Comcast To Test New And Improved Methods For Throttling Internet Traffic

Comcast says that it will experiment with a new method of managing traffic to thousands of customers in Chambersburg, Pa., and Warrenton, Va. The new method will not target file-sharing, but would focus on individual heavy Internet users – no matter what they are doing, says the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Comcast is facing a potentially heavy fine from the FCC for (possibly) improperly interfering with Internet traffic, and they’re hoping that this new “protocol-agnostic” method will be more palatable.

It sounds like bad news for heavy users, however:

The new Internet traffic method will put the online traffic of ordinary Internet users ahead of heavy users at certain times to maintain overall Internet speeds, Douglas said. Thus, the Internet experience for heavy users – so-called Internet hogs – could slow during periods of Internet congestion.

If successful, Comcast will implement it throughout the system by the end of the year.

Comcast to test ‘Internet hog’ controls [Philly.com]
(Photo: cmorran123 )

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  1. gqcarrick says:

    I hate ISP’s more and more every single day.

  2. Darkwish says:

    And how will this affect business subscribers as they often host their own websites and email servers in addition to multiple people using the internet?

  3. TWinter says:

    Hmmmmm. If implemented correctly (that is a big if) this actually sounds like a reasonable approach to manage traffic and ensure the best service for the largest number of users. It’s certainly better than imposing caps.

  4. pkpzp228 says:

    And how do you define an internet hog? You pay a monthly service charge for say up to 8mbps, are you a hog if you utilize 100% of what you’re paying for?

  5. So the people who use your product the most, and are the most saavy about your product get crippled.
    Your Aunt who occasionally forwards you emails with lots of animated gifs of kittens and “really funny” photos and chain letters will feel no pain.

  6. johnva says:

    Personally, I think that one of the main reasons the cable providers are doing this sort of thing is to undercut online video delivery before it starts to compete too heavily with their television service offerings.

  7. friendlynerd says:

    This actually sounds like the most reasonable approach I’ve heard so far. I still don’t like it, but it’s the least evil.

  8. How do they define “heavy” though? I don’t know a lot about the technical side of this stuff but it sounds pretty vague. Or is it just relative – in a certain area the heaviest 25% or whatever gets reined in?

  9. JollyJumjuck says:

    Fantastic marketing ploy!

    1) Make higher speed services available, knowing that heavy users are most likely to go to the highest pricing tier.
    2) Charge top tier (speed) users more money.
    3) Throttle those same users back down to a lower level “to make the Internet better for everyone.”
    4) Higher profits for the company!

  10. crabbyman6 says:

    @johnva: ohhh, that’s a sinisterly good thought. There was a study done not too long ago showing that video sites were the largest bandwidth guzzlers. This would certainly at least limit them to a point.

  11. Lambasted says:

    Comcast is surely the Antichrist of telecommunications. It really isn’t news anymore to find out that they have cooked up another scheme to screw their customers. I expect that of them.

    It is a shame that companies have lost sight of the happy medium between profit and consumer satisfaction. They don’t care that they foster a hate relationship with their customers. I think this attitude is going to pave the way for a new breed of companies to spring up that are more consumer oriented. People are just itching for consumer-friendly alternatives and are ready to pay golden dollars for them.

  12. LiC says:

    So if I like using iTunes and Netflix to watch movies, I’m screwed?

  13. nweaver says:

    Guys, this is NECESSARY and the LEAST UNPLEASANT option.

    Especially with DOCSIS (the cable modem standard), a few heavy users can mess up everyone else’s internet traffic. Without user-fairness based allocation, the system just doesn’t work under heavy load for the bulk of the users.

    And until you shift to a usage-based pricing, these heavy users are NOT a benefit to the ISP, rather a cost. In flat-rate pricing, it is in the ISP’s interest to keep the 95% of the users who aren’t heavy bandwidth hogs happy, and if it ticks off the bandwidth hogs, so?

