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Comcast has disabled a throttling system that it deployed in 2008 (arstechnica.com)
57 points by koolba 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments



> But even before implementing data caps and overage fees, Comcast already had a method for ensuring fairness in pricing. Comcast has long required heavy Internet users to pay more than light Internet users by charging higher prices for higher bit-rates.

I think he's tying speed and data more closely than is justifiable for most people.

Many people (I'd guess maybe even most) want higher speeds not in order to use more data. They want it in order to use the same data as they now use but with less waiting.

Comcast just upped me from 220 mbps to 500, for example. That is not going to have much affect on my data usage. It will just mean that when, for example, I decide to play an old MMORPG that I haven't played in a long time I won't have to wait as long to download all the patches I missed. It won't mean that I'll play more games.

Same story when a year ago they upped me from 120 to 220. And a year before that when it went from 90 to 120.


I think he's tying speed and data more closely than is justifiable for most people. > you assume that people control their data usage that closely.

I see a natural inflation in data usage because the services I use are inflating the data supplied to my requests. Streamed video sizes increase, I actually have had to use my cloud back up (3 times unfortunately) in the last 3 months so I've had to download 250gb * 3 because I actually had a cloud back up, web page sizes increase from ad-bloat, my hard disk is larger, so my back up size needs increase.. And so on, and so on, and so on...

The speed increases are just a way to eventually tip you into data overages if the data cap does not increase proportionally to the speed increase.


I'd like to be able to pay less for a throttled connection.

10Mbps is more than I need. But their slowest plan is 25Mbps.


I really don't understand how ISPs became like this in the US. In Romania I pay $9.9 for 1000 Mbps down / 500 Mbps up with no data caps or throttling and it actually works, even though piracy is huge here, so people use a lot of bandwidth.

http://www.speedtest.net/result/7391249917


The sibling post's point about differences in prices/costs below is correct. The dominant cost of deploying and maintaining fiber is labor costs, which vary dramatically by country. It's not like consumer electronics that is all made in China and costs the same around the world.

The Romanian model of "micro ISPs," ISPs serving a few blocks here and there, is also illegal in most U.S. cities. The U.S. places a very high value on universal coverage, both of lower-income people and rural people. In nearly any U.S. city, the only way you will get permission to build Internet service to anyone is if you agree to also serve low-income communities or rural parts of town, even if doing so isn't profitable.


Really? Does that apply to Wireless ISPs? (i.e., https://startyourownisp.com/)


It applies to any service that offers cable television, which in the US market is a basic part of the economics of the business. Americans still overwhelmingly expect to get television service bundled with broadband.

I used to live in an apartment building with both cable and fiber. Nobody subscribed to the fiber because the fiber provided didn’t have a franchise to offer television service. It was nuts—I was the first person on a floor of almost a hundred apartments to get the fiber service. I found out because the ONT had been misconfigured when it was first installed years before. People just didn’t care—they wanted their cable package with ESPN. It’s why Google Fiber offers a television package—a broadband only service is not competitive in most US markets.


Micro ISPs have been gone for 10 years I think. They only exist in rural areas and such.

Now we have 3 major ISPs and they all offer similar services.


The UK achieves universal coverage without the US system, even if in the middle of nowhere it's slow.


I'd imagine a good part of the price difference is that good and services are generally cheaper in Romania. Wages in Romania are 20% of those in the USA (not 20% less, 20%).

The fact I pay 75 dollars for the same service doesn't sound so absurd after accounting for that.

And like consumer electronics, which easily flow across borders, which is why an Xbox costs the same in the USA and Romania, ISP is a local service that relies on local labor costs.


Not entirely accurate. It's cheaper to buy some things in the US than it is to buy in Romania, electronics for example. And if cost of employees were the only factor then you wouldn't see such wide differences in prices in the US depending upon whether or not there is competition. Or cities would cost less since there are more people to subsidize the costs, which we typically see the opposite of right up until competition comes in. Plainly, while location and cost of works plays some part in the cost structure, the vast majority of pricing for Comcast and other telcos is what the market will bear in a monopolistic environment. Were it simply the costs of doing business profit margins wouldn't be as drastic as they are.

Despite the source the following breaks down the profit margins based on the telco's own information that they provide.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/time-warner-ca...


> I really don't understand how ISPs became like this in the US.

Government-sanctioned monopolies, and regulation to prevent competition from having a fighting chance. Basically regulation in the wrong places, while looking the other way in areas that could actually use more regulation.


