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Comcast Launches Data Usage Meter To Address ‘Excessive Use’

in National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2009 - Comcast announced Tuesday the pilot market launch of a data usage meter the company plans to soon roll out nationally.

The meter is meant to help make customers aware of how much data they consume in a month, Jason Livingood, executive director of internet systems for Comcast, wrote on a company blog. Comcast has a company policy against excessive use of bandwidth or currently data usage above 250 Gigabytes per month per Comcast high-speed internet residential customer account.

According to the company, “excessive users consume so much data that the usage could negatively impact the online service for other customers.” If a consumer hogs too much bandwidth Comcast will terminate the individual’s account after one warning has been given.

“Only a small fraction of the tiny number of users who are identified as excessive users ever have their service terminated for one year because of continued excessive use,” holds Comcast. The company adds that some customers identified as excessive users in the past were not aware of the activity that caused the excessive use and consequently made changes to correct the problem.

Comcast said Tuesday that the product meter, which is being tried out in Portland, Oregon, measures “all data usage over a cable modem.”

In a question and answer section of its Web site, Comcast responds to “Why didn't Comcast just wait until the data usage meter was ready and then implement the 250 GB threshold?” The company replies that “Our excessive use program is not new—it’s been around for years. The only difference is that in the past we didn't provide a specific number regarding data usage. We felt it was important to move forward and disclose the threshold to your since we did receive questions about what would constitute excessive use.”

Comcast also addresses on its Web site why customers who use more data than others pay the same amount for their service each month. Comcast says “the pricing of our high-speed Internet service is currently based on speed, not data usage … Every speed tier has the same excessive use policy. As many other ISPs do, we have based pricing on speeds ever since we introduced our high-speed Internet service. We have also maintained an excessive use policy on all our speed tiers for years, so nothing has changed for our customers.”

Comcast’s trial data meter attempt comes at a time when the U.S. government is considering whether to regulate Internet access via net neutrality principles, which deals with how broadband providers may charge differential rates for preferred business customers. The FCC submitted Monday its official rulemaking notice (PDF) in the Federal Register.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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