  14. unpolloloco says:

    at least this is better than charging for every gb over 40 in a month *cough*….Time Warner….*cough*

  15. crabbyman6 says:

    This system sounds better than the one proposed by Time Warner where they actually cap your usage and charge you for any overages, which they’re testing in TX now. [arstechnica.com] At least Comcast is just throttling it. With TW’s system I imagine that about 10 Netflix streamed movies will put you at or really close to your limit and heaven help you if you download mp3s.

  16. ThunderRoad says:

    Maybe they shouldn’t sell the user a 3mb pipe if they aren’t willing to let the user use 3mb? Just a crazy thought.

  17. Kajj says:

    Are there any non-evil high bandwidth ISPs? I don’t use Comcast, but I hate my current ISP almost as much.

  18. So penalizing people for actually using the service they pay for is ok now?

  19. SacraBos says:

    @suburbancowboy: They are dealing with a “Tragedy of the Commons”, and IF done properly, could be a good solution. Of course, this is Comcast and a big IF, so they will screw the pooch on this one.

    On a congested network, you simply have to drop packets. A good strategy on selecting what packets to drop can insure the best service for the most users. This is much better than forging RST packets killing perfectly valid sessions.

  20. darkrose says:

    I’m already fed up with the fact that Comcast apparently doesn’t realize that people might actually, sorta, kinda want to relay mail through a third party SMTP server (eg: say, a guy who owns multiple domains and a VPS server that hosts blogs and such), so they block both incoming and outgoing SMTP ports. Nice of them, eh?

    Now they’re crippling service because people are using it too much. God forbid they deliver the service they were contracted to deliver. If this goes nationwide, I suppose I’ll be seeking a new service provider. Comcast has been pretty solid but between this, the SMTP issue, and the fact that I’ve been offline for 2 days due to a cable cut in my neighborhood.. and the installers has missed a second appointment now to fix it, I’m pretty sure I’ll be finding some other means to connect to the Internet.

  21. ninjatoddler says:

    Comcast is already throttling YouTube. Can’t confirm on other video sites but videos on YouTube take longer to buffer and play on Comcast than on other ISPs.

  22. weakdome says:

    @darkrose: Screw port 25…Port 587 FTW

  23. Valhawk says:

    God forbid they invest in some infrastructure to improve their network so they can handle the current load.

  24. acasto says:

    If this works right this is actually a decent idea.

  25. edrift101 says:

    I really want to know what Comcast defines as a “ordinary Internet user”…

    I must be one of these “Internet hogs”. After all – I am watching YouTube videos, listening to music, playing games and reading blogs online.

  26. sardonumspa says:

    I have a helluva time getting Netflix to work properly, too.

    I sometimes wonder why I haven’t received a letter from them; between Netflix and Usenet, I have got to be a “heavy” user.

    Since the future of everything is data, you’d think they would want to build a network that could support it.

  27. theblackdog says:

    Verizon DSL FTW!

  28. johnva says:

    @crabbyman6: It’s not just websites they are worried about. They are probably especially worried about Web-based video appliances that plug into TVs, as those could essentially destroy their monopoly on video delivery by offering the same convenience of television with much wider choices and probably lower prices. Personally I think they should just accept that that is the future and gradually move more and more of their delivery bandwidth to Internet uses, but I doubt they like that option because they wouldn’t have monopoly control over content anymore.

  29. tehronin says:

    @acasto: You must not rape torrent daily like I do, please stay silent and be complacent of of giving up rights to the internet in your own home. The NET should stay as unregulated as possible. If we let the corperation take this inch, next year it’ll be another.. and another… until its 100% fully metered and tracked on all levels and no longer “annonymous”.

  30. xerent says:

    @nweaver: The necessary option is to have ISP’s sell services that they can provide in the first place, and not to upsell services that they realistically don’t have.

  31. snazzycarrot says:

    The tragedy of the commons remark was right on. When there is a limited resource and demand exceeds those limits, something has to give and this sounds as fair as anything. I’d rather limit the heavy user than the light user. Anything else seems a bit perverse…’Sorry Aunt Jane, you can’t send your cute heart and puppy filled email…now hold on while I download another multi-gigabyte file’. The best point I’ve seen made against the policy has to do with advertising more than can be delivered. But surely there is some disclaimer there…i.e. ‘UP TO 3 mb’ or whatever. Given that performance varies with network conditions this seems reasonable.

