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What Xfinity Internet Data Usage Plans will Comcast be Launching? (comcast.com)
134 points by dsl on Nov 21, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 226 comments



Go to hell, Comcast. I have a 100Mbps cable Internet connection from them, so I can download about 10MB per second. At that advertised speed, I could burn through a 300GB cap in about 8 hours.

I used to work for an ISP and I totally get the concept of oversubscription. But they're saying I can only use my paid account for about one-seventieth of the month without paying extra, all while advertising all the great streaming services I can use through my account.

I could not possibly be more wholeheartedly supportive of reclassifying Comcast as a common carrier. Using fines to maintain a 70:1 minimum oversubscription model is all the proof I need that this is sorely needed.


> I have a 100Mbps cable Internet connection from them, so I can download about 10MB per second. At that advertised speed, I could burn through a 300GB cap in about 8 hours

For most people, higher speed isn't about being able to download more data per month. It's about their data not taking as long to download. Average use is only 50 GB/month, according to data quoted in the discussion on North American usage earlier today [1].

E.g., I have 30 mbps Comcast instead of 3 mbps DSL because when I need a 1 GB file I'd much rather get it in 5 minutes than in 45 minutes.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8635420


'Average use' is 50 GB/month, but note that it went up -5 gigs- in one year, and that that's an -average- across all fixed type lines. I.e., you are averaging people on satellite, grandmothers who just check email and facebook, etc, with the more typical family of four streaming video across multiple devices.

I want to know the distribution curve, because I bet it's a pretty flat distribution. Presumably Comcast knows that too, and that's why they even -have- that "use only 5 gigs a month and save $5", which is the biggest ripoff I've ever heard of, but which, for grandma checking her email, might make sense (provided her grandchildren never visit her and use the internet).


Grandma checking her email still uses dialup, or in the case of my grandma, her 3G connection on her iPhone. The 5GB plan makes sense for no one.


I'm no fan of Comcast but you do realize that usage-based pricing is totally consistent with common carrier status? AT&T charged based on usage for years while they were a regulated monopoly. Others may disagree but I'd argue that, to the degree that there's wide disparity in usage, there probably needs to be some way of segmenting that usage whether it's fees paid by the upstream (e.g. Netflix) or by the downstream consumer.


There's always a vitriolic reaction in geek communities to usage-based billing. I'm used to it by now. My personal conclusion (as much as people shout at me otherwise) is that geek communities quietly realize they are top-1% users and their usage patterns are subsidized by everybody else, so a switch to usage-based billing represents a greater costs to themselves. You see that kind of thing in politics all the time.


> My personal conclusion (as much as people shout at me otherwise) is that geek communities quietly realize they are top-1% users and their usage patterns are subsidized by everybody else

You are conflating two very separate issues and the statement is false. Being a top-1% user by volume does not mean that you are subsidized by everybody else.

Network costs are diven by peak usage, i.e. when there is a risk of congestion. Peak usage is during primetime and the majority of users are online then. Thus almost everybody uses the network at the same time and it makes sense to share the cost equally. Hence nobody is subsidizing anybody else.

Here's the data to back me up:

"In order to investigate these issues, we took real user data for all the broadband customers connected to a single aggregation link and analyzed the network statistics on data consumption in five-minute time increments over a whole day.The data was shared by an ISP in North America who wanted to understand its own network usage. Our analysis tracked both data consumption (i.e. total MB downloaded) and bandwidth usage (i.e. Mbps being used).

...

42% of all customers (and nearly 48% of active customers) are amongst the top 10% of bandwidth users at onepoint or another during peak hours."

Source: diffeaction Analysis http://www.fiberevolution.com/2011/11/do-data-caps-punish-th...


I agree this is a major motivation for most of the people arguing against it. It is certainly mine. I switched to a business plan just to get away from caps.

At the same time, I do think they're a bad idea for everyone. If we had usage-based billing ten years ago, I don't think there would be a YouTube or a Netflix. Electronic distribution of games would probably not exist. Major image sharing sites like imgur would not be nearly as popular. Webapps would be less common. People would be much more likely to delay software updates or forgo them altogether.

I think that usage-based billing does represent a major impediment to the continued advancement of the Internet. This is certainly a major blow to any future where cloud-based backups or video sharing are more common or see new applications.


That was definitely true in the 90's and early 2000's. I don't think it's true anymore. Totally normal non-geeky people use absolutely enormous amounts of bandwidth on services like Youtube and Netflix these days. Unless you're some kind of torrent nut, your data usage patterns probably pale in comparison to that of the average joe watching sitcoms to wind down at night, and there are a lot more average joes than there are pirate hoarders.


First, I would assume services like Netflix are the largest consumers of bandwidth these days, and I know my wife generally watches more overall than I do. Unless you are specifically running some kind of server from home, or torrenting, I doubt most 'geeks' compete with video streaming on a usage basis.

Secondly, the problem isn't with 'usage-based billing' in general. The problem is that this isn't 'usage-based', because the only thing that has changed from the previous billing is a over-priced fee tacked on for people who go over the cap. True usage-based billing would allow for people to actually save money when they used little bandwidth a month, but this doesn't allow for that.


Yes, I could live with a flat per-GB charge. The caps and "overage" penalties are what is annoying. Why do companies set their customers up to feel like they are doing something "wrong" by using more of their services?

WAY back when cell phones were first getting popular I got one through my employer. It was a personal phone, but they allowed employees to get personal phones through their business plan. I paid a very modest monthly flat fee and then $0.10/minute for usage. No caps. $0.10/minute for voice sounds absurd today but then it was quite reasonable and the costs were completely predictable.


My personal conclusion (as much as people shout at me otherwise) is that geek communities quietly realize they are top-1% users and their usage patterns are subsidized by everybody else

It is true that many of the people reading this thread are top bandwidth users overall, but I question whether their peak-hour contribution to e.g. Netflix congestion is any more or less than the average Netflix subscriber. I also do not accept the claim that advanced users are "subsidized" by the other subscribers. If anything, the higher monthly fees paid for 50, 60, or 100mbit/s are helping to pay for the physical costs of the lower tiered users.

That said, usage-based billing is not a terrible idea, as long as the metering is 100% transparent, standardized, and as dirt cheap as it really should be. The second biggest argument I have against metered billing is that it's mentally taxing to have to think about every bit you send and receive. The first argument against it is that it's a technique to gouge customers.


Usage based billing would be great. As far as I can tell, I have to spring $80/month even if i don't use anything. I appear to be hovering around 100g. $20/month would be great.


I'd expect the base rates to settle around current mean--or probably median--usage. Not sure what that is although some data here https://gigaom.com/2012/07/19/america-show-me-your-broadband... Suggests that 100GB might not be a bad stab but likely influenced by the more technologically sophisticated.


Explain to me why this is wrong: the last mile is what costs a ton to ISPs (much less than what Comcast charges though) to build and maintain. So why would you make it more expensive for people to use their personal pipe, which just stands there anyway?

You know what, let's do that usage-based billing, the difference between 5GB and 300GB would be about 1%, because of the small cost of the shared pipe. This is just more bullshit from Comcast, unheard of anywhere else on this planet.

Maybe I'm biased, but I can't see where I went wrong.


> So why would you make it more expensive for people to use their personal pipe, which just stands there anyway?

It's not your personal pipe. The bandwidth on the segment connected to you is shared with your neighbours. Upgrading the bandwidth on your segment costs money, ergo we do not want you to use "too much" bandwidth. Pre-emptively curbing bandwidth usage with threats of and/or actual overage fees, ensures higher operating margins and puts off upgrade expenses, thus increasing profits.

Not perhaps the answer you were hoping for, but hey, corporations gotta make money, right?


Also, because they can, because what other choice do you have aside from paying their ransom? Personally, I'm super happy that they're doing this, since it's more ammunition to shut down the TWC merger. Really really hope that their penny pinching backfires on them.


> There's always a vitriolic reaction in geek communities to usage-based billing

The vitrol is aimed at unreasonably high fees. Quite justifiably, I might add.


Unless you're on satellite - and backhaul satellite costs are absolutely absurd, I would know - you're not costing the ISP a fortune because you FTP data at 4 AM.

The person being subsidized is the computer-illiterate person who uses no data except for during peak times and then requires several tech-support calls a month.


What is the additional cost to Comcast of the connection being used at, say 95% of capacity instead of 50%? Is it anything? I could understand if it were a simple supply and demand issue, but with no competition Comcast can simply charge whatever they want. At least if there were other providers they would have to keep prices in line with their costs or fear being undercut.

Usage based cost makes sense for electricity or water. If you use more, they have to send more to your house. It's not the same for bandwidth, unless the total amount is over the available bandwidth.


There is probably no additional cost for 90% of the day, but just like highways they need to design for the congested times. I wish they would just meter the peak hours -- this way more people would set their backups to run overnight or services would offer a way to cache episodes locally during the night so you can watch them after work.

