The New York Times recently reported that beginning on October 1, 2008 Comcast will limit residential Internet usage at 250 gigabytes of bandwidth per month. According to a Comcast spokesperson, the 250 GB limit should have little effect on typical Internet users, who only use two to three GB each month. Comcast subscribers who exceed the cap will be notified, but will not be immediately disconnected or charged for going over this limit.

If you’re like me, the amount 250 GB is difficult to quantify. What does that mean? 250 GB equals approximately: fifty million emails, 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos, 62,500 songs or 125 standard definition movies per month. Although this seems like a lot, the numbers are different when we’re talking about gaming and HDTV. For example, 250 GB a month equals four hours of HDTV a day. According to GigaOM, with HD, a two-hour movie consumes about eight GB, while live sports events, etc., when watched in higher quality can take up some thirteen GB. The 250 GB limit feels less generous when you consider that it includes both uploads and downloads. And if you live in a multi-person household, then 250 GB starts to seem downright skimpy.

[As side note: Rival cable provider Time Warner has proposed a plan to impose a 40 GB limit on monthly use and to charge users who exceed the allotted bandwidth.]

But, why the cap? As PC magazine explains, cable modem users share a common local line, so heavy traffic can slow speeds for multiple users. Comcast claims that the caps will prevent one user from slowing download speeds for everyone in the neighborhood. However, critics of the cap suspect a different motive: capping Internet use will ensure that cable TV subscriptions and subscriptions to premium services, such as Comcast’s Video-on-Demand, do not falter in an increasingly crowded marketplace for online entertainment. In essence, the cap serves as self-protection against rival services like Hulu, NetFlix, and Amazon On-Demand.

This announcement by Comcast comes just weeks after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that Comcast had violated the law by throttling BitTorrent transfers, marking the first time any broadband provider has been found to violate Net neutrality rules. The FCC ordered Comcast to cease-and-desist the filtering of peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers, and required Comcast to disclose their traffic management plans to consumers. Comcast has claimed that there is no link between the cap and the FCC’s ruling.

— Megan Bibb

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