Comcast has been playing the long game with the data caps. They know that everyone's needs will increase over time and we'll move from a cap that affects few people to one that affects most people. The cap will never increase however. What will increase is ways for Comcast to monetize the cap. Not like anyone has a choice, right?


They have increased it in the past as average usage went up. It used to be 250 GB.


In fact, it went from 250 GB to 300 GB to 1 TB. And, their Gigabit plans have no cap at all, so the idea that there's a "long game" with the cap is silly: Their faster plans exclude it.

Jon Brodkin has to write a "ISPs are evil, support net neutrality" article literally daily, but data caps are very simple: A way for Comcast to increase the cost of service to heavier service users, rather than raising prices for all customers equally.


This. As much as I want to hate Comcast, and do to some degree, I have a really hard time calling this unfair. I consider myself a very heavy internet user and I usually top out around 750GB a month.

A 1TB cap feels reasonable.


When I buy an X Mbps link from anyone other than a handful of residential ISPs, I get to saturate it as much or as little I like.

Data caps only exist in the context of an ISP covering their ass for overselling. "Fair" and "reasonable" are just a matter of perspective, one I can never sign onto when they're the fine print on misleadingly marketed product.


I mean, increasing what's given for the same price doesn't equate to nobility or generosity or anything. Even the most evil dictator wants to keep their people from rioting.

If anything, Comcast's past behaviors warrants not giving them the benefit of doubt.

edit: I guess a downvote indicates that I'm wrong. The lowering of price is definitely due to the overwhelming generosity of Comcast. /s


It only increased as they were trying to do the nationwide rollout and when they did it the 250GB cap was already obviously way too low; there would have been a big outcry with the possibility of legislation. They needed a number that was big enough that they could roll it out without anyone complaining too much.


  > And, their Gigabit plans have no cap at all
False in north california


Their fiber plans have no cap. Gigabit over copper still has the 1TB cap.


A long game that could (and hopefully will) backfire once there are other options. There will be no loyalty to Comcast when it happens.


Unfortunately they're also participating in the "Let's sue all municipal ISPs into the ground" strategy, which might preclude the ability to have other options.


Let's see them try to sue space! Hopefully Starlink will be successful.


All of the satellite systems have a limited density of receivers, making them unable to have very many urban accounts: Oneweb, Starlink, O3b, etc.


Loyalty isn't required, Comcast have an ironclad monopoly in areas they operate.


Throttling/deprio only makes sense when your network sucks or you are spectrum constrained (as in the case for mobile isp's).

Comcast could make the argument when they were overprovisioning their nodes like crazy the network sucked, but higher order modulation and more channels in newer DOCSIS standards, fiber being run everywhere to nodes has really improved the situation.

Less of a cash grab, more of a bandaid to handle misallocated resources.

The final argument could have been made for peering costs, but Comcast is really big now, so I doubt they have to pay much if anything for transit.


> Throttling/deprio only makes sense when your network sucks

Throttling is a reasonable response to the power-law distribution of network usage combined with flat-rate pricing.

At a certain point on the curve, a marginal user will cost more to service than they will produce in revenue. This means (a) you service them at a loss or (b) distribute their loss over everyone else, i.e. increase prices. The problem with (b) is as you raise prices, people at the other end of the distribution (the unusually light, i.e. profitable, users) will start de-camping. Balancing these factors is difficult, and almost necessitates capping or throttling.

The dumb move was promising unlimited data for an unlimited period of time.


That's nice that they don't throttle any more, but how about those data caps? A data cap is like a baggage fee on an airline: Once it's there, it's never going away.


I'm very anti-Comcast, so this isn't a defense.. BUT, aren't data caps.. fine? Nothing is unlimited, so why pretend you can get an unlimited amount of data?

Now that doesn't mean data caps themselves are the right solution to the "problem" (conceptually!), I'm just speaking to change the frame of mind of this.

Imo, what we should be demanding is an SLA for normal customers. Cap speed or data, I don't care, but give me what I'm paying for at all times.

As I see it right now you're getting capped on bandwidth, total data, and absolutely no guarantee about any of it working. It's the worst of all aspects.. for customers, great for Comcast I'm sure.


Basically we are tangoing around sparse provisioning.

Users feel like, "Hey I paid for a 1Gbps link, I should be able to saturate 1Gbps 24/7".

Providers know that 99% of users don't need 1Gbps 24/7, so to reduce the cost of the service, they sparsely provision.

Caps of some form, either on speed or on bandwidth (or N Mbps speed cap after Y GBs of bandwidth) are the way they keep users within the limits of the network.


