On September 5, 2008 I wrote an article — Comcast Kills the Internets – explaining, in detail, why Comcast’s broadband data cap of 250 gigs a month was a terrible idea set to freeze us all in their time and space for what we can and cannot do on the internet in the future.  Today, less than three years later, that prediction has horrifically come true.  When I read in Ozymandias that a user had been cut off from Comcast broadband and given a one year death penalty, I was alarmed, because I knew my concern had come true.  I checked “Users & Settings” on the Comcast website to check my account and broadband usage.

Here’s the silly blurp that Comcast embeds in the middle of your data usage graphics:

Your Comcast High-Speed Internet service has a monthly data usage allowance of 250 gigabytes (GB). If you are wondering whether you are at risk of exceeding this 250GB threshold, you should know that the vast majority – around 99% – of Comcast customers use significantly less than 250GB per month.

Here is my current usage as of July 15, 2011.  I’m at 30% with 76GB of my 250GB already used and I was surprised I’ve used so much so fast and the month is only half over. Compared to yesterday, I am using 2% of my cap allowance a day.  I do not stream movies.  I have started watching the live Big Brother feeds, but that only started seven days ago.  I publish 14 blogs, and I upload and download images and content via FTP, but those are small files.  I do not any online backups.  Everything is backed up on the local network.  I do have two iPads and two iPhones on the WiFi network.  I watch a lot of YouTube videos.  I sometimes stream music.  My WiFi stream is secure and encrypted.

What was most alarming about my usage history was that I used 33GB in April and 30GB in May and then a whoppering 160GB in June!  What happened to my broadband consumption in June?  Comcast provides no way for you to check your usage logs, so you’re left to the memory of your experience to try to piece together shards of understanding to figure out what went wrong.

When I checked my published articles list in June for the Boles Blogs Network, one story quickly leapt to mind that was posted on June 3, 2011: The Google Music Beta Tutorial.  Now everything was starting to cloyingly come together.

As a part of writing my review, I allowed Google Music to upload all my iTunes songs to the Google cloud.  That was a lot of music and took tons of bandwidth.  I think the upload took three, 24-hour days, to complete.  That would be a pretty massive bandwidth hog.

Then I also realized the Google Music player was locally set on my Mac to keep an eye on my iTunes folder, and if new music were discovered, those new songs would automagically be uploaded to my Google Music account.  I buy a lot of music for review in Boles Blues, so that also colored in some of my bandwidth usage details.

In testing Google Music, I streamed a lot of songs.  I guess that added to my bandwidth eating, too, though I have no way of knowing how much the music streaming was costing me in my monthly allowance because Comcast won’t tell me or show me.

I also realized I had all our iOS devices set to “automatically” download new music and Apps and such based on a single user account.  So when I bought a new album on iTunes, I was downloading the music from the iTunes server, then Google Music Player was uploading the new songs to the Google Music cloud server, and then our four iOS devices were re-downloading all the songs from the iTunes server.  Buying one album on iTunes triggered five downloads and one upload.  That’s a lot of bandwidth.

I turned off that new “auto download” in all our iOS devices to help preserve our Comcast data cap.  I won’t turn off Google Music because I enjoy it too much and I don’t want it to die.

Big Brother will continue to live stream into my life until the early days of September, so if I want to watch the feeds, I will have to keep an eye on my usage — but who wants to login to the slow and punishing Comcast website every day to check a usage meter?  I know Verizon FIOS doesn’t have a data cap — yet! — but I have been generally pleased with Comcast broadband and I moved to Comcast when I left Verizon because Verizon kept messing up my DSL connection and could not fix it.

Here’s what troubles me about the future.  Comcast have locked us into their want for how much we should be able to do on the Internet — and they decided that in 2008.  My wife is Deaf, and she relies on videophones to communicate with the world.  With Comcast in our lives, her ability to use a videophone the same way she used to use a TTY with a telephone is compromised.

Can Comcast cut off my wife from their their broadband backbone because she makes too many video chats because she’s disabled?  What if we’re at 250 gigs and she needs to make an emergency 911 call on her videophone — will Comcast arbitrarily cut her off mid-sentence as we hit the 251 gig mark?  Does the Comcast broadband cap comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and equal accessibility under the law? How can Comcast meter emergency usage from non-perishable communication?