I have a feeling they just have more people in the "peak users" category than the "over 300gb" category, so its easier to piss off the smaller group.

With more people cutting the cords, this is only going to get worse -- people come home and watch TV. I personally don't want to pay for a 10 lane highway with 5% utilization 90% of the day just to avoid 2 hours of traffic, so I definitely don't want to pay for internet that guarantees 50 mbps or whatever even during peak hours (if I wanted that I'd lease a line - I just want a cheap connection to the internet). I don't want to pay the ridiculous cost of over engineering. I'd rather see solutions that embrace the reality of that situation.


With their profits, I'd argue that -- in terms of the bill you're already paying -- you are already paying for that "10 lane highway". Only, Comcast (et al.) are not investing your payments in infrastructure. Instead, they are extracting them as profit (excessive profit, I would argue).

As to metering, that might work if there were competition. But, as has been repeatedly pointed out, there is little or no effective broadband competition in the U.S.

"No capacity" has a similar spectre in the last mile as to that which was recently demonstrating in the Netflix inter-connection choking scandal. Although last mile requires more outlay than "fixing" Netflix, the money is there (currently in outrageous profits).

The major ISP's have had years -- and very significant government subsidies and other favors -- to fix this. They haven't. We need the infrastructure to keep our economy competitive. Time to (re)regulate, and to open the field up to municipal development and competition.


> I wish they would just meter the peak hours -- this way more people would set their backups to run overnight

There are a few problems with this. Firstly, very few users are going to cut down peak usage, because it's during primetime that they have the free time and inclination to use the Internet.

Secondly most people don't even know what a GB is. Thirdly, you assume usage-based fees are meant to curb usage rather than drive profits.

> or services would offer a way to cache episodes locally during the night so you can watch them after work.

Since we are basically talking Netflix here, this is never going to fly with the DRM guys.

This is not a technical problem, as you can see, since the desided outcome can be reached, if you are willing to ignore some legal niceties...


...or they could have Netflix OpenConnect caches in their network: https://openconnect.itp.netflix.com/deliveryOptions/index.ht...


Like that's going to make a difference or not. Comcast is going to charge you for Netflix bandwidth regardless of it coming from a local cache or not.


But if Comcast gets its users in the habit of using less bandwidth/data, won't that mean Comcast can delay speeding up their connection and providing more bandwidth? I think from that perspective, there is a long-term cost for them if their customers continue to demand better connections. So, you're right, there isn't a cost for each individual bit that's sent across their network, but instead there's an eventual cost for their users demanding a connection that requires an upgrade to their infrastructure. And that's a cost that could be delayed if they change the behaviors and/or expectations of their customers.

(and fwiw, i have no interest in defending comcast. i bring this up mainly inform myself about the circumstances.)


> What is the additional cost to Comcast of the connection being used at, say 95% of capacity instead of 50%?

The marginal cost to Comcast is close to zero, the question is how to account for upgrades if everybodys usage goes up enough to exceed network design capacity.

Regular folk unexpectedly think that the cost of normal network upgrades are included in this so called "monthly subscription fee", but Comcast has real accountants with actual hard copy degrees on their walls that tell us that we need additional "bandwidth usage fees" and "overage fees" to pay for it in the US.


Usage based pricing is fine, but make Comcast subject to the Public Utility Commission in my state.


I'm not sure that's a good argument for usage-based pricing.

Also, common carrier phone services only had usage charges for long-distance service.

Someone else just needs to come out with better and cheaper services. Comcast sucks and is milking their monopoloy.


> Also, common carrier phone services only had usage charges for long-distance service.

Not really true. Maybe within an exchange--don't really remember. But there were certainly usage-based charges even within an area code.


Maybe back in th 1980s. I haven't had usage based pricing in the same area code for decades.


The North Shore of Boston had it based on EXCHANGE within an area code in the early 2000's. If I wanted to dial up to AOL, and the one for my city was busy, I would pay both AOL per minute and pay Verizon. If I wanted "free" email from Juno, I would have to call within my area code, but outside my exchange and pay per minute.


[deleted]


It's videos and bulk photos that rip through data, not hacker software and HTML forums. At $1/GB, your kid can browse forums all night for a nickle.

Not to mention, electricity has always been usage-based. Heck, a modern desktop PC probably burns through a nickle or two as he browses as well!


People had to pay long distance fees to call long distance BBSes once. Plenty of power users and hackers came out of that generation.


There may have been some, let's say workarounds, the long distance charges.


If you're in the top 1% of non-stop bandwidth users, shouldn't you pay more?

Why is it OK for AWS & Google Cloud to meter by the GB, but not Comcast?


If Comcast charged the same rates as AWS, I probably wouldn't mind. But Comcast charges ~1000x more per GB.

In addition, with AWS I can always switch to a cheaper provider. I can not switch to a cheaper cable company.


1000X more? Not by the source article: 50GB/$10 is $0.20/GB which is less than 2X AWS/Google's wholesale $0.12/GB.

And that only kicks in after the first 300GB.


> 1000X more? Not by the source article: 50GB/$10 is $0.20/GB which is less than 2X AWS/Google's wholesale $0.12/GB.

AWS/Google retail bandwidth prices are a bad comparison, as they are ridiculously expensive compared to wholesale bandwidth prices.

Wholesale bandwidth costs about 0.1 cents per GB. Not quite 1000X what Comcast charges, it's "only" 100X the wholesale rate.

To give you some perspective, Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic.net said they spend about 3% of their costs on bandwidth. Please consider that Sonic is a small actor and at scale costs will be less.


> Wholesale bandwidth costs about 0.1 cents per GB.

Source? I've often wondered what this number is when viewed in aggregate across carriers - I can just never find it.


> Source?

http://amazon.com/ip-transit

Just kidding. Seriously though, you are not going to see wholesale rates posted on a website. Contact your bandwidth provider and ask for a quote. For serious volumes and good pricing, expect to sign an NDA.

However, to give you an idea of lowend pricing here are some examples from FDCservers. This is not an endorsement, just a site with easily accessible prices that I could remember off the top of my head. In fact, I emphatically do not recommend them. There are much better providers both in terms of price and quality.

Remember 0.1 cents per GB equals about $0.30 per Mbps.

Asymmetrical 100G at $0.15 per Mbps https://fdcservers.net/ip-transit.php

Metered 10G at $0.60 per Mbps https://fdcservers.net/colocation.php

Unmetered 10G including server $500 https://fdcservers.net/dedicated-servers.php


$0.003/GB is what $1/1Mbps is, at 100% utilization. 324GB is what 1Mbps can do in a month. Perhaps a bit less but low quality providers (HE, Cogent) will do a dollar a Mbps easily. So work backwards. (Another way, you need 3kbps to do 1GB in a month. That times 333 is about 1Mbps, so $1. I'm ignoring 95th percentile billing here.)

Better providers like L3 are around $3/Mbps, last I heard.

So $0.001 a GB means you'd only pay 33 cents per Mbps, which seems pretty low. But maybe at terabit commits, HE goes even lower.. I've only looked at 10G commits.


Where can you get wholesale bandwidth at $0.001/GB?


You can get a dedicated gigabit line for like a grand a month - possibly less - which if you max out 24/7 gets you like 300 terabytes of bandwidth = $0.00333 - and one gigabit line is hardly wholesale.


www.he.net at $.45/Mbps...1Mbps = 320 GB per month, you can find similar deals out there, it is pretty close.


HE is at the cheap end and I don't think most people are going to colo so they can buy transit, if their colo will even let them.

Not to mention that bringing bandwidth to a DC is way cheaper than bringing it to individual homes.


HE is just an example, the other transit providers will match and beat those prices at wholesale scales. For an ISP the wholesale rate is the same as the DC rate.

We are not talking about individuals buying retail bandwidth here.


The parent comment was talking about comparing Comcast retail prices to AWS retail prices. The story is talking about Xfinity retail plans.

It doesn't make sense to compare retail prices to wholesale prices. If an average coder can't even get bandwidth at $0.001/GB with some serious effort, then how this this a valid point of comparison for how much bandwidth should cost for the average internet user?

I doubt you can get Level3 or Internap to beat HE prices.


> It doesn't make sense to compare retail prices to wholesale prices.

It very much does. It gives you a sense of real world marginal costs, a fair assessment of fair market value (fair retail cost = reasonable markup factor * wholesale cost) and a sense of scale.

> If an average coder can't even get bandwidth at $0.001/GB with some serious effort,

If I can, you can. I've even given examples with links to order pages. Not that I recommend FDCservers, mind you.

> then how this this a valid point of comparison for how much bandwidth should cost for the average internet user?

It's a valid point because it tells you how much bandwidth ACTUALLY costs compared to what Comcast says it costs.

> I doubt you can get Level3 or Internap to beat HE prices.

