Cable Companies Are Like Bi-Polar Buffet Owners

An article over at LightReading questions how cable companies can get away with advertising speeds they can’t provide and then using caps to limit people trying to actually take advantage of the advertised bandwidths:

An MSO talking 100 Mbit/s out of one side of its mouth and usage caps out the other is like a bi-polar buffet restaurateur. They continue adding more entrees to an all-you-can-eat spread, and then reduce the size of the plates and tell diners they only have 10 minutes to chow. It’s a recipe for dissatisfaction. The buffet looks bigger and tastier – so the patron’s hunger grows – and then they are asked to practice portion control.



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  1. B says:

    I’m eating at the bi-poler buffet tonight. It’s wildly inconsistent.

  2. absentmindedjwc says:

    I was with it up to the very end, but dropping a bandwidth hog would be an even larger problem than bandwidth caps or throttling the connection. Some people, like myself, need quite a bit of bandwidth because I run a web server on my computer. I do not have the money for a T1 line, so I pay for the fastest and most reliable Comcast (only ISP in my area, unfortunately) connection I can get. 12Mb/s download and 5 Mb/s upload.

    If they were to drop me for being a “hog,” I would loose my main source of income. They advertise unlimited bandwidth, I will use as much as I need to. It is as simple as that.

  3. m4ximusprim3 says:

    I would eat there more often, but the polar bear steaks are too tough.

    Da dum Ching!

  4. GearheadGeek says:

    The problem is that the cable companies are confusing the customers, who for the most part don’t understand the difference between speed and bandwidth, by using flashy marketing crap.

    If they now start differentiating between speed and bandwidth (you can now download 25 gigabytes a month, but you get to download it at (up to) 100 megabits/sec! people just won’t understand, will complain, and will go to whatever provider is offering them a true all-you-can-eat, or (for most customers) will never know the difference and wonder what everyone’s whining about.

  5. FrankTheTank says:

    Well, then wouldn’t the people who are constantly downloading movies and stuff all day everyday be the ridiculously greedy people who get digustingly large piles of food and don’t even finish it all?

    Just like buffets try to restrict or even eliminate these people (and that’s another debate I suppose), ISP will and should do the same thing, shouldn’t they?

    It keeps food prices a little lower for the rest of us who like to eat alot, but aren’t being wasteful or gluttonous about it.

  6. lostsynapse says:

    @m4ximusprim3: How is the king penguin a la king?

  7. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @lostsynapse: Tasty, but fatty.

    Maybe we should have a BMI index, but for downloads.

    I’m sorry sir, we can’t serve you any more content because you’re data-fat. We’re afraid your tubes are going to clog and we’ll be liable.

  8. sardonicbastard says:

    I commented in the last thread about this, but I still think this is all much ado about nothing until we actually see what the caps actually are, and who they will effect. The root cause of cable companies not being able to provide the speeds they advertise are users who are using more than their fair share. It’s funny that this article used the all you can eat buffet analogy, only I think a more apt description is that none of us are getting any shrimp because one guy ate them all. Some would argue that it was his “right” to eat all the shrimp, but that’s not the point. If people don’t play nice, the rules have to change.

    If we’re all really “that guy”, then we’re all gonna get hit- but I have a feeling that is not the case. The over-eaters, as it were, are a pretty small minority that are causing problems for the majority. If capping them can make the experience better for all, I say go for it. Leave a little shrimp for the rest of us, will ya buddy?

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is true. Lets person A has cable internet, and torrents heavily. Very heavily. Let’s say Person A is downloading 600KBps non-stop. That’s a lot of data, and is pretty rare. Let’s also say that this person pays 50 bucks a month for this unlimited data buffet.

    Person B is a casual user, but doesn’t like laggy downloads, so opts for the cable internet access as well. Person B watches vids on youtube, uploads pics to flickr, plays WoW from time to time, and occasionally streams a Netflix.

    Would Person B be willing to accept a discount of 10 bucks off the bill based on his lower usage? Of course!

    I’m not sure that this is the way the situation should play out, but then, it’s not a perfect world.

  10. chstwnd says:

    I don’t know what kind of “geek” you are, but your usage of the term “bandwidth” is way off. Bandwidth refers to the data throughput capability of a given connection, and not the cumulative data volume of the connection. That was the common usage throughout all my college classes and remains so in the office with the multitude of real geeks I work with.
    It’s even in the Wiki article on it:

    If you think about it in the terms you’re trying to use, a freaking AOL account would have unlimited bandwidth….as long as you’re summing the data retrieval over infinity.