Google+ looks like a great invention — but will people be able to use it as they want on Comcast if they’re worried about “Hanging Out” all day long in a video chat Hangout if Comcast’s data cap is breathing heavily on their shoulder?

Today, videophone communication for the Deaf is widespread.  Google+ Hangouts are burning into the home like wildfire.  Those are two, new, fabulous, broadband products that were not around in 2008 when Comcast arbitrarily invoked their clever 250 gig data cap — proving my point that Comcast wants to suspend us, and our future internet joy, in 250 gig amber — and if we offend their data cap, we’re given the death penalty.  We have no way to pay for overages to keep out account or to appeal our dismissal. We’re just completely unplugged from the very wave that brought us to Comcast in the first place.

17 Comments

  1. If you read the links in the article, the Ozymandias guy came home and found out he was cut off because his modem was dead. You get one month over, you get one a warning, call — and then if you go over again a second month in a year, you’re cut off for a year. I guess the solution is if you get that first call, you need to immediately switch your service to Business Class, pay extra, and then you don’t have any bandwidth limits. If you try to switch your service to Business Class after the second time you burp over the limit, you’re 100% cut off from all Comcast broadband service, and you can’t switch.

  2. UPDATE:

    I just subscribed to Spotify Premium — look for the review in Monday’s BolesBlues.com — and Spotify is telling me I have 16,000 songs in my iTunes folder and they add up to 103 gigs. That pretty much confirms that the massive leap from 30 gis to 160 gigs of bandwidth in the single month of June was due to my iTunes music folder upload to Google Music. The additional 30 gigs likely came from the multiplicity of iTunes and Google Music “distribution” of my new album purchases for the month from iTunes.

  3. Don’t like this much at all, David. You make an excellent point about the legality of cutting off a disabled person from communication with authorities. Doesn’t have to be a 911 call either. Maybe your wife is on the phone with her mother on an emergency or her doctor or something. She might use video chat on an iPhone or iPad and not a vid phone. I can’t think how Comcast would be able to cut her off and get away with it. There must be some sort of exception. I know you can’t cut off the phone for poor or elderly people. They have the human right to make an emergency call and there are protections in place. Comcast better start thinking about that with video chat, too, before someone gets disconnected and somebody dies. I wonder how many people will have to go over the 250 gig cap and get the death penalty before Comcast will raise the cap. Ten? A Thousand? Any way you wrap, it’s a bad policy to death penalty your customers.

    1. Love the passionate commet, Anne! As ever, your arguments are solid and sound. I don’t think any of this has ever occurred to Comcast — and as life and technology catch up and surpass their arbitrary data cap and people are left in peril and get hurt or die — it will be Comcast explaining in court why they cut people off instead of offering other, non-death penalty, solutions.

      1. Glad to! Really appreciated your viewpoint on this, as well as how it might impact your wife with her deafness. The more people dig into this issue, the more these sorts of either frustrating or dangerous issues appear.

        That said, a few things are afoot, and I hope to write another post on the subject soon with some interesting news.

        1. Hi Andre!

          I am so happy you are using your muscle to get Comcast to bend on this vital, and important, issue. They were being too cute by half by imposing these death penalty limits in 2008 — knowing full well that broadband demand would exponentially grow, and not wither. I know they thought they’d be way ahead of Face Time and Netflix and live streaming by putting limits in place before these features were able to fully flower.

          The problem with having hard limits without any appeal when it comes to the disabled is that Comcast cannot know which streaming video conversations are emergency or not unless they are somehow monitoring the secure video stream with an interpreter at hand. An emergency video call can happen with 911 or the local police station or a friend across the country. Comcast are tempting dangerous demons with this blunt policy — and for what reason? Why not just charge us for overages? Why cut us off?

          So far, this month, it looks like we’ll top off at around 200 gigs for the month. We’re 50 under the limit, but we don’t use Google+ Hangouts or FaceTime yet — those are both likely coming to our home in September and then the frugal monitoring will have to step in, I fear, or we’ll tempt getting a Comcast death penalty.

          Please keep us updated on what happens. Comcast must change. They will change. The market, or the law, will command them to change.