How much money do you have on you? There's a bet I'd like to win.


I don't think you have any clue what you are talking about. First of all, you are comparing apples to oranges.

Commit to a single DC is not the same thing as metered bandwidth to thousands of customers.

- Running fiber to a DC is way easier than running it house that could be in the middle of nowhere.

- Commit != selling bandwidth by the byte. I think you fail to understand this. I don't have the time to explain this in detail to you anymore as I've already spent more time than I wanted to writing the rest of this.

> If I can, you can. I've even given examples with links to order pages. Not that I recommend FDCservers, mind you.

Uh still wrong, and not even close even if you include FDCservers.

1GBPS $2500/328717GB = $0.007/GB

10GBPS $15000/3287170GB = $0.004/GB

Where's the $0.001/GB?

A page asking you to contact their sales team is not an example. If you are buying transit you need to be in the proper DC and you need to colo. This is out of reach for most programmers that deploy on EC2 or Digital Ocean.

> How much money do you have on you? There's a bet I'd like to win.

You're probably going to make another flawed comparison that you can get tier 1 bandwidth lower than HE by buying some absurd amount of commit. Feel free to prove me wrong with actual quotes.

http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showpost.php?s=8394951450d19c2...


Well, AWS doesn't charge at all for inbound traffic, so you're looking at even worse than 1000x in one direction.


AWS bandwidth costs are grossly overpriced.


What's the top 1%? Since you're preaching Comcast's virtues in this story, I presume you have the number close at hand?


Comcast has reported ~2% or less of their customers use more than 300GB per month:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/05/comcast-plans-data-c...

We are the 98%! And charging the heavy users more makes our service cheaper.

Some of the people complaining here are elites – in technical and economic terms – and want poorer, less-sophisticated people to subsidize their outlier usage. And they're dressing this desire-for-handouts up in a righteous anger!


No. It keeps our price the same and makes Comcast more profitable. Don't think for a second that savings will ever trickle down to us.


This right here is the real lesson. Comcast is not going to lower rates for everyone else because of this.


Actually, that depends on whether Comcast has effective competition. If they do, prices for end-users will improve, trending closer to the cost of servicing them.

If they don't have competition, regulation can't always simulate the same consumer benefits, for a number of reasons. The regulators are often at the mercy of the regulated company. (The FCC, for example, is all telecom/lobbyist/party-functionary lawyers.) The regulated company tends to do fine, as their model and margins get frozen into slow-moving regulatory law. Smaller/newer companies with other models and technologies can't as easily fit into the regulatory mold, which often even bans them from offering the high-value (differentiated) services that could offer a competitive toehold. Can't have some upstart skimming off the cream from the now-tamed monopolist!

Which is why in all cases new competition, not formulaic rules from DC lawyers, should be the policy priority.


I never understood this argument. Comcast doesn't need usage-based pricing to raise rates. They can just raise rates. Their rates change all the time (and vary by where you are). Given that, raising prices for high-usage customers is really kinda the same thing as lowering prices for low-usage customers (give or take a base-rate hike).

I think this argument conflates whether Comcast is too expensive with whether usage-based pricing is necessarily unfair.

Put another way, why is it ok to charge less for a capped speed but it isn't ok to charge less for a capped monthly transfer?


> Comcast doesn't need usage-based pricing to raise rates.

The best kind of rate raises are rate raises that don't look like a rate raise but effectively is one.

> Put another way, why is it ok to charge less for a capped speed but it isn't ok to charge less for a capped monthly transfer?

Because the monthly cap is far too low and the usage fees are ridiculously expensive. Combined with the fine print 95% of customers are worse off with a monthly capped transfer.


> Because the monthly cap is far too low and the usage fees are ridiculously expensive.

So is the complaint that usage fees are inherently wrong, or that Comcast is simply too expensive?


As I said, ridiculously expensive. Nothing inherently wrong with usage fees, as long as they are fair. That being said, usage fees on a consumer broadband product is a really silly idea if charged at less than 10x wholesale rates as we are talking pennies between no usage and 100% usage.


I'm definitely with you that Comcast is too expensive.

I don't agree that the price needs to have any relation to the wholesale cost, though. It's just price discrimination. Expensive shampoo doesn't cost more than cheap shampoo because of the ingredients.


Price discrimination is only ok if it increases consumer surplus and you have a choice of providers. Comcast fails on the former and more often than not on the latter.


I just don't see the difference. Not having a choice in providers is clearly a problem regardless of how that provider structures their fees. Allowing them to charge certain people more and less is not inherently worse.


Allow me to enlighten you:

Price discrimination is ok, if it in addition to providing a premium product also makes the good or product more affordable and available to another class of customers, thus creating a consumer surplus. Classic example: air travel.

Comcast's offering is a sham. It makes broadband more expensive for everyone. This is inherently worse.


I use ~100-150G per month as a -single person-, and I wouldn't consider my usage as nonstandard.

For families the numbers seem sillier.


Unlimited bandwidth is better for me because I can use the connection without worrying that watching too many videos or downloading too many game updates will cause me to lose the internet access for the rest of the month or get an extremely high bill.

AWS bandwidth usage is not an issue because when the traffic to my websites increases, my ad revenue increases too.


if it weren't a monopoly, I'd agree

in swaths of the bay area, there is exactly one high speed provider


You can get IP transit for under a buck a Mbps. So your 100 meg line has a "cost" of $100 for shit-tier transit. Add better providers, now it's $200. Add last mile, support, etc... All of a sudden, no one wants to pay so much for residential.

So it is disingenuous to complain that your top speed means you burn up your allocation. It's unlikely anyone is happy to pay per Mbps, so they gotta work out something which requires compromise.

Now, the limits are tiny, the pricing nuts, etc., but it's not fundamentally a terrible model. On cell data, I'm very happy to buy per GB so I can decide how much to spend.

The real downside is that capping users or offering low cap plans stifles innovation. It sounds nice to be able to "pay what you use" but that has a negative impact overall.


> So your 100 meg line has a "cost" of $100 for shit-tier transit

Wholesale rates from quality providers are about $0.30 per Mbps per month at 95th percentile. For paid transit, that is, and Comcast does a lot of peering which brings the cost down for them.

So that's $30 per month for your 100M line, even if you run it full tilt all month and manage to hit only paid transit routes all the time. That's not too bad and most people use only a small fraction of their theoretical monthly throughput.


Honest question: what's stopping every larger apartment complex from getting a 10gbps line and paying for bandwidth, then offering that as an Internet option to residents (delivery via cat5)?


Two things:

first, the costs cited above are for handoffs at major peering points, private or public. Pulling 10Gb/s across to your apartment complex is going to add a lot to the cost, if it can even be done (right of way issues).

second, the expertise needed to realize that you can do this and then provide support for it is neither common nor cheap.

If you had a tower on a nice highly-visible location (say, the giant Jesus statue in Rio) and could do line-of-sight laser links, that would be an extremely cost-effective solution. Sadly, that sort of opportunity is rare.


Not everybody wants to be an ISP. Not enough profit in it to make it worth it for the manager. Lack of backhaul and/or cost/difficulty of connecting to backhaul. Existing long term contracts of tennants. High turnover of tennants. Lack of scale.


some do, i used to live at a place served by https://webpass.net which wires up larger apartment complexes with ethernet and runs as many fiber drops as necessary. They only operate in a limited area with specific kinds of buildings though.


The obnoxious part about all of this is that smaller cable ISPs have been doing this for years so now Comcast has someone to point to and say "why didn't anyone object when these companies did it?" Mediacom has a 250GB rigorously-enforced cap with very high overage rates.

Heck, smack in the middle of Seattle is a cable ISP called Wave Broadband. They have 100GB-1000GB usage tiers and even actively market that "more gigs can be proactively purchased each month." (But at least they bought out CondoInternet so the high-rise dwellers and houseboats in Eastlake can have no-quota gigabit fiber service.)


> In this trial, XFINITY Internet Economy Plus customers can choose to enroll in the Flexible-Data Option to receive a $5.00 credit on their monthly bill and reduce their data usage plan from 300 GB to 5 GB. If customers choose this option and use more than 5 GB of data in any given month, they will not receive the $5.00 credit and will be charged an additional $1.00 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible-Data Option.

What informed consumer would agree to this?!

Streaming Netflix uses about 1GB/hour for "good" quality streams and 2+GB/hour for HD streams. That would make watching an hour a night come out to $30-60/month of bandwidth charges. Multiply accordingly if you watch more or have multiple people streaming simultaneously. Oh and the way it's worded it sounds like you lose the $5 discount if you go over 5GB.

I can see this leading to some serious bill shock for anybody that signs up.


This is targeted at low-income consumers who can't afford anything but the lowest-rate plan. Since they will also be the most likely to value an extra $5/month, this is a way for Comcast to milk them for extra money each month when they inevitably go over the 5GB limit. It's a scam.