Like I mentioned here[1], data caps don't serve to truly limit bandwidth congestion though. If you oversold your pipe by 50 users, totally 150 users, and all 150 are online at 5pm your data cap is not helping. Furthermore, even if those 50 did previously cap, that means that you need to cap that percentage of users that you oversold.

Ie, if you're overselling by a large margin than you'll need to be capping a lot of people. Not the same amount as the "large margin", but a significant portion of your users need to not be accessing the pipe at 5pm.

This is why I think they should just get rid of caps, and instead give us a meaningful SLA. They won't however, because they have massively oversold their network[2].

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17306906

[2]: I don't know if they've actually oversold their network, it's just clear that there is data troubles based on user traffic. Personally I think Comcast is purposefully limiting traffic based on marketing strategies. Ie, when Google rolled fiber into Portland, suddenly Comcast's "available speeds" massively spiked to stay competitive with Google. Which indicates that they had a lot more than they were selling.


Data caps are not about quality of service. Data caps are about getting people who need more data to pay more money for it, so that the service provider doesn't have to increase the cost of every customer's data plan. Instead, only the customers who need more data will pay more. The increased cost is a cost of doing business, but they have to get the money somehow. They chose to only increase some people's costs versus increasing everyone's costs. This is what they mean by "fair pricing".


No, if you wanted "fair pricing" you'd have congestion pricing. Hard data caps are just a way of bilking the subscribers for more money.


True, nothing is technically unlimited, except sarcasm perhaps, but with Comcast they make money by limiting it. When it's sold to you it's sold with the idea that you have all this bandwidth and can use it, but in reality there is a cap, and they will use that cap to gouge and make money. I don't believe the cap is for data management, but rather profit. It would help if they would just be honest about it. Again, it's like baggage fees: They don't reduce bags or weight or anything for the plane, they don't really help conserve all that much fuel, but boy do they add to the airlines bottom line. It should be: "We charge baggage fees because we can, and you'll pay." Let's stop pretending these corporations give 2 cents about us, our experience, or our business.


> I'm very anti-Comcast, so this isn't a defense.. BUT, aren't data caps.. fine? Nothing is unlimited, so why pretend you can get an unlimited amount of data?

If you're selling XMbps for $Y then I should be able to use XMbps, regardless of total usage. That's the unit that they have chosen to market, "speed of connection".

The problem is that I have to pay for this this two ways. As it stands, they're going to charge me for a 125Mbps connection, then they also get to charge me more if I use that 125Mbps for more than 18 hours in a month. To reverse your statement: Why pretend that I have XMbps of data if I can't use it?

The rest of your statement makes a lot of sense, and the SLA is what's really missing. If that was addressed in addition to / in lieu of neutrality it would be a net positive.


> As I see it right now you're getting capped on bandwidth, total data, and absolutely no guarantee about any of it working.

You're also paying a fraction of what it would cost to get a line with an SLA, even in a commercial building with several competing providers.


> I'm very anti-Comcast, so this isn't a defense.. BUT, aren't data caps.. fine? Nothing is unlimited, so why pretend you can get an unlimited amount of data?

Because from a networking point of view, data caps is an artificial thing.

> Nothing is unlimited, so why pretend you can get an unlimited amount of data?

Your connection is not unlimited anyway; the max you can get out of it is MAX BW * seconds/month.

Since the providers don't have guarantees about the max bandwidth, it can vary depending on the demand from the other users, I don't see why you need an artificial data cap.


> Because from a networking point of view, data caps is an artificial thing.

How so? If I limit you to 1MB a month, good luck clogging my pipes. I said it's not an effective method of approaching the problem, so I'm not defending them at all.

> Your connection is not unlimited anyway; the max you can get out of it is MAX BW * seconds/month.

Not true, if you have a data cap. Hence why data caps theoretically could serve a purpose. Again though, I'm not defending them.

> Since the providers don't have guarantees about the max bandwidth, it can vary depending on the demand from the other users, I don't see why you need an artificial data cap.

I agree. My point however is that complaining about data caps is besides the point entirely. We're lacking an SLA, we're lacking any way to ensure that we are getting what we're paying for.

Data caps provide no real benefit to the idea that they sell of reducing network congestion. The only way they could is to have a very aggressive data cap, resulting in a large X% of your users not even having internet access due to being capped. This of course, is basically impossible, as people would flip out.

By focusing on data caps we are, in my opinion, focusing on the red herring. Rather than getting what we're paying for on bandwidth, we're focusing on how much total data we can download.


The only way they could is to have a very aggressive data cap, resulting in a large X% of your users not even having internet access due to being capped.