  11. jfischer says:

    A “buffet” is a very poor metaphor for cablemodem internet service, and someone who is (gasp!) actually trying to USE the service for which they pay is not a glutton nor is he “wasting” anything. (All electrons are recycled!)

    The basic issue here is false or misleading advertising.

    The cable companies, telcos and all ISPs have a business model that encourages them to oversell limited capacity, and “double book” everyone’s bandwidth, and hence, performance. If the airlines did as much “double-booking”, you’d have riots at every airport. A crowd of 100 sold seats on a 25-seat aircraft.

    Yes, the business model worked when it was the 1990s, back when your choices were between Zenith Homeworks and Com21 modems and headend gear. But these days, there are actual uses for all that bandwidth, and only a few of them involve “downloading movies”. Check out for example – that’s where I get my reggae, and I expect a steady 96kbps stream to do so, 24x7x365 if I please. Last I checked, we pay for service 24x7x365.

    So, deliver what you promise, and don’t over-promise.
    Sounds simple to me, don’t know why certain companies can’t seem to grock the concept.

    Sometimes it has nothing to do with “bandwidth hogs” at all – oftentimes, one will have acceptable downloading speed, but terrible response from interactive work, such as gaming, chatting, anything real time, where latency is an issue. This is an overselling of the number of users “per frequency” on the Cisco UBR – too many users ends up being lousy latency for everyone.

    Is DSL any better? No – same problem. Bandwidth upstream of the DSLAM is shared between users just as it is shared between cablemodem users.

  12. forgottenpassword says:

    If its an all you can eat or unlimited bandwidth, then it doesnt matter how much someone eats or downloads.

    Dont advertise one thing if you cant supply it.

    The problem is that the cable companies are greedy, want as many customers as they can to maximize profits, provide shitty incompetant service & expect people to put up with it.

    If I was promised unlimited bandwidth then I should be able to download movies all day if I want to.

    If you cant backup what you promised… that’s YOUR fault… not mine.

    Offer an all you can eat buffet? Then dont complain or punish the fatties for sitting there all day eating shrimp & crab legs. You take the good with the bad. Its like insurance companies who only want customers that prettymuch never file a claim. You cant have it all your way!

  13. Robert Isbell says:

    that’s a very good description, I’ve had a Bresnan cable try to extort monies for a cable modem I have own for almost 2 year. They never produced any documentation to back up their claim and the Corporate office has refused to get involved and sends it back down to the office that is the cause of all the problems.

  14. techguy1138 says:


    No. The root cause of cable companies not being able to deliver the rated download speeds is cost saving by placing to many users on a single data loop.

    They are trying to get off the hook by providing just enough service for most users to some times get internet at the rated speed.

    Most residential cable transfer rates die when everyone get home at the same time and checks e-mail.

    If they are going to cap data transfer they need to place it in specific and user understandable terms.

    I.e. you are limited to 5.4 gb of total data a month or one dvd worth of information, 3-4 downloaded feature length movies.

  15. GearheadGeek says:

    @chstwnd: I am a programmer, not a network engineer. Fine then, bandwidth versus data transfer. X bandwidth, Y total data transfer per period (month, most likely.) The point is the same, they promise you an “up to X” rate that, to now, has not had a limit on the total quantity of data transfered per statement cycle, but many of the providers want to put a cap on that now. They’re not talking about slowing your connection, just charging you if you move more than Y per statement cycle. As long as Y is a big enough number, the vast majority of customers will be unaffected AND the providers will achieve their goal, to make the heavy users pay for more of what they use.

    @techguy1138: That is the problem in some areas, it’s not universal. The providers are trying to limit all sorts of costs… the total amount of connectivity from their network to the internet backbone they have to maintain AND the amount of hardware they have to put in the field (your point.) They just didn’t imagine the thing they were selling as the best thing since sliced bread would really catch on. ;)

  16. jonworld says:

    I can tell by the arrangements of the buffet choices that that picture above is from Old Country Buffet. Our local OCB is full of pothead employees who would do something like that.

  17. acasto says:

    Sure the marketing is confusing consider the ignorance of the intended audience. If someone actually thinks they can get a full 5Mbps down for $50/month they’re an idiot. Unless there is an isp that is subsidized by taxes or something, there is no way they can provide bandwidth for LESS than they are paying for it themselves.