According to the FCC about 5% of people use less than 5GB.

Source: http://www.fcc.gov/measuring-broadband-america/2013/February...

I can easily imagine someone using less the 5GB.

For example they use the internet only for email and some government websites.


Right, so you understand that for 90% of users this is a bad deal. For the majority of users this is a very bad deal.


I don't see how you can say that. We know that around 95% of their overall customers use more than 5 GB, but that's not really relevant since this deal is not being offered to the overall customer base. It is only being offeree to people on the Economy Plus plan, which is the very bottom tier plan (3 mbps).

Generally, heavy data users go for faster plans, and so the very low data users should be disproportionately concentrated in the Economy Plus plan.

I don't understand why most people in the discussion here and on Reddit are overlooking that this is only for Economy Plus customers.


Right, so you understand that this is optional, and only the 5-10% of users for whom it's a good deal should take the deal?


optional - for now


We could all switch to downloading email and plaintext html in batch and reading it offline like Richard Stallman.


What informed consumer would agree to this?!

Informed consumers that know they don't use that much data? Not everyone streams movies or what have you.

If I cancel my Netflix subscription and switch back to physical media, as I have contemplated doing, I will be < 5GB.


> Informed consumers that know they don't use that much data?

This is part of the problem. It's very difficult for normal customers to understand how much data they're going to use. When choosing a phone data plan, my dad asked me what plan to go for. How much does google maps use? No idea..

Also, extremely difficult for the customer to dispute the particular data usage, because they don't have access to the audit data that comcast has, and they don't have the technical skill to determine that they really accessed "turnerhd-f.akamaihd.net" when visiting cnn.com anyway. Contrast this with the relative ease of checking phone numbers you don't recognize on your itemized phone bill.

Lastly, most objectionable is this idea of charging penalties for overages. In most industries, if you get more, you pay incrementally less. If I buy a hamburger, soda and fries, I get a discount on the price. If I buy 1000 widgets I get a better price than 10 of them. Comcast and the telcos turn this on its head by charging penalties for overages.

Regulators could force carriers to pro-rate based on the price you paid for your service. For example:

ISP offers 3 packages: 100 GB for $10/mo (overages charged at $0.10/gb) 300 GB for $20/mo (overages charged at $0.06/gb) 750 GB for $30/mo (overages charged at $0.04/gb) 2000 GB for $40/mo (overages charged at $0.02/gb)

EVEN better, offer automatic price brackets... Why make people worry about choosing the right plan. People don't want to make this decision.

First 10GB: $0.10/gb Next 20GB: $0.07/gb Next 50GB: $0.05/gb each GB after that: $0.02/gb

(for illustrative purposes only.. I haven't done the math to see how it compares with current comcast offers)

I don't understand why the telcos think massively penalizing people for going over is a useful pricing model.


Have you ever read your electricity bill? They do just that. Your first 1000kWh cost 0.07$ apiece, your second 1000kWh cost 0.12$, your third 0.14$ (for example)


Where do you live? I've never seen a bill like that.

If anything, if you agree to use a lot of power you will have a larger fixed price, but a lower per kWh price.


It works that way in California for households using PG&E, Southern California Edison, or San Diego Gas and Electric Company [1].

Same up here in Washington for service to a single family residence through a single meter for customers of PSE [2].

[1] http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/NR/rdonlyres/6AF20251-011C-4EF2-B99D-...

[2] https://pse.com/aboutpse/Rates/Documents/elec_sch_007.pdf


quite a few of the providers in Texas are exactly the opposite strangely.. they bill a surcharge for using less than some fixed KWh. i.e. I get charged $5 if i use less than ~500KWh in a month.


That's demand pricing, which is the other pricing option.

The two models I am familiar with:

- Normal tiered pricing. Low usage is cheap per kWh; high usage is expensive per kWh. This is because of inflexible production capacity.

- Demand rates. You pay a large fixed price, get a lower kWh price, and (this is key) contractually agree to never exceed X amperes. The higher X is, the higher your fixed price. This is a special plan structured for people who need a lot of power, but only at a modest rate of consumption- think baseboard heaters. Again, this model is constrained by inflexible production capacity.


Not the parent poster, but it works the same way in Thailand. Here in Bangkok first 150 kWh are cheapest, 150-400 are more expensive and 400+ is the most expensive tier.


Is this actually how electricity bills work? Mine has always been included in my rent, but I don't see anything like that on the sample bill for my local utility. Nor does that pricing scheme make any sense to me. Why would the utility charge you more for your second 1000kWh than for your first?

> (grandparent) I don't understand why the telcos think massively penalizing people for going over is a useful pricing model.

It makes no sense to me, either. It's like they don't actually want to sell more bandwidth.

Maybe demanding big penalties from people who accidentally go over is more profitable than actually selling to people who actually want more bandwidth.


British Columbia, where hydroelectricity is cheap and plentiful, has a two-tier structure like that. The cut-off isn't exactly 1000 kWh, of course.

The logic is that the utility company plans for generating a "usual" baseline amount, and peaks and use beyond anticipated "norm" are more expensive since you have to spin up/buy additional capacity. In B.C. at least the tiers are set up so that the first category will cover most "average" use.

Also in many places electricity prices are government-regulated to a greater or smaller extent, and a government might structure pricing like that to try to reduce overall energy use or subsidize the lowest users who might be presumed to be poorest.


But still, the only benefit is you save $5/month. And if you accidentally go over, perhaps when someone links you a video, then you'll be losing a lot more than you might save.

I don't really see any advantages. It would make more sense if they said they'd cut your bill by 50%, or something.


If you go over 5 GB you actually lose that $5 savings, so no matter how much over you go you are losing out.


At 5GB it's going to be hard for my grandma to stay under the data limit and she doesn't even have a computer.


An older acquaintance of mine who pays probably $30 - $40/mo to check yahoo email 4 or 5 times a week. She also watches a couple youtube clips a month; I doubt she uses even a gig of data.


Economy Plus is the cheapest, slowest package. It is only 3 mbps. Comcast describes it as "Ideal for low usage on 1 device" and the list of example uses is "Surf the Web, email, social networking".

I expect that there are plenty of people who actually that that profile and who are using under 5 GB a month, and will find the Flexible-Data Option to be a good deal.


5GB of traffic takes you all of <4 hours on a 3mbps line. So you clicked on that YouTube video your Facebook friend posted but never closed the tab, and it's still buffering, or Google releases that new Android version and your smartphone preloads 400MiB for the update. Left that Spotify playlist running.. there are plenty of not obvious ways to run through that bandwidth in record time, and often at no fault of your own.

I wouldn't even mind billing by traffic, but then they have to play by the rules that other utilities do. There needs to be a clearly established standard for what is counted, when it is counted, where it is counted, and they better make sure to provide an itemized bill for the usage accrued. Otherwise, it's fraud.


>Itemized bill

oh you mean like:

10mb gmail.com

2gb cdn.youtube.com

3gb bigbootybabes.com

I see where you're coming from but careful what you wish for.


I live for 2 months out of the year on a completely metered Verizon data plan (mifi). Managing it with our home business (small biz web design) and 2 connected kids is ... a royal pain to say the least.

When we arrive the routine goes like this:

Airplane mode for all phones/tablets unless in use Turn off Dropbox syncing (all devices) Turn off Backblaze (cost us about $100 in data last time we forgot to completely disable) iOS updates for our 4 smartphones? Wait until we return home Disable app updates (some are several hundred MB) No Pandora/Sirius streaming or audio streaming of any kind Limited Netflix/Video streaming (only for must watch shows) No large FTP transfers (common for our industry) No Facetime (our kids use) Schedule Dropcam power to turn off at night Block podcast downloads within iTunes The list goes on....

So basically every day you check, and recheck your data use to "catch" any device or service that may be using too much data. When family visits and the number inside the house reaches 6-10 the monthly data cap is blown in just a few days.

And our data cap is not a measly 5GB or even 10GB a month, it can easily reach 40-50GB which costs a relative fortune.

If you look at the list of accommodations above, you'll see a nice collection of US businesses (Apple, Dropbox, Pandora etc.) for whom I can't do business with in a "metered" world.

I can deal with this for 2 months out of my year, but if my home residential Internet was also metered like this our involvement online would be dramatically changed.


I just recently experienced something like this on a work trip I turned on my mifi and forgot I had my nexus tablet in my backpack. When I woke up in the morning and the tablet had upgraded itself eating through a whole month of usage and then some... Granted we didn't have a big plan for the mifi but still we had to upgrade to a higher fixed per month rate.. I would be OK with variable usage based billing but having to have a fixed fee use it or lose it really is what kills these plans... and makes for such a bad customer experience IMO.


Thankfully "upgrading" your data plan with Verizon is easy, but the pricing is still exorbitant.