The point of a data cap is to get users to self-manage their usage, not to block a large percentage of users.

Rather than getting what we're paying for on bandwidth...

I think by and large we get exactly what we pay for. Have you noticed that business class service, which has SLAs & generally better-delivers agreed speeds & bandwidth at all times, costs a lot more?

Residential users are paying for sparsely provisioned links, and that is what they are getting. But most do not realize that.


> > Because from a networking point of view, data caps is an artificial thing.

> How so? If I limit you to 1MB a month, good luck clogging my pipes. I said it's not an effective method of approaching the problem, so I'm not defending them at all.

Is your argument that "data caps" are not an artificial thing because you can have.. "data caps"?


I guess I misunderstood your idea of artificial, apologies. I thought you meant meaningless, rather than manmade, constructed, etc.

In that context yes I agree, they are artificial.


Hypothetically, if they have a new throttling system they’d like to launch now that net neutrality is dead, I think they’d do exactly this. Get some PR spin for turning this one off, and implement the new website/service throttling system as a slow boil just as they did data caps.


They're about to buy Fox. Probably doing this to look good to regulators.


Yeah why throttle them when you can hand them pure profit surcharges instead?


Awful headline. They're supposed to provide infinite product for a fixed price because the author wants it?


5 day old account and a statement like that? Sounds a bit like a CableCo shill to me.

Comcast offers service at speed tiers. When you pay for a speed tier you would expect to be able to use that speed a reasonable amount of time without having to spend extra. Nobody is expecting to max out their 150 Mbps connection 24/7 but that same connection starts hitting additional fees after 14 hours of maxing that connection in a month.

Data caps are a clear money grab because they need new revenue for their dying TV business. A business dying because of their failure to innovate and constant gouging of customers due to monopolistic practices.


I expect to be able to max out my advertised connection bandwidth 24/7. I don't see why I shouldn't have that expectation despite being physically impossible for everyone to do so. They shouldn't advertise those speeds alongside unlimited data perhaps.


Metered service would be fine, if the marginal cost per byte were fixed or decreasing. When using an additional 25% of traffic causes one's bill to go up by 75% (especially when most of the price is fixed infrastructure costs), it's clear that the goal is just to gouge a captive userbase.


It’s not infinite, it’s still limited by your maximum throughput and the number of days in a month.


The article does go into some detail to support their claim. You might not agree with the claim, but the headline is suitable for the article.


The article doesn't provide any argument to support the ridiculous headline.

Before Comcast had a punitive financial threshold they used to throttle the heaviest users. Now they simply charge those users, while presumably the majority of people are cognizant that they should use some discretion to avoid the fees.

Another user opines "it’s still limited by your maximum throughput and the number of days in a month" and this is an argument that seriously rubs me the wrong way because it's effectively a tragedy of the commons type argument -- I love having blistering fast internet when I need to download something, etc. But I realize I don't have a committed 500Mbps across the internet, and not far from me it's a shared resource.


I was responding to the claim that an unthrottled connection is “infinite.” I wasn’t actually making an argument about throttling or overage charges.

I actually think charging for use makes a lot of sense. There’s no reason my monthly bill should be the same as my neighbor when they use it for nothing but email.


It doesn't, though.

As a thought experiment, what if the caps went away tomorrow? Is it possible that the network would become saturated? If so, that is to say the caps might be reasonable. If not, how do you know that's the case?

I'm not any happier with Comcast than anyone else; I recently moved from 1Gbps service to 250Mbps service with them, and I was always bumping up against the 'cap' on my 1Gbps service. I want a better provider. But nothing in the article proves that the caps are useless nor a money grab.


Stating that a headline doesn't match an article is a different claims from stating that an article fails to be convincing.

One can disagree with the case they're making. But the headline was (now changed here): "Comcast disabled throttling system, proving data cap is just a money grab." The article covers both the fact that Comcast has disabled their throttling system, and why the writer thinks the remaining data cap is a money-grab.

Whether you agree that the data caps are money-grabs or not is completely irrelevant to whether the headline is (was) appropriate. Your argument seems to be with the article, not the headline.

The headline is like the label on box, and your argument seems to be with the contents of the box.


>Is it possible that the network would become saturated?

That's on Comcast to handle as a part of building and operating a network. It should not be the concern of the customer.


Cost of network construction and maintenance is always passed on the customers, though. Without considering Comcast specifically, generally it'd be somewhat unfair and unreasonable if most users have to pay more to subsidize the "elite 0.1%"'s data usage. So I think it's not as black-and-white as you make it out to be.




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