Hard Questions for ISPs

Cutting CableIt isn’t often that a former boss and mentor’s son makes the news.  My first professional awareness of André Vrignaud was last September when I read an announcement that he had moved from one Seattle internet giant to another Seattle internet giant.  So, it was a bit surprising to see him making headlines for a different reason.  That is, he is the Seattle customer who Comcast cast off for accessing too much Internet.

The best source of his saga is his blog.  In short, he exceeded Comcast’s 250 Gbyte/month cap and they cut him off from their service for a year.  He suspects the reason he exceeded the cap was that he just signed up for online back-up service Carbonite and Amazon’s Cloud Drive service.  Thanks to his uncompressed audio collection and thousands of high quality photos, he has terabytes of data which could account for why he exceeded the cap.  He isn’t the first to exceed his cap due to an online back-up service, as indicated by this post from David Martin.

Vrignaud argues that,

“The ability to access broadband internet is a right, and should be defined as an essential utility.”

Is access to broadband a right?  That is an interesting question for lawmakers and policy makers.  The U.N thinks so, as they indicate that broadband is critical to freedom of opinion and expression”, as well as an enabler for other rights (page 7).

The National Broadband Plan suggests that everyone should have access to broadband:

“Everyone in the United States today should have access to broadband services supporting a basic set of applications that include sending and receiving e-mail, downloading Web pages, photos and video, and using simple video conferencing.”

Although the NBP suggests a 4/1 Mbs download/upload speed as today’s minimum definition of broadband, it does not seem to bound the amount of “access”.  In the case of their minimum definition, assuming an aggregate access rate of 5 Mbs (download plus upload), bandwidth usage would be  approximately 625 kbytes per second or 1.62 Tbytes per month or more than 6x the Comcast cap and 10x the AT&T limit.

Granted, Vrignaud is at the extreme in terms of today’s bandwidth consumption.  However, as the demand for bandwidth increases more of us will be bumping into these caps.  As pointed out by network engineer and IT specialist, Andrew Froehlich, caps could have a chilling effect on internet applications and cloud services.  For instance, based on what I saw happen to Vrignaud, I am going to be much more cautious about using a given cloud application.

Vrignaud asks some very good questions that ISPs should have a cogent response to, if they are going to be able to justify caps to policy makers and to their customers.

Hard Questions for Broadband ISPs around Data Caps:

  1. Is your bandwidth data cap designed to protect your television distribution business? If not, why do you insist on completely cutting off data instead of using other more consumer-friendly options such as charging for overages or slowing internet use?
  2. What ISP-offered services are excluded from the cap? Specifically, are your voice telephony and video programming services excluded? If so, why doesn’t your data cap apply to data consumed when watching television or making a phone call?
  3. How are your data caps set? What data informed that decision? Why do different ISPs have different data caps when using similar networks and distribution technology?
  4. How are your data caps evaluated on an ongoing basis? What customer input do you seek? What are the conditions under which those caps could be raised and/or eliminated?
  5. Do you practice selective enforcement of data caps? (Many ISP users report being over their supposed limits for months in a row without action.)”

0 thoughts on “Hard Questions for ISPs

  1. Comcast has changed their policy and will use price signals to regulate usage instead of firing customers as a solution. The 300 Gigabyte level is still extreme for most users, as I read that the average is approximately 32 Gigabytes and median is approximately 10 Gigabytes per month. The large difference between the two indicating what cable and telcos have been saying that a small part of the broadband population accounts for an inordinate amount of the use.


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