  32. snazzycarrot says:

    @tehronin: Since when do you have a right to the internet in your own home?

  33. crabbyman6 says:

    @johnva: Yeah, but nothing quite like that exists yet for TV, though the Netflix box is close. I think another of their big concerns is individual networks streaming their shows online. The only option they really have is to upgrade their infrastructure and I think they’re working on it, but who knows, and if this is already in place I’m sure they won’t revoke it. Like you said though, it all comes down to them losing their monopoly control over providing TV which is why they fought Verizon on getting TV content. Luckily, I have FIOS in my area and the speed is consistent all times of the day unlike when I had Comcast.

  34. johnva says:

    @crabbyman6: Since this all about monopolism, I would hope that the government would step in and try to stop them from barring video competition from the Internet. That’s what I really see the whole Net Neutrality thing as being about. It’s fine if Comcast, et al want to just sell a crappy Internet service that isn’t capable of supporting video. I’m sure they won’t fare that well in the free market if they make that choice. It’s not fine with me if they try to selectively degrade online video just to preserve their monopoly.

  35. coan_net says:

    I read somewhere else about a 250gig monthly limit (better then the 40 gig that time warner or whoever was talking about) – and would mostly target those who have high volume during their busiest parts of the day.

    I use Comcast – and I use a lot of Comcast, and things that I have asked for about my unlimited usage plan that I signed up for:

    1. What is the limit? (up and down)
    2. What time of day is the slowest?

    If I know these things, I could easily throttle back my usage during the “busy” part of the days, and throttle up my usage during the non “busy” part of the day… and could easily set limits to stay under whatever limit they have.

    … but they will never tell me what the imaginary limit was, and not give me any help on helping control my own usage other then saying that I was using too much.

    I’m happy to help – but they have to give me the information I need to do my part.

  36. crabbyman6 says:

    @johnva: Yes, I see Net Neutrality as a protection over potential monopolies in situations like this. Also to prevent the ISP from milking revenue from a source that shouldn’t be. However, I’m not really sure this would fall under Net Neutrality even, since they’re throttling EVERYTHING “for the good of the system”. This will certainly hinder internet TV and movies, but they can say this is a necessary step to protect their network integrity, or some other BS, while in effect doing exactly what they want to anyway. Also, in some cases Comcast has a monopoly over the internet also when you’re too far from a DSL hub and Comcast is the only cable provider available. The FCC slapped them with a fine for picking and choosing to throttle bit torrent, which is definitely a step toward Net Neutrality, but what can you do when they’re throttling everything?

  37. BearTack says:

    S Korea and many others have 100Mb service. But here in the US, the inventors of the Internet, we piddle along with 1-15Mb as “broadband”.

  38. johnva says:

    @crabbyman6: I think the only possible relief will be for there to be more competition in ISPs. Hopefully more wireless Internet options will proliferate (due to lower startup costs) and technology will save us from Comcast or force them to reform.

  39. mitchelwb says:

    Seems to me that if you want to make this a “fair” idea for both user and Comcast.. anytime Comcast knowingly, and willfully throttles any given individuals service due to a previous record of high use, and current system demand, so long as that individual has otherwise remained withing the TOS agreement, that Comcast should reimburse the individual for their lost activity. This does not create a slippery slope for customers to demand reimbursement anytime the network slows, as there are from time to time upgrades that must be made, and network slowdowns that do happen. I am referring only to instances where a high use customer who is otherwise “playing by the rules” has been willfully throttled. It is called “Due Consideration” and I don’t mean that comcast is being considerate… both parties should benefit from any change in the TOS agreement (especially if there is a contract involved)

  40. kyle4 says:

    Here in Canada Rogers has a 95GB cap. I’m right below that at 60GB, and Apple TV and other services will never pick up here because with one 2GB film you’re slowly just eating away at the bandwidth. With Youtube alone I blew threw 6GB in four days. I couldn’t believe it. Screw the bandwidth cap, make it 200GB, they charge enough.

