Comcast (CMCSA) Vs. Downloaders Will Only Get Uglier

Comcast’s policy of banning heavy Internet users may cut some of the burden on its network, but it won’t help the cable giant make any friends. The Washington Post reports on Comcast’s habit of terminating subscribers’ accounts who use too much of their “unlimited” cable modem service. The article doesn’t say how many of Comcast’s 12 million Internet subscribers have gotten the boot. But the company says only  “a small fraction” use enough bandwidth to warrant termination — presumably those swapping mass amounts of huge files like movies and games.

Comcast, like any service provider, has the right to monitor their network and kick people off who violate their service agreements. But the problem is that there’s no way of knowing if you’re over the limit — Comcast doesn’t explicitly tell its customers how much bandwidth usage is “too much” or how to monitor their consumption.

Comcast rep Charlie Douglas declined the WaPo‘s request to quantify how many gigabytes worth of downloading would get someone kicked off. But the paper says, “to trigger a disconnection warning, customers would be downloading the equivalent of 1,000 songs or four full-length movies every day.” Assuming the average song is about 4 megabytes, or the average movie about 1 gigabyte, that’s about 4 gigabytes of data. That’s more than you’d ever use in a day surfing the Web or watching YouTube, but 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.

Comcast’s long-term problem: Internet usage is only going to grow. Media companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in streaming video projects like Hulu and Joost, which use a ton of bandwidth. An update to Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash software means that companies like ABC will be able to stream shows like Lost in hi-def to Internet users — which can eat up 4 gigs of bandwidth in a matter of hours. A lot of that video will be distributed over Comcast’s pipes. And the only way for Comcast to differentiate between legitimate file transfers like watching The Office on and illegitimate transfers like downloading The Office from BitTorrent would be to monitor the content its subscribers are downloading — a scary concept. This could get nasty.

See Also: Comcast: We Don’t Throttle BitTorrent