Comcast's Diet For Bandwidth Hogs: A 20-Minute Timeout (CMCSA)

Comcast has already gotten in trouble for secretly messing with its subscribers’ BitTorrent downloads. Its new plan to deal with bandwidth hogs: Putting them in the penalty box for 10 to 20 minutes, regardless of what they’re downloading.

What does this mean? If you’re using too much bandwidth on your “unlimited” subscription, Comcast is going to slow down your connection to the Internet for a while, no matter whether you’re downloading a hi-def movie legally from Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes or stealing a season of ’30 Rock’ from The Pirate Bay. Bloomberg:

In trials, Comcast has found the fair share system to be effective if the slowing lasts for “roughly between, probably, 10 and 20 minutes,” [Comcast online services SVP Mitch] Bowling said. The user’s Internet speed would then return to normal.

“If they continue that, we would have to manage them again,”‘ Bowling said.

How bad is this for consumers? That depends on how restrictive Comcast decides to be. Key information we still don’t know: How much bandwidth you need to use before Comcast thinks it’s too much, and how you’ll be able to measure your consumption.

Comcast hasn’t detailed the “punishment” speed it’ll force on its unruly subscribers, but gives Bloomberg a guesstimate — and pokes fun at its telco competitors at the same time: “A user being impeded would have Internet speeds equivalent to ‘a really good DSL experience,'” Bowling said.

Assuming that’s as low as 1 to 2 megabits per second, that won’t be fast enough to stream a movie in hi-def, but it means you’ll still be able to check email, browse Web sites, and chat without much of a hassle.

The problem: While Comcast has designed the system to only target customers who abuse their service — movie pirates, etc. — and not the vast majority of its subscribers, the reality is that mainstream Internet usage is changing. More people are using the Web to watch TV episodes on sites like Hulu, download hi-def movies from iTunes, or stream video from Netflix, which means more people are going to be using more bandwidth every year. At some point Comcast is going to have to figure out how to adapt to that.

See Also:
Telcos Routed: DSL Customers Fleeing To Cable Broadband
Comcast, Slapped By FCC, Expands Testing New Tech To Slow Down Your Internet
Does Comcast Want To Put Bandwidth Hogs On A Diet? Sounds Good To Us

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