  41. ClevelandCub says:

    @nweaver: Ugh. It is NOT necessary by any strech of the imagination, it’s Comcast’s spectacular corporate greed. If you look outside the US and Canada you will see that we’re soooo far behind Europe and Asia that it ain’t even funny. Doing IT work from home, plus YouTube, ITunes, etc, etc… I’m glad (for the moment anyway) that I’m with Time Warner.

    In reality the lack of real competition for broadband services in the US has killed innovation here, not DOCSIS standards. If you can get those amazing broadband speeds in Asia for pennies, there is no logical reason we shouldn’t be able to get them here too, at a reasonable price.

  42. LionelEHutz says:

    These companies need to have their ‘rights of way’ threatened if they continue to pull this sort of crap. They are virtually monopolies (or are monopolies) depending upon where you live. We already pay some of the highest prices in the world for what is poor service when compared to other developed countries.

  43. Tiber says:

    Out of all the options short of improving their network (because Comcast obviously can’t spare the money for it, especially since they need it to fund R&D into how to slow people down), this seems the best. None of this cap stuff where people are just ripped off even more (No benefit for the I-only-check-email crowd, and I bet they studied the average traffic just to put their cap below it). Why couldn’t they have just done this in the first place? JollyJumjuck also made a good point about how that technology had better factor in what the user paid for.

    I don’t know about the conspiracy of impeding web TV (though I wouldn’t put it past them, especially after claims of purposefully degrading Vonage), but I think there should AT LEAST be regulation concerning upselling. I know that they cover themselves with the up-to thing, but I would still call it false advertising if 90% of users can never expect to get anywhere close to the promise. It would be like advertising a car that gets 40 MPG* (*In a test environment, going downhill, on the moon). I remember, during the BT-Comcast episode, Comcast said they may have 400 houses on a node. A commenter on that article said that his networking teacher said 100 is excessive. So, a conservative estimate says they are overselling by over 400%. Imagine if an airline tried to get away with that.

  44. JRock says:

    It just figures, too – I’m planning on buying a house in Chambersburg at the end of August.

  45. TorrentFreak says:

    So let me get this straight, if you pay for internet service you might not get the service? If you lose service, which is something you pay for, then you shouldn’t have to pay full price. Afterall if you dont pay they cut your service, if they don’t provide service then you shouldn’t pay.

    Too bad it doesn’t work like that. They can rape whoever and get away with it.

    What’s next? Capping TV watching? That is something you pay for unlimted access too. The fact you or I or anyone else uses their unlimted access more shouldn’t mean you get punished for it. They should use all that free money they get from “light users” and reinvest it into the company to provide better service. Instead they will sit back and get fat.

  46. PackerX says:

    Given the ubiquitousness and near necessity of the internet these days, I think the most logical step would be to treat it like a utility where you pay for what you use. Yes, those of us who do a lot of online gaming, downloading, and video services would be paying more, but that’s how it SHOULD be. People who use it pay for it and it’d end up being largely self-regulating. And the ISPs could always offer “unlimited” packages for a higher cost.

    Of course, utilities that charge for usage (electricity, oil, etc.) have a minimal or zero monthly fixed cost. This $45/month for internet would have to go away, and that’s something they’ll refuse to do.

  47. cerbie says:

    @Darkwish: nothing…unless they are using and paying a residential rate. Then, it’s, “blame the victim,” time.

    I think they should increase their network capacity, but this is whole heaps better than cutting out your traffic (IE, you pay for unlimited access, and they give you denial of service).

    @suburbancowboy: If done correctly, you will barely notice. It probably won’t be, of course. Your connection gets slower when everyone else is using the pipes. This will just make it a wee touch slower for you, but make it far faster for those that conservatively use it. If the implementation is good, of course.

    If you normally would get 700KB/, and are dropped to 600KB/s while traffic is heavy, boo hoo.

    Being a cable company, especially this one, though, don’t let those ifs go. The fact that they are just getting around to it now shows that they are about as on-the-ball as GM…and with less liability, to boot.

