unbox, watching Joost, and downloading podcasts or Linux updates from BitTorrent." In other words, if you do significantly more online than surfing and watching YouTube, you could be in trouble.
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