The days of "unlimited" broadband Internet access are gone. Many major Internet Service Providers (ISP) claim that providing unfettered access will saturate the available bandwidth and slow down or even halt access for everyone--sort of tantamount to the urban myth that if everyone flushed their toilets at the same time the sewage system would overload. The answer to this ISP-claimed conundrum is to set up speed/pricing tiers
and to cap bandwidth usage
While Comcast is not the only ISP to announce tiered service and bandwidth caps, it has received the most attention--perhaps in part because of the company's aggressive tactics
. Comcast has received criticism for imposing a 250GB per month bandwidth cap, which some argue could be conceivably broached just by moderate to heavy HD video streaming. Others claim that it would be very difficult for the "average" user to reach that limit and that such as cap is, in fact, fair. Users who violate the 250GB per month cap will either receive warnings, have their service suspended or terminated, or be requested to upgrade their service to a commercial-grade level.
|Bandwith meter tools, such as this one on Speakeasy.net, only|
report bandwidth speeds at a given moment, and do not report
aggregate bandwidth usage over time.
Perhaps the biggest criticism Comcast has received over its imposed bandwidth cap is that it has yet to provide a reliable tool for users to keep track of their bandwidth usage. On Comcast.net's Help & Support pages, the FAQ
about excessive use states:"We are in the process of creating a usage meter that will measure consumption for the Comcast account which will be available in the coming months. In the meantime, we offer a meter for free with our McAfee security suite available at http://security.comcast.net/
There are many online tools customers can download and use to measure their consumption. Customers can find such tools by simply doing a Web search – for example, a search for 'bandwidth meter' will provide some options. Customers using multiple PCs should just be aware that they will need to measure and combine their total monthly usage in order to identify the data usage for their entire account. Comcast cannot verify that any tools customers may find themselves and use to measure data usage are accurate or without other flaws. Comcast’s determination of each customer account’s data usage is final."
The problem with these third-party solutions is that the way they measure bandwidth might not jive with how Comcast measures bandwidth--in fact, most tools don't actually track how much bandwidth you use over time, but merely report what your bandwidth connection speeds are at any given moment. Also, if your home has multiple PCs and other devices that access the Internet (such as VoIP or game consoles) it is difficult, if not impossible, to know just how much bandwidth you are actually chewing though. DSLReports.com, however, is reporting that Comcast's own usage-meter should finally become available as of January 5, 2009. DSLReports futher states:"...the tool won't update users in real time, but will have a three hour delay. It will also retain three months of bandwidth usage records, and will come with the option of monitoring multiple MAC addresses."
We had a chance to speak with Charlie Douglas, Comcast's director of corporate communications. Douglas confirms that a bandwidth meter tool is in the works, but it needs to go through an employee trial (which has not started yet) before it can be officially released. As to a January 5, 2009 release date, Douglas states that he can't comment on that and that Comcast is not officially announcing a release date--he did state, however, that it would be released "soon." The web-based tool will be accessed through the "My Account" link on the Comcast.net home page; the My Account page will feature an option to "click on my meter," which will display monthly broadband usage for the previous three months. The data will be measured from the customer's broadband modem and will take a few hours to update the data, so it will not be mesuring quite in real time.
Note that the 250GB monthly cap is an aggregate of both upstream and downstream data. We asked Douglas if there would be any sort of system in place that would warn a customer in advance if he or she was getting close to the 250GB "excessive use" limit, and Douglas said that Comcast is in fact evaluating such a system--but no word yet on when and if such a system would be put in place.