  18. stinerman says:

    Bandwidth is cheap. SLAs are what makes up the bulk of the cost for high-grade connections. That is why at T1 that runs at 1.5/1.5 is around $300/mo. It’s guaranteed to be running at around 99.999% of the time. In fact, I’ve heard of cases where the ISP would call the customer to let them know a technician was dispatched before the customer even realized their line was down.

  19. shufflemoomin says:

    It’s the same with almost all ISPs. They offer you all the gold and glitz in the world, but god help you if you actually want to take some of it. I’ve been hit by numerous ISPs who offer unlimited usage only to put the reigns on you for being a heavy user of the unlimited bandwidth they promised. I’d like to know how they legally get away with it myself.

  20. Wisely, the manager called the cops on the guy, instead of telling everyone else in the restaurant to eat less. Cable operators should do the same. Rather than capping – and irking – 100 percent of their customers, MSOs should simply refuse service to the hogs. Let them switch to FiOS and cripple a competitor’s cashflow.

    And he lost me right about there….

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    You know, if the cable companies provided a DISCOUNT for the people that use LESS bandwidth, no one would be upset.

    Of course, that’d be too sensible. And require that they not be trough-feeding, greedy, lying pigs. So, else for that, a great idea…

  22. n/a says:

    The funny thing is this country has the crappiest net speeds, yet other countries especially south korea and some european countries have minimum 100mb or 1 gig speed for download etc.

    How shameful we are still slowered compared to other parts of the world.

  23. Skeptic says:

    BY ACASTO AT 04:45 AM
    If someone actually thinks they can get a full 5Mbps down for $50/month they’re an idiot.

    Ahh…blaming the victim. Yes, it really is the fault of the consumer for believing the ad claims of 6mbps connections. How dare a consumer believe what an ISP claims. Consumers should prostrate themselves an profusely apologize to their ISP for expecting to receive what they’ve been promised.

  24. Nadeon says:

    Good god! I see by the comments that a lot of foks have fallen for the BS line of “Bandwidth Hogs”. It’s a smokescreen! Create a false enemy and blame them. A lot of people got the point: Over Promotion and inability to deliver. The mostly unmentioned other half of the issue is failure to invest in equipment and upgrades. TW in my area is 2 years behind installation of fiber optic cable. Why? Because they oversold, and either do not have the resources (doubtful) or are unwilling to use them to improve service. I guess it never occurred to them they had to pony up and actually have the equipment to back up their claims of speed and capacity. Starting to smell like class action time to me if they go forward with tiered billing and usage metering.

  25. shakes says:

    I think people are missing the big gotcha here. There are a large number of people who do not pay for their internet at all. Instead they steal it from their non tech savvy neighbors who have unencrypted wifi networks. If my intuition serves me correct its going to be the “I just check email” person who gets hit with an outrageous bill because they have a utorrent obsessed neighbor leaching on their network. If someone is already stealing movies music and computer programs they will steal your internet too. And what recourse will you have when you get that erroneous bill. Most people wont realize what is going on and just pay the bill and upgrade their account so this does not happen again. Or what if your computer has a virus and sends all day or gasp month sending out spam, uploads cost too.

    I could go on however none of the posts i have written so far ever got posted so i will just leave it at that…

  26. Onouris says:

    Wow American internet is so expensive.

  27. cerbie says:

    @sardonicbastard: …because we, who use so much, want to keep using so much, rather than be capped. How is it my fault that there isn’t a non-capped plan (FYI, they either don’t enforce them here, or they are insanely high)? How is it my fault that they seem to want to use GB/mo, rather than MB/s for capping (like, if I’m using so much it hurts everyone else’s connection, I get throttled for a bit)?

    All you can eat buffets are based on the idea that you charge enough to make up for the cost of the hogs. If you aren’t charging enough, you should raise prices, not refuse service.

    @acasto: I’m on 7Mbps, get 4 or so most evenings, and as high as 17Mbps in early mornings. If they really feel pressure to deliver, they can and will. I think I should get advertised speeds on any cable connection. It can be done (DSL is another matter). I can accept not getting advertised speeds at 8PM on saturday, but I’d better be able to get over half of it, with decent VOIP performance, and be able to reach or exceed it at off-hours.