Going the wrong way: Comcast caps Internet usage

Comcast announced that starting October 1, it is imposing a 250 GB monthly limit on its customers’ downloads. You might say, 250 GB seems awfully high, I’ll never exceed that. Indeed, just sending emails, browsing websites and downloading music occasionally won’t get you even near 100 GB per month.

So what’s the cap all about? High definition movies. Comcast does not want you to download movies from competing content providers. It does not want you to have any choice in the matter. But this isn’t just about movies. It’s about putting limits on innovation.

What does this do to the “tiered Internet” movement in the US? Will AT&T and the other providers follow or will they use this opportunity to grab customers away from Comcast?

In a world that is moving very quickly to applications that use a lot of bandwidth, the US will be moving in the opposite direction — throttling the pipe that brings innovation. Other countries are investing heavily in FTTH, providing up to and over 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds without data caps. They are ensuring that  fiber infrastructure and the ducts that go into houses and apartment buildings are open to everyone. Some countries do this directly by funding fiber deployments, in other cases, they pass regulations that ensure the telecom incumbents do not monopolize fiber infrastructure. And indeed by building and sharing a common infrastructure, they allow new entrants in the broadband market.

I remember back in the 1990s when I moved to Amsterdam, how Internet use in Europe lagged behind that in the US because people were metered, that is, they were charged for every minute they spent online. Only when ISPs began providing flat-fee access (not coincidentally, this occurred when the EU started enforcing broadband competition) did Europeans begin catching up in Internet use, development of applications, etc.

As S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press says: “If the United States had genuine broadband competition, Internet providers would not be able to profit from artificial scarcity — they would invest in their networks to keep pace with consumer demand. Unfortunately, Americans will continue to face the consequences of this lack of competition until policymakers get serious about policies that deliver the world-class networks consumers deserve.”

Note: The FCC recently ordered Comcast to stop throttling P2P traffic. Read Harold Feld’s analysis of the FCC order.