The "overnight" data usage by services is actually very interesting. Often I would go to sleep well under my daily goal, and wake up to a "mysterious" 2GB transfer around midnight-2 AM. the usage wasn't nefarious in nature, however the timing (middle of the night) made it difficult to manage.


I have the same issue with a vacation home. I have Little Snitch installed on my Mac which allows me to disable Dropbox and stuff like that automatically when connected to that network. It would be great if there were a feature in iOS to treat certain wifi networks as a 4g connection and disable the app updates and other things it typically only does over wifi.


If Internet providers move to metered access the only bright spot in the industry will be the need for software, and hardware to limit, throttle and manage your personal data use (what a future!)

Specifically with smartphones- the built in controls to keep you from blowing through your cellular data plan don't apply when your wifi...is connected to a meted plan. So your device thinks "I'm on wi-fi, update all the things" yet the connection still "cellular".

It would be a sad day in tech when your device OS has to implement an "airplane-esq" mode for metered connections that drops all data-intensive usage and maybe only allows certain notifications through.


This exists. Every reletively new Android product (>=4.1) has "Mobile hotspots" under "Data usage".

> Network bandwidth management: New API provides ability to detect metered networks, including tethering to a mobile hotspot.

Mark the WiFi access points you want to be low data usage and you are good to go. Software that plays nice will use the "isActiveNetworkMetered()" to check if they should download or not.


No disagreement that wireless ISP pricing is even more outrageous, but it's a bit ironic to me that the complaint is regarding $50 in the context of "at my vacation home".


To be fair I said "a" vacation home, not "mine" :)


iOS sure does need "isActiveNetworkMetered" like Android.


$1/GB, or that 1080p YouTube video costs you more than showers for a week or the electricity to run AC for a day on the insanely hot scale. Meanwhile, traffic has basically no variable costs.

Let's hope they don't regulate ISPs, we don't want to slow the pace of innovation and incredible value generation here.


I agree that the pricing is high, but your comparison to showers or electricity isn't really apt, unless you're going so far as to invoke the paradox of value.


Is the internet diamonds and the other utilities water...?

If you compare the standard usage of water for bathing and electricity for whatever to the standard usage of the internet, the internet will (according to revelation) be more expensive.

I'd say that, to some degree, you couldn't even claim the paradox of value because the internet is becoming such an integral part of our lives. We use it to pay taxes, work our 9-5 jobs, medical advice, etc.

Kind of like how technically we don't need natural gas or electricity -- we could just use wood-burning fireplaces. But at what point does that become so excessive that we view it like water as opposed to diamonds?

Anyway, I'm getting off track here, but I think revelation's example is pretty decent depending on which angle you take.


How do you people in US even allow that to happen? In Poland we pay less than $10 for 10Mbit/s. We pay $30 for 250 Mbit/s DL 20 Mbit/s UL , and last time we had limited data plans was like 8 years. If we were to pay what you pay, for the quality you have, we would basically go for nationwide strike.


I think we pay more in the USA, because ISP's charge the "middle class" based on the its ability to pay, rather than some reasonable markup of the cost to provide the service. With families paying $150+ / month for cellular service and $100+ for cable television, customers are used to paying another $50 / month for 20 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up internet service. And of course, more for "premium" internet service


Comparing prices in different countries isn't that simple. You have to take into account what that price means compared to wages. Someone in Poland on average (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_average_w...) has about 28% the disposable income as someone in the US. So you paying $10 a month feels about the same as someone in the US paying $35.


Equipment, cables and materials still cost the same, so the comparison is relevant. Even adjusting for PPP, the difference is striking. And to explain the differences, you have to look at external factors, such as competition and regulation.


But deploying and managing that equipment does not cost the same. There is another comment in this thread that says only about 3% of operating costs for Sonic.net come from bandwidth. U.S. based ISPs employ U.S. based workers which on average are paid more than employees in say Poland, so it's hard to do a direct comparison. Not saying that we in the U.S. don't pay too much for internet, just that a direct comparison to other countries is tricky.


I would gladly pay $35 a month. No, I pay almost $90 for 30 down / .3 up. I'm in the US.


I have Comcast in Colorado. I signed up for Backblaze last month and it uploaded 1.3 TB of data in about 2 weeks. My "normal" bandwidth usage is around 600-800 GB per month, plus the extra terabyte on top of that.

The problem with bandwidth caps is that they effective take away the ability for people to use online services like online backup and streaming sites. My kids that stay at home probably watch a few hours of streaming media every day, which would use up most if not all of the 300GB just with that, let alone everything else.


Also a Backblaze customer and after my first "sync" I for the first time was concerned about hitting my Comcast residential cap. I uploaded about 750GB over a two month period and never got a letter or notice. Thankfully the sync now uses significantly less data per day, however these business models are threatened by data caps.

Does anyone here on HN have a startup that relies heavily on data and is worried about these new "plans" and caps?

Also, don't believe that Comcast line that only 2% of customer use more than 300GB. Medium to large families (with teenagers) and many connected devices can easily reach this cap.


Meanwhile in Chattanooga (~2 hours from Nashville, TN, Knoxville, TN, and Atlanta GA - all test markets mentioned in the post), I downloaded 300.8GB and uploaded 28.5GB (which is on the low end for me) on a symmetrical 1Gbps connection last month for $69.99 and no contract. Thanks, EPB!


An extra 50GB for only $10? What a steal! That is sarcasm, by the way.

I wonder how my day-to-day activities would change if I knew I was constantly eating away at my monthly limit. I'd hate to have to do it, especially because I don't really see the connection between my consumption and "waste" like I do with my energy bill. It would feel like going backwards in time, in a way.


I can have 50GB of (heavily copyrighted and protected) data physically shipped to me for $10 on a Blu-ray. Sure, the latency is worse, but it's ludicrous to think that downloading a digital film (that the distributor isn't charging for!) could cost more than buying the physical media.


My Rogers/Fido contract specifies $6.47 per KB for data while roaming in the US. Canada is worse than third world countries for telecom. The corrupt CRTC doesn't do anything. My uncle was paying $400 a month for his residential internet (occasional browsing, Netflix, plus a gamer kid). The worst is he thought it was reasonable.

Canada actively fights competition too and won't allow other telcos to invest because they "aren't Canadian". It's this lame thinking from little countries in the stupid idea of pride. Kinda thing you expect from some Bananaland place.


> I wonder how my day-to-day activities would change if I knew I was constantly eating away at my monthly limit

I've been spending the past 2 weeks at my parent's house in Australia, they live an hour from the nearest village and 2 hours from the nearest city. The only internet options are dialup, satellite or 3G. The 3G is surprisingly fast (6 MBps), but it's $60 for 4 GB.

I've been watching my usage, installed Little Snitch to disable all kinds of background activity like auto-updating. Most of my online time has been browsing HN, Reddit, IMing,, Facebook, Twitter, email, a couple Skype calls. Have watched a grand total of 2 YouTube videos.

I've still burned through 5 GB in 2.5 weeks. I don't even know how, aside from things when OS X spent 100 MB attempting to download the certificate revocation list, and Mail.app continually redownloading all my spam from Gmail.


> The 3G is surprisingly fast (6 MBps), but it's $60 for 4 GB

Switch to Optus prepaid. It's $2 per day for 0.5 GB per day. $2 more for 0.5 GB if you run out of you daily 0.5 GB.


Only Telstra has any coverage within 20 km


That's too bad. You could check out the Google spreadsheet at Whirlpool with all Australian mobile plans to see if you can find a better Telstra plan or one from another provider that uses Telstra's network.

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1572741


>I wonder how my day-to-day activities would change if I knew I was constantly eating away at my monthly limit.

That takes me back to my days with dial up with the best plan available being "100 hours of surfing for 100 bucks"

That was before a flat rate was ever available and it beat the other plans where you paid literally by the minute and it came out to much more than 100 bucks for 100 hours of online time.

Oh, how I remember setting an egg timer during the week so I don't surf longer than the time I allowed myself just so I had like 8 hours on Saturdays and Sundays to surf uninterrupted.


especially because I don't really see the connection between my consumption and "waste" like I do with my energy bill.

It's murky and the cost per bit is indeed very small, but every bit you requests costs electricity. Have you ever read the bits about "The Environmental Cost of Spam"?


That's about the same price per GB as Amazon AWS originally launched with, and they had the choice, scale, and concentration of data centers. So this doesn't seem totally-out-of-whack for consumer retail, to me.

And if there are other paths to get the bits there cheaper – wireless (including mesh, free space optical, or new bandwidths) or new wires – these prices motivate the new entrants who can do it.

Comcast maximizing their profits is not the last step, but one move in an iterated, endless game. Comcast's move – if people choose to pay and Comcast makes money – incents the next round of competition.


Traffic is to AWS as ink is to customer-level printers or blades are to razors. Suffice it to say that these prices are extremely out-of-of-whack for both AWS and Comcast, particularly because you don't get guaranteed bandwidth for it.