  48. Volume based pricing seems fair to me. I am willing to pay for my 1-3 GB per day in consumption. The next guy can pay for his 40GB per consumption and will pay more, while my mom will pay the least because she never hits more than 10MB per day.

  49. linbey says:

    @snazzycarrot:

    The problem is that the resource doesnt HAVE to be limited. Comcast just wants to keep taking our money and then not REINVEST it in more infrastructure so that they could support EVERYONE being an internet hog.

  50. Hamm Beerger says:

    @linbey: Comcast is constantly investing in infrastructure. You don’t have any idea of the technical hurdles involved with increasing speeds on a cable plant.

  51. snazzycarrot says:

    @linbey: Well, I’m all for reinvestment in infrastructure, and I am also not particularly a Comcast fan. But I am pretty sure that, short of (practically) infinite capacity, this sort of problem is always going to occur. I guess the question becomes ‘how much are they reinvesting’? It seems like it would be to their advantage to have the best, most robust, fastest network they could have.

  52. linbey says:

    @snazzycarrot:

    I disagree. There is always a way to provide more bandwith. If there was always a limit then why does Verizon have no problem providing consistent high speed internet to EVERYONE with their FIOS connection regardless of when or how much everyone uses. I happen to have switched from Comcast to Verizon FIOS and I actually get the full 5MB down and 2MB up that I pay for. Its not “up to” like Comcast is and the service is the same no matter when I use it. On top of that it is actually cheaper than Comcast

  53. Mike626 says:

    What are they thinking? Is it their business plan to force everyone to a different provider? Do they think that slower Internet is the future?

  54. Corydon says:

    @tehronin: I’ve been on the Internet back since the days when you paid a university by the minute to connect with a 2400 bps modem to a Unix shell, back before the WWW even existed. You won’t find a bigger pro-freedom advocate on the Internet than me. I’ve made it a point to contribute monthly to the EFF for some time now because we share largely the same vision of the Internet.

    That being said, please go DIAF. I’ve got no use for kids (or morally stunted adults for that matter) downloading illegally copied movies over a shared broadband connection 24×7 and then complaining when somebody slaps their hand because they’re (a) disrespecting someone else’s artistic work and (b) tying up a resource that is used by everyone in their neighborhood.

    Grabbing movies and music over a bittorrent connection running 24×7 without paying for them is basically like selling drugs out of a public park and chasing off anyone who wants to use the space for a legitimate purpose.

    And before you trot out the tired old excuse that you’re just downloading Linux ISOs (which I highly doubt is true), please bear in mind that even if that’s true, you’re still the online equivalent of the fat slob who oozes into three seats on the airliner and only pays for one, making his neighbors’ lives miserable.

  55. mac-phisto says:

    comcast – get bent. now that fios & uverse are biting at your heels, you have to do better than “oh, it’s just too hard for us to provide quality service to everybody”. you’re starting to sound (& act) like aol.

    get your act together before verizon & at&t steal your most lucrative markets out from under you. or don’t. i don’t care. cablevision lets me use all the intertubes i want at blazing fast speeds. funny how you’re the only one bitching about customer usage…

  56. k6richar says:

    @kylo4: if you can get DSL i suggest teksavvy, have 2 options one is a 200 GB cap and one is unlimited, both cheaper then rogers or bell

  57. arl84 says:

    There may be a lot of hurdles involved with improving the infrastructure of their system – but based on all these other commenters it seems like the other developed countries have been able to do it, so why can’t we?

    I’m just so glad I finally live in an area where comcast isn’t my only option. I had them in a few places I lived and they were always up and down.

    That seems to be the biggest problem – Comcast is some people’s only option, so with a monopoly like that, they don’t really have to be innovative. They don’t even have to provide good service, and it seems like for the most part, they don’t.

  58. skilled1 says:

    comcast you cunts

  59. ogremustcrush says:

    Yes this sucks, not because of the method they are using which is probably the most net neutral way to manage limited bandwidth, but rather because that they continue to have limited bandwidth. I wonder if Comcast really is even trying to upgrade their infrastructure to keep up to demand, or just trying use less expensive throttling technologies to make it last longer.

    When I think about the whole bandwidth issue coming up, I have to wonder about the fundamental protocols used on the internet. I would imagine that duplicate data is often much of the problem. If multicasting was more widespread, such an issue would be widely eliminated. Just imagine one torrent seed able to upload to all peers at his maximum connection speed, rather than a much larger collective bandwidth speed with identical data flowing all over the place. I know the successor of bittorrent is looking at implementing multicasting support, but the much of the rest of internet traffic could also benefit.

  60. Mr. Gunn says:

    suburbancowboy: I’ve been saying this for years, but no one seems to listen. It’s the heaviest users who are most likely to evangelize your service.

    johnva: Comcast throttling online video? Surely they wouldn’t do that!

    @nweaver: But there is tiered pricing, and people who pay more should get more. I’m willing to be they’re not even capping within tiers, but overall, so all the people who are getting capped are the ones paying the most.

    I recently downgraded from the top of the line plan to the economy plan, haven’t noticed a big difference, but I haven’t been streaming much lately, so maybe I’ll have to go back up a notch.

  61. Mr. Gunn says:

    ogremustcrush: Tell that to my idiot friends whose idea of photo sharing is emailing them out to everybody instead of just sending a link to your photo page.

  62. Mobius says:

    My hosue has subscribe to Comcast’s new 150 megabit service for about a month and a half. Comcast called us today to say that we are using too much bandwidth. They wouldn’t tell us how much was too much but said we used over 500 gigs of traffic the month previous, so I guess that’s above their upper limit. Now… that is a fair amount, but with our connection, we could download that in 7-8 hours. I think as speeds increase, their expectations of acceptable use also have to increase.

  63. termdeath says:

    I’m a heavy user, but this really doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Most likely what would happen is they would throttle me down during peak hours (afternoons, whatever). What they are trying to do is level QOS. During low usage times (night, midday) my torrents, news, etc. could go nuts. Even as a heavy user I expect that I wouldn’t notice too much of a difference. Where this might become a problem is in real-time streaming. A Netflix style service would be out the window as prime watching time would also be prime surfing time.

  64. S-the-K says:

    I don’t know if I’m a heavy user or not. I have several computers, a couple Tivos, like to download stuff. However, I don’t run a P2P program like BitTorrent, LimeWire, etc. They say that 10% of users use a majority of the bandwidth. And if that degrades performance for the 90%, then that is a bad thing.

    However, with Sprint limiting their unlimited data plan to 5 GB/mo and an ISP in Texas limiting customers to 5 GB/mo, that seems a bit extreme. For all I know, I use more than 5 GB in a month. It would really piss me off if I got cut off if I went over 5 GB a month, or got hit with huge fees.

    Then again, if I knew that my sluggish throughput was a result of my neighbor’s P2P hogging the bandwidth, I’d be pissed off too. I’m using less network resources as them but I’m paying the same price.

    I do agree that if a customer is using excessive bandwidth and they are degrading their neighbors’ throughput yet paying the same amount per month, that is not fair to the ISP or to their neighbors.

    Maybe a solution is along the likes of a car extended warranty. For the same price, you can have higher speed but lower limit or slower speed and higher limit. If you want to run P2P 24/7, you can choose to run at a lower speed. But if someone doesn’t run P2P and doesn’t consume as many resources, they can get a higher speed and snappier performance.

    Or maybe if you use enough bandwidth to be part of the top 10% in bandwidth users, they let you continue, but throttle your speed. That way, you aren’t cut off, but give your neighbors a chance to have improved service.

  65. coren says:

    @Corydon: Yeah, sure, if the airline said “hey, take as many seats up as you want, no extra charge!”

    Of course, they don’t, and your analogy is purposely insulting just to be insulting.

  66. crankitupyo says:

    @Lambasted: Just because Comcast is the only service in the news doing this does not mean that is the only company researching the throttling of internet services. It means that they are the only ones being honest enough to come out and say it.