Comcast’s Bandwidth Limits are Killing Innovation and the Internet

We ditched our cable TV provider in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu over five years ago. As a household, we were definitely on the forefront of the so called “cord cutters” movement. Being a family of four that includes two young children, we struggled at first to adapt to the changes. We eventually all grew to love not having cable though. Then, we ran into a major problem: bandwidth usage Comcast.

I’m a bandwidth hog

A while back I reset my router’s stats and begin to collect some data (if you’re wondering, for my home router I’m using an old computer running pfSense, a Squid proxy for caching, and more geeky stuff that’s beyond the scope of this article.)

We then proceeded to use the internet as we normally would to stream movies, TV shows, and music, download updates and such for our three Playstations, and other typical daily internet usage. The results were pretty much what I expected: we use a lot of bandwidth.

Over 90 days, we used a total of 2,156 Gigabytes (just over 2 Terabytes) of bandwidth:

how-much-bandwidth-do-you-use

How much bandwidth is that?

Admittedly, that is a decent amount of bandwidth usage, especially when compared to the average internet user. Let’s put that number into perspective, though. According to Netflix:

Best video quality uses up to 3 GB per hour for HD and 7 GB per hour for Ultra HD

If we use the more conservative 3GB for HD video, and do some quick back-of-the-napkin math we get:

  • 2156 GB / 3 GB per hour = 718 hours of HD streaming total
  • 718 hours / 90 days = almost 8 hours per day
  • 8 hours / 4 people = 2 hours of HD streaming per person per day

That’s not to say I watch Netflix for 2 hours each day (or let our kids watch that much TV!) We also have three Playstations in the house, and as anyone that owns one knows, the downloads and updates are often multiple gigabytes big. And we can’t forget services like Spotify, and watching all those cat videos on Youtube!

Comcast implements bandwidth limits

For many people in the US, Comcast is the only service provider in their area. Comcast, known for its excellent customer support and business practices, take full advantage of this by offering low speeds for high prices when compared to areas where they have more (any) competition.

In their latest ploy effort to “help their customers”, Comcast have started implementing bandwidth limits in certain markets. If you exceed a given amount of data usage — usually 300GB in a month — then you are charged a hefty fine. Repeat offenders risk having their account terminated.

What’s the problem?

Comcast claim that they have to implement bandwidth limits because “extreme” users like myself cause network congestion and make the internet slow for other users (ie: my neighbors.) The idea being that bandwidth is like a metaphorical bucket, and the more data I use, the less my neighbors can use. The problem is, this is simply not the case.

Why is Comcast wrong?

To be perfectly clear, what Comcast says is actually 100% correct: there is a finite limit on the amount of bandwidth that is available. The catch is, that limit is so much more than what we’re currently capable of using, that for all practical purposes there is no actual limit.

Basically, I could stream Netflix on all five of our TVs while both of our kids play Playstation online, listen to Spotify, and download cat videos all at the same time without coming close to the aforementioned limit (to where my neighbors are affected.)

Miraculously, paying Comcast more money fixed all of the “network congestion” problems.

As proof, I’d like to offer the “solution” to my problem with Comcast’s bandwidth limits. In order to prevent having to pay their exorbitant fines or having our service terminated, our only option was getting Comcast Business Class internet at our home. Doing so gave us unlimited bandwidth, but also required signing a two year contract, paying a $199 setup fee, and then paying $100/month for service. Miraculously, paying Comcast more money fixed all of the “network congestion” problems.

Bandwidth limits are killing innovation and the internet

I love Netflix and other streaming services. More importantly though, as a website and application developer, I fully advocate (and rely on for a living) people having access to the internet. The simple truth is that when people start to receive shockingly large bills for data “overages” because they watched Netflix and downloaded a few Playstation games, they aren’t going to be willing — or able — to pay for internet service.

Furthermore, these same people will be unable to utilize streaming services like Netflix. This in turn affects Netflix’s income and therefore the selection of movies and shows they can purchase the rights to. Setbacks like this will inevitably lead to a loss of customers, and possibly the closing of some of the now popular streaming services.

Given this frightening knowledge, innovators like Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and web developers like myself must now think about the “shortage” of bandwidth that our customers may face, and how that will affect our products and services.