"Choose to" is a very interesting choice of words seeing how the vast majority of their market is that they are they only option and people have no choice.


Most places in the US have at least two wired options, and two or more wireless options. And, if Comcast charges too much, and cities allow it (as with Google Fiber), other options will arrive.


I call BS. I live in a suburb of San Francisco and have a choice between Comcast and 5Mbps DSL. In other words, I have no choice whatsoever because my telecommuting (and Netflix and Hulu and...) need higher speed bursts than that.

And these are still better options than my family in the Midwest and New York have available to them. You just can't claim with a straight face that there's competition in this market.


> better options than my family in the Midwest

Minneapolis is a beacon of hope, here. $40 for 100 Mbps / 100 Mbps in much of the city, from a local fiber provider.

That's what kills me. Comcast's audacity is just so much more galling when you've actually experienced what happens with competition. And not that competition is a panacea, necessarily. I don't have a say in my water, gas, or electricity providers, but in exchange for that monopoly, they're subject to pretty serious regulation.


Indeed, let's make everyplace like Minneapolis, or Google Fiber cities, by fixing each local market with new options.

That's much better than nationally locking-in a pipes-and-sewers-like regulatory structure that freezes incumbents into a safe but slow-moving regulated approach, for decades.

The decades of Title-II-regulated AT&T telecom monopoly were not good for consumers or innovation. They were safe and slow.


You have two wired options, which is exactly what I said. (You can't call 'BS' if your facts are consistent with my claims!)

I have 5Mbps DSL in San Francisco. It's plenty for HD Netflix and Hulu, VOIP, and video-calling.

I suspect you also have 3+ wireless options, some of which likely offer 20Mbps+ in bursts. Yes, it costs more. Yes, you'd like to pay less. Everyone would! But your desire for more modern luxury goods (massive HD bandwidth), cheaper, is not a public policy crisis.

Someone has to invest more to give you more, and market-floating prices for the existing paths are exactly what draws in more investment – or sends you a signal that you should 'self-help' to the nearest source of plentiful bandwidth.


The road my Dad lives on has no cable lines because it would apparently be unprofitable for Comcast to run them. This was told to me by a manager I somehow was able to get on the phone more than 10 years ago, and it is still that way out there. Comcast has an exclusive monopoly to service that road but choose not to. All roads connected to it have Comcast lines and the nearest line is less than a half mile away. He is too far away for DSL and other such options. His only choices are Dial-up and unreliable satellite (trees around yard).

I understand he is an exception, but it is not nearly as uncommon as you are implying.


Over 93% of the population has wired broadband access – over 99% if wireless options are considered:

http://www.broadbandmap.gov/blog/

So yes, your father's property is an unfortunate outlier. His main beef should be with the local authorities who granted Comcast a monopoly without a prompt requirement-to-service.

(And in places where Comcast is truly the only provider, local regulation until other options arrive makes sense. Just not nationally, when almost everywhere has 2+ wired options and 3+ wireless options, and could also incrementally add new wires and towers far more easily than outlying/non-urban places.)


Exclusive cable monopolies have been illegal for over 20 years.


You understand they launched in 2006 and subsides their hardware costs with extremely high bandwidth costs and that was the highest possible price they charged right?

PS: And a little idea that might blow your mind, Comcast effectively pays nothing for bandwidth to the internet. Like SMS it's so cheap they would have trouble actually finding out how much it costs them and would need to add up the cost of patch cables in the data-center as a significant 'cost'.


You neglect one side of the equation, the amortized cost of the network expansion required to accommodate delivery of that data to the consumer - AWS has no such issues, the cost of OSP is tremendous compared to a datacenter - and thats just to install it, nevermind the OPEX to run it, fix it, maintain it.


Of course. But also, such data-center hosting is essentially "wholesale", for customers who are indifferent about location and buying enough to care about slight changes in rates.

Retail, to a particular fixed location, and for households where bandwidth is a tiny part of their overall budget, is naturally going to be 2-10X more expensive.

AWS wholesale transfer out (not subsidized/forgiven to make their service 'sticky') is still $0.12/GB. Comcast's retail price is less than 2X that. No biggie.


Your using AWS's highest prices. AWS also lists is $0.05 per GB to the internet and it get's cheaper if your a large scale customer. Comcast on on the other hand charges an "additional $1.00 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible-Data Option."


To be fair, in order to get that $0.05/GB rate, you have to be spending more than $11,000/mo on data transfer.


I don't see AWS's $0.05/GB. I see $0.12/GB outbound, for the first 10TB. Google has the same per-GB pricing.

But again, that's bulk wholesale which is often 2-10X cheaper in any industry. Compare like to like.


It's standard tiered pricing. They have a free tier which is subsidized by their next tier @12c per GB but most mid sized clients get into 5c or less scale.

  First 1 GB / month	$0.000 per GB
  Up to 10 TB / month	$0.120 per GB
  Next 40 TB / month	$0.090 per GB
  Next 100 TB / month	$0.070 per GB
  Next 350 TB / month	$0.050 per GB
Above that call them it you can work out even lower prices.


That would be relevant if an important fraction of households used > 10TB. Comcast has reported only ~2% use more than 300GB. So $0.12/GB from centralized, wholesale AWS/Google is the most relevant comparison to Comcast's $0.20/GB retail.


Even accepting that which is a stretch. Your comparing the absolute worst from AWS to Comcast lowest prices. Don't forget unlike AWS Comcast charges for both upload and download and charges the full 10$ for the first bit. Making there actual costs at best 40c per downloaded GB, but more realistically there charging 10$ for people who are going to average 1/2 that bucket split 50/50 upload and down that's 80c /GB on average. And hundreds of thousands of dollars per GB in the worst case Aka 300.001 GB.

Any way you slice it AWS charges rediculusly high bandwidth costs and Comcast still charges way more than that.


I think you don't realize that nobody buys GB of traffic wholesale. They buy bandwidth.


You are technically correct, which is the best kind of correct. Nobody buys GB of traffic wholesale, they buy TB of traffic because a GB is literally a rounding error.

What you probably meant to say was that wholesale bandwith is usually puchased by the Mbps on a 95th percentile billing, although you can alternatively buy by the TB from some providers.


AWS & Google Cloud customers obviously buy by the GB.


I hope the mods allow this story to stay on the frontpage, because even though it's not intellectually interesting, it's important to respond to threats like this. Future hackers might be impacted by this nonsense if, say, their parents burn through their internet quota using Netflix and then tell their children not to use the internet the rest of the month.


It set off the flamewar detector for a while but we overrode that.


I am currently in one of the test markets for this (Knoxville, TN) and am actively looking for another provider since we hit the bandwidth cap for the third time this month (2 adults, 4 teenagers).

Fortunately, I have three providers in my neighborhood. Of course, it will take me an hour on hold to cancel Comcast, but at least I won't have to deal with them any more.


You're lucky. In many places, there are no alternatives to Comcast.

I've asked this out in the open before and always got blank stares and crazy looks, but how hard/expensive would it be to start your own neighborhood ISP and peer directly with a backbone? What's the up-front investment required and how many users at what price point would be needed to make it reasonable or profitable?

I guess the main problem is still transport to the premises...


>I've asked this out in the open before and always got blank stares and crazy looks, but how hard/expensive would it be to start your own neighborhood ISP and peer directly with a backbone?

The technical parts are fairly straightforward, what gets hard/expensive is the legal, permiting, construction part.

> What's the up-front investment required and how many users at what price point would be needed to make it reasonable or profitable?

As the old adage goes, if you have to ask then you can't afford it...

> I guess the main problem is still transport to the premises...

Exactly. Rule of thumb is that 90% of network costs are in the last mile and most of those costs are in the last few yards.


You must be out west or close to the University, I can't see anywhere in Knoxville having 3 provider choices...other than DSL, 1 cable option and cellular hot-spot.


Norwood. We have Comcast, AT+T fiber and Wow.


Sitting here in Finland on my open, unmetered, 350mbit home internet connection, not worrying about how many HD YouTube videos I can stream, vagrant images I can clone or RAW images I can sync to the cloud - I wonder how a country which has so many smart, gifted people hasn't yet realised that the Internet should be a human right, without caps, slow lanes or censorship.


The same country that did not have all states ratify its anti-slavery amendment until the last year or two. The same country with a history of maintaining overseas secret prisons, abuse of surveillance powers, and a barely functional justice system. (I say all this as an american.)

If we haven't even realized that human rights are human rights, why would anyone expect us to realize that internet is; especially when there is profit to be made from it?


You're wrong. The Internet isn't a human right, and even if it is, government shouldn't provide it. You wouldn't like government internet if you lived under, say, the Cuban government. Nor can you trust your government forever.