  4. We have Comcast’s 1.5Mbit/s service (yes, the lowest speed offered, just $20/mo for 6 months too) and we’re at 125GB right now as of the 27th. The majority of our bandwidth comes from NetFlix (4 kids are on summer break), but I also download about a half dozen Linux videocasts per week (~200mb/each), I downloaded a CentOS6 DVD (4.8GB), then general Youtube and other videos from time to time which comes with general surfing these days (4 laptops). The next level up in Comcast service would be nice for burstiness, but I’d be really concerned about going over. As it is, we only have one Wii with NetFlix, but I could see that increasing as the kids get older and not watching TV together (or with us in the evenings). Comcast really needs to publish their current customer numbers. I don’t care about the folks who just check email and barely use their Internet – show me all the folks actually using their Internet at 30GB/month and up. Otherwise it’s like including the water usage in vacant houses into the average use for home owners. Then, they really need to update their caps take into account changes in more bandwidth heavy apps (video chat, more video apps like NetFlix, Hulu, Android/iPhone devices constantly updating, etc.). Unfortunately, I only have AT&T DSL as a viable alternative, and their caps are 150GB/month, or Clearwire whose service is so bad and doesn’t even officially cover my house (but I have a two story and can get signal from my attic). The government sanctioned duopoly really stinks. 150GB/mo or 250GB/mo – take your pick. Who knows, maybe that’ll be what I have to do, is get both so I can have 400GB/mo service… I’m sure both ISPs would just love that, instead of upgrading their circuits (if there really is a bottleneck there at all).

    1. I love our Comcast Blast service, Jason. It’s definitely worth the extra money and part of the reason why I don’t wan to move to their Business Class or FIOS — nothing else compares to the value for the speed even though FIOS is, so far, unlimited when it comes to bandwidth caps.

      If Comcast are going to cut us off at 250 gigs a month, they need to give us access to detailed usage logs for our accounts — just like web hosting services provide precision meter logs for our consumed bandwidth in and out — so we can absolutely and precisely know where and how our traffic is being used, and so we can have the ability to audit their usage statistics for us. Right now, it’s all Comcast’s game. They decide the cap. They decide what constitutes usage. We have no appeal. We can’t even being see what content is creating our gigs load or if it is being correctly registered.

      I am thinking about getting a Verizon 4G LTE modem for emergency backup use in case Comcast cuts us off in the future.

  5. Oh, and as I work for the local power utility, and we’re about to implement Time of Use (ToU) billing, with one rate during peak hours and a lower rate during offpeak hours, I think this is something these ISPs need to consider. Let those that want to download have no cap or get a “discount” rate. I don’t mind downloading my videocasts or Linux DVDs off hours. If NetFlix could get past the whole DRM issue, they could pre-load content on local hard drives during off-hours to a USB attached HDD on a Wii or other console devices. Com’on, Comcast & AT&T, get a clue, raise the caps and/or give us a way to use the bandwidth during the off-peak times at a reduces rate.

  6. People people people! I can say much more, ok:
    1. Why are you looking for people who is using less than 250GB, maybe they’re old, have much work and their time for internet is less. So, even if Comcast is saying that much people are using 50GB per month, = ok, lets other people use the rest of it or you understand me, yeh?
    2. Oh, very funny, till 2008 their was a future, now is back time count! Oh, my god, and you’re saying that this is not the end of the world? 2011, 2012, so f*cking tech years already, and 25GB for one HD (1080p) movie for one time is already much, and I m not saying about other movies, youtube, and so on. I’m using above 500GB, and other two people in my family is using above 500GB, too because look, I sit most of the time watching videos, paying for download music and HD movies. My uncle is watching videos, too. My mom is paying for Russian TV, and watching over 50 movies a month in 480p (ok its about 700MB for 90 minutes of movies) and it is 700MB times 50 = 35000 and over (35GB and over just for internet TV). Ok, me between 500GB and 700GB , my uncle like about 300GB and my mom with about 100GB and it is already 900GB-1.2TB a month man, and I can’t imagine to watch movies in 1080p all the time, because they have 25GB and more! 10 movies for a month and that it. F*ck you dicks f*ckers. Continue to make more internet speed and file sizes, I will be very happy to see 100GBPs internet with 250GB cap! It will be so f*cked up! With thousands buck a month just for cap!