Comcast has some amazing cable-based broadband services on tap, but the company has long been maligned for its early data of imposing data caps. While an ounce of honesty back at the outset would probably have stemmed public outrage of discovering caps in place before contract revisions were even available for the public to see, the fact is that the caps were designed to keep performance reasonable at an affordable rate. While it would be possible for Comcast to invest in its infrastructure and thus enable higher caps or even a cap-less system, that cost would have to be passed on to the average consumer.
With prices being as competitive as they are, it makes a certain degree of sense to put data limits in place. While this may seem like heresy to true broadband aficionados, it all depends on where the limits are and how easy it is to hit them. With Comcast now offering speeds of ‘up to’ 105 Mbps in many market, it is time to look at how valid their cap really is.
A New Cap
Originally rated at 200 GB/month, Comcast now offers data caps starting at 300 GB/sec with the option to buy additional blocks of 50 GB/month for an additional $10 on an as-needed basis instead of simply data throttling once the limit is reached.. This means that those who choose to consume more bandwidth pay more as a consequence, but everyone starts out with at least 300 GB to use during the course of a month. That premium price can be used to upgrade infrastructure correspondingly.
Getting There Faster
The argument made by many is that when Comcast imposed its data limits they were offering “up to” 20 Mbps service in very select markets while preparing to roll it out nation-wide. Now Comcast is offering “up to” 105 Mbps, an increase of over 500% while the data cap has increased only 50%, creating a 10 to 1 disparity. The question that many have is: is the increase in data capacity fair given the increase in bandwidth on tap?
It could very well all boil down to usage patterns. If nothing changes in terms of data consumption then the new bandwidth is just additional overhead to play with and explore with. This could give users more availability to test out high-definition streaming, or explore services like iTunes, or simply increase the quality/quantity that they use of services like this.
Services like online gaming and emailing/browsing are not likely to see earth-shaking increases in bandwidth requirements in the near future. Gaming may benefit mildly from lower ping times that come with sending more data per second than comparatively slower services, but the net result is that none of these activities will dramatically increase bandwidth consumption. This leads to the idea that more speed simply equates to getting these tasks done quicker or better, and the same thing can be said for streaming media or downloading content; everything is faster, but the data usage stays the same. This begs the question: is your bandwidth currently holding you back from watching more movies, etc.? It would seem unlikely that this would be the case as even “up to” 20 Mbps speeds allow for near-instant streaming of HD content.
Sharing Blocks of Data
Another argument is that of larger families/groups of people sharing the same connection. Some people are cutting down their budget by sharing a broadband connection with neighbors or roommates over wired or WiFi connections. When the number of people increases and bandwidth scales to match, overall data limits do need to scale linearly in most cases. These are certainly not the average situations in which Comcast or any other service provider is hoping to find itself. In fact, it could be argued that this is one of the scenarios that Comcast was looking for by offering additional blocks of data. After all, people sharing a connection were once potential individual customers that Comcast would have been competing for.
Conclusion: Bigger Caps Not So Bad
In the final analysis, most people are actually better served by the disparity between available bandwidth and the usage limitations. With the potential to abuse the system far more with additional bandwidth, ‘data hogs’ Comcast is so concerned with could be ruining the experience for everyone. Now those same high bandwidth users can enjoy an experience and the average user does not have to foot the bill. Comcast seems to have come up with a great solution that should be closely evaluated by the competition.