U.S. internet is bad because government got involved in franchising the running of copper decades ago. It's in a bad state because of the government. We Americans are debating whether we should use more policy to try to resolve the problem or hew to the right principle (minimal regulation) and not enact more policy, suffering the short and medium term consequences (i.e. more power to Comcast).


Is there any adjective that carries more weight than the word brazen? I'm at a loss for words.


I like the historical usage of Chutzpah, but it's become less of an insult of late:

    Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, 
    brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts', presumption plus
    arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do 
    justice to". In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong 
    disapproval and condemnation.
He Goes on:

    In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as "that quality
    enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, 
    throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an 
    orphan".   Chutzpah amounts to a total denial of personal
    responsibility, that renders others speechless and incredulous... 
    one cannot quite believe that another person totally lacks common
    human traits like remorse, regret, guilt, sympathy and insight.
    The implication is at least some degree of psychopathy in the 
    subject, as well as the awestruck amazement of the observer at 
    the display.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chutzpah#Etymology


I can think of many, but you can't print them on a family website.


Complain less, call your congressional representatives more. Email doesn't mean shit. Pick up the phone.

Then complain here =P


Is there any evidence that my call will do anything? I suspect not, but I really don't know. I've called in to my rep probably 5/6 times in my life and never once heard back or talked to anyone other than some intern.


This doesn't seem like a congress thing.

What could they even do except give comcast bad PR?

Unless you are proposing that we return to the days of telecom regulation.


That is a popular idea right now. More specifically, the president and others have tossed around the idea of regulating broadband internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934


Without defending Comcast et. al. I have ZERO confidence that this president and congress would come up with anything remotely beneficial to the retail/residential internet consumer.


Well then you're in luck - the FCC determines the classification of telecommunications services in the US.


As someone who used over 4 terabytes of bandwidth last month...just lol. How sad is it that in the modern world I can be forced to physically move to another city/state just to avoid monopolistic ISP's?


Very interestingly, they did NOT add the Chattanooga market.

Chattanooga has its own public utility that provides power and Gigabit fiber. See http://www.salon.com/2014/07/18/comcasts_worst_nightmare_how...


>Each of these options requires that those who choose to use more of the service pay more than others. The Flexible-Data Option adds an alternative, permitting those who choose to use less to pay less.

It's so nice to have alternatives! I'm glad we live in a world where consumers have so much choice.


I work from home a lot, stream spotify, but don't really stream video. I average less than 100GB per month. However i could easily see how streaming netflix or other services could cause someone to go over the 300GB data usage. My largest month of usage was 4TB due to some search engine work I was doing.

I don't like the precedent this is setting and I just hope Google keeps putting pressure on with their Fiber offering to make these other companies compete. In some cases I wish municipalities would step in and stop allowing companies like comcast to be the sole provider in their area.

I foresee comcast marketing their "increasing speeds" in the future. In which you could never actually take full advantage of because of these limits.


Can anyone explain to me what the marginal costs are for additional traffic, within Comcast's network?

I presume that once you're powering the routers, they consume pretty equivalent power at peak and off-peak times, but maybe that's a faulty assumption?


> Can anyone explain to me what the marginal costs are for additional traffic, within Comcast's network?

Marginal costs within the design capacity of the network are close to zero. If the traffic happens to be external, to a network Comcast pays transit to (if such exist) and it's in a direction that's billable (transit is paid in the direction that is larger) then the wholesale rate (for that fraction of the traffic) would be billed at about 0.1 cents per GB.


As I understand it the marginal cost of the first N gigabytes is approximately zilch, but N+1 gigabytes is $$$$- because they now have to upgrade the infrastructure.

The price tags they put on more data are almost certainly an attempt at "market allocation" rather than the actual cost of the data. In other words, the increased price on bandwidth lowers demand, hopefully to the level Comcast is targeting. Think of electricity companies, and off-peak rates. They charge more during peak load to drive the market to shift more load to off-peak times.


> As I understand it the marginal cost of the first N gigabytes is approximately zilch, but N+1 gigabytes is $$$$- because they now have to upgrade the infrastructure.

Missed out a step there. It's not zero then suddenly $$$$. It's more a question of gradual, usually low cost, equipment upgrades. All backhaul is via fiber optics, so by switching optics you go from 1G/10G/100G to multiple 1G/10G/100G waves. You might need a new router blade or a bigger chassis at some point.

Only if you really messed up do you need infrastructure upgrades. This might mean splitting nodes, i.e. pulling a bit more fiber to hotspots, but that is why you have spare empty conduits and excess fiber strands in your cables. If you don't then you truly deserve all the misery you brought upon yourself.


I would make the same assumption. The issue is they oversubscribe their capacity. And rather than upgrade their network to actually support what they sold, they want to introduce usage caps.


Everyone does. That's standard in the trade, because not everyone will be using their connection at the same time. There are huge savings in only buying enough bandwidth to handle, say, your 95% load and not enough to satisfy all of your customers at once.

My problem is that the ISP I work at had about a 10:1 oversubscription ratio. Comcast wants to fine individual customers who exceed 70:1, so they're probably aiming for a 200:1 overall ratio. That's just highway robbery.


> There are huge savings in only buying enough bandwidth to handle, say, your 95% load and not enough to satisfy all of your customers at once.

It's bad engineering to run your links hot at 95%. (Here's looking at you, Comcast)

You want to keep link usage at under 50% in order to have adequate margin for growth, be able to fall over to your secondary links without saturating them for maintenance/repairs/emergencies and handle microbursts which don't show up on the 5 minute average timescales monitoring is done at.


By that, I meant 95th percentile. That's the number you'd usually add your safety padding to.


My bad, I misread your point, but in hindsight it's quite obvious what you meant from the context. Wording was a bit ambiguous tho.


I knew what I meant, darn it! :-D


Part of the problem is adding capacity in an HFC network is expensive and difficult, eventually adding more carriers is not enough, and you needs to break the broadcast domain down even further, which means adding a new node - sometimes that can be just adding cards to a cabinet, others its a new physical box that must be permitted and placed - a process that can (and often does) take years.

xDSL has it easy, they can just turn up more backhaul at the CO, which is often a process that takes no more that days, if not hours.


> Part of the problem is adding capacity in an HFC network is expensive and difficult

Sure, but no more than doing VDSL, which is basically the same thing for ADSL as splitting nodes in a HFC network. A FTTC+VDSL upgrade is about $400 per subscriber which is $17 per month on a typical 24 month contract. That's quite doable and typical network life cycles are much longer, which brings the cost further down.


I don't fully agree.

When you build out VDSL, you're expecting to provide service to every customer in range at a fixed oversell ratio, if you need more bandwidth you can turn up additional fibers to the node, at the worst, split the mux down to smaller numbers of subs per, but the aggregation point never changes - it's always at the RSLAM.

With cable, the point of aggregation is at the subscriber prem, just like thinnet - the only way to get more bandwidth to the subscriber is to decrease the size of the broadcast domain by adding another node.

It's basically my contention that like most wireless networks the pinch point is access layer, not in the backhaul, HFC networks are much like wireless networks, they have a fixed amount of RF bandwidth shared with N subscribers over a given area - being that the amount of spectrum a given area can use is fixed (by licensing or by bandwidth limitations in the cable) the only way to handle more subscribers in a given area is to decrease the number of subscribers per network element, in short, add more sites, or nodes.


Pure unrestricted, unregulated capitalism. Pure monopoly. Pure evil.

Is the next question "how long will googlers in the Bay Area put up with such a thing before [finally] rolling out FiOS here or nation-wide?"


It's not even close to unregulated capitalism. in many areas Comcast has a legislated monopoly.

Google is not some magic unicorn that's going to save us from old bloated mega corps like comcast. the only reason google rolls fiber to the places it does is cause the local governments are willing to play ball. and the bay area isn't known for it's streamlined government. in fact, you folks are at the bottom of a very long list. (http://pando.com/2014/02/25/having-being-burned-once-before-...)

The only thing that will save the US internet market is competition, google's efforts are great, I'm not convinced it will be enough. I think innovations in Wireless tech, that will allow more reliable and widespread WISP's will help. The old guard of the wireline providers have built the walls quite high and it will take time for even big players like google to wear them down.


Don't you mean over-regulated, crony capitalism, government granted monopoly? Pure evil?


Corporatism. There are laws that prevent true capitalistic competition from happening.


Nothing wrong in my book with charging, so long as the pipe is open, free and clear. - meaning net neutrality, and no filtering, or dns funniness - like a common carrier.

We're the only country in the world (mostly) with largely unlimited broadband, many countries seem to have quota - and its not as if an unlimited option doesn't remain, I have Business Class from them, which is and will remain unlimited, but it costs, 120, including 5 statics.


Given that most of the Bay Are is AT&T territory, and Verizon has pretty much stopped FIOS rollouts, I don't think it's very likely that Verizon will be overbuilding the Bay Area any time soon.


It's regulation that has given cable companies local monopolies. It's regulation that's trying to forbid municipalities from building open access networks.


I just want to point out how genius this is. Comcast, I suspect, spends 99% of its time thinking about psychology and pricing.

They know that they want to continue to get about $150/mo from every American family. All they are doing is back-plotting how to get there.

First, they start squeezing corporate network participants. But that won't get them all the way there, and there's a regulatory risk there too. They've already signed ad hoc net-neut agreements that limit this approach.

So they will definitely have to squeeze consumers. But they've been selling "Internet at y Mbps" for decades now. They can't just flip to "10 GB / 50 GB / 100 GB / 500 GB Internet." Consumers (i.e. voters) would be outraged, and they would lose the TWC deal, which is key to their 'Don't Be a Dumb Pipe Company' strategy.

But they need to sew the seeds. So what do they do first? A discount for less usage, rather than a surcharge for more usage. Same thing, different words. If it's well tolerated, they'll steepen the gradient.

CMCSA is at a delicate liminal point. They are threading the needle brilliantly.

Who would have thought that the American consumer would shift his media consumption habits with whiplash rapidity away from cable and broadcast TV, but that Comcast would survive in basically the exact same position?


Interesting pattern. All the top first responses are critical of Comcast while responses to them are Comcast apologists. I suspect there is a strong Comcast-paid presence in HN?


I'd disagree with you - I'd bet there are a ton of general telecom folks floating around - I've done work for the yellow carrier, as well as magenta, red and orange, plus a regional RBOC. I get the technology, and strongly think internet service should be a common carrier.


Thank god for alternative internet providers like Monkeybrainz in SF.

This is like payday loans for internet service, taking advantage of the low income population.


I'd be for more leeway on pricing if in most places in the US the ISP wasn't a monopoly. Competition is supposed to exist in a market economy. Comcast and its ilk like to act as if competition exists but only on a national scale. On my local city scale there is virtually no competition. That's the only scale that matters.


Why in the US is ADSL not more prevalent? The Australian broadband sector is very competitive and generally (unless you are very rural), there are hundreds of companies competing for your business. As a result, prices have consistently come down over time (when I first got ADSL in 2004 I got 1GB of data at 256kbps for $50 (1)), now the same buys unlimited data at the fastest my phone line will allow (14MBit)*. There are also no slowdowns during peak periods - providers ensure sufficiant bandwidth is available. It seems strange to me that the US is apparently locked into cable internet where only one or two providers service entire cities.

(1) This is still fairly expensive but it is primarily because the majority of traffic is international and must come through fairly limited bandwidth undersea pipes. I would imagine the majority of traffic in the US is local and therefore cheaper.


ADSL is quite common, but its a 1.5-20 meg pipe versus a 10-1000 meg pipe.


There are all sorts of market reasons but I think a very important reason is the death of the landline (POTS).

That is, many people have cut the POTS service, which means ADSL costs extra (have to reactivate unneeded landline service)


Most of the carriers now sell unbundled ADSL now (AT&T, CenturyLink and I believe Verizon in non-fios markets.) it has more to do with distance limitations having too much of a downward effect on speeds. More than less subscribers are around the 5.5kf+ (kilotfoot) range, which usually means sub 15 megabit speeds - and a limited upload (inherent to all ADSL types).


> Why in the US is ADSL not more prevalent?

Long line lenghts (average loop lenght 3.3km, resulting in sub-10Mbps speeds), no competition due to line sharing regulation being struck down.


I live in one of the areas with the caps and this is how it plays out:

1. I tell my wife to stop playing so many movies on netflix. 2. I stopped watching youtube or other video services unless I really, really want to see something. 3. I watch my internet usage and choose when to use it. 4. I cancelled Hulu. 5. I grow suspicious of my neighbors when my usage seems high as there is no breakdown of where usage comes from. 6. I suspect comcast's own services are not counted towards the meter, but can't prove anything. 7. I stopped playing so many games. 8. I now strategize my downloads.

There is no real other choice in my area -- the closest competitor to Comcast offers less than half the speed and only advertises for 1/4 the speed.

In my opinion, as someone affected by this, it's just a way to squeeze the customer more and maintain a monopoly on content.


I have Time Warner Cable which is pretty decent service.

300mbit/20mbit. I could burn though 300gb in probably 2.26 to 2.5 hours.

125kb/1mbit300mbit/1sec = 125300 = 37,500kb/sec 300gb = 300gb1024mb/1gb = 307,200mb 307.2gb / 37.5mb/sec = 307,200mb 1sec/37.5mb = 8192sec 8921sec / 1min/60sec / 1hr/60min = 2.27hrs

So my whole months worth of bandwidth gone on 10 large video games.


If I purchase one steam humble bundle, I'd blow through a quarter of my data cap just downloading the games.


Switched to Comcast Business Class service four years ago. 50/10, 5 static IPs, clueful LOCAL techs who don't rely on a script and speak English as a first language. No caps whatsoever. I run my own web/mail servers.

I never thought I would say "I'm happy with my Comcast service", but then I do pay $150/month for just Internet.


Most of the comments here have already been posted to the Reddit thread that's been at the top of the front page all day: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/2mw2sw/comcast_t...


I always saw HackerNews as a subset of Reddit, without all the silly puns and jokes for the most part.


True, but there are still many smart and informative comments on Reddit that (if you wade through the noise) can add to the conversation. Reddit's reach is extensive and attracts people who may not frequent HN.


We went through this usage based billing (UBB, aka capacity based billing (CBB)) thing here in Canada a couple of years back, where the incumbent carriers (DSL and cable) somewhat successfully lobbied the CRTC to set wholesale tariffs based on a mix of generally lower access fees (paid per subscriber, specifying a certain connection speed but no actual traffic), and interconnect fees (covering a certain interconnect speed between the incumbent's network and the third party ISP's backhaul). The net effect of the model is that a third party ISP's variable costs are essentially the cost of their interconnect with the incumbent, and are dominated by their burst needs during peak usage times. As a consequence, there are a number of business models which this lends itself to (in terms of incentivizing users to shift usage to off-peak times) in addition to straight download cap vs. unlimited offerings. For example, some ISPs (like Teksavvy, for example) offer unlimited plans with a reduction in speed during peak hours.

There was a LOT of debate on the subject on places like dslreports when this was in front of the CRTC. The general consensus seemed to be that UBB in principle is a good thing (it allows for more flexibility in third party ISP business models, and roughly aligns costs with income for the incumbent) although the particular tariff prices put forth by the incumbents were inflated and suspect.

As a real-world benchmark, my third party provider (start.ca) offers a 30/5 cable plan with 200GB of usage for $45 CAD (roughly $40 USD) per month. Going to an unlimited plan adds an extra $15 CAD to that, with the risk for overages being borne by the ISP.

Of course, the incumbents' retail offerings are universally terrible (their caps are laughably small, and their prices higher than any third party provider). Because of the lack of separation between their retail and wholesale operations, they're able to offer (presumably loss leader) promotions that third party providers simply can't, and have the benefit of being able to structure their tariff offerings to screw third party providers wherever possible. So that part of the regulatory environment sucks.

Overall though it feels like a decent model (although the actual tariff prices are quite out of line, particularly for interconnect fees). $60 CAD a month for unlimited 30/5 is a fair price in my mind, and if my needs ever change there are enough third party provider with enough diverse business models that I'd likely find something that works for me.


Everyone complains about Comcast, but how many people here have an option in their area and still use Comcast?

I have RCN service at my house, but most people I know here and in DC still use Comcast. Some of that may be because the smaller providers don't advertise as well, but there must be some people actively choosing Comcast service.


I despise Comcast. I hate themm.

I currently have Comcast as my ISP. They provide 50Mbps service to my residence. The next closest provider maxes out at 7Mbps.

20Mbps is, realistically, my floor for bandwidth. If any other provider offered service at >= 20Mbps I would leave Comcast in a heartbeat.


Rent seeking at it's most obvious.


For reference: wholesale bandwidth cost is about 0.1 cents per GB.


This is going to get major pushback from all content providers like Netflix, Pandora, et al.


It's not like there's much they can do as they aren't Comcast's customers.


They can directly point to Comcast as the problem. They can lobby lawmakers just as Comcast can. In my opinion, this is going to be a problem for them, and any of these content providers have way stronger voices than a single customer.


Not complaining too much as long as there's fair warning when hitting certain thresholds of the cap. Worst thing I want is not unknowingly exceeding the threshold and getting billed an extra 100$


I'm sure there's going to be a fair bit of complaining as time goes by and normal usage grows but caps stay the same.


This is old news.

Comcast, TWC, and AT&T are all doing bit bucket tiered service now.

10 bucks for 50 gigs seems quite reasonable to me, honestly.


In San Francisco, Comcast residential service has no data transfer caps.


Hahaha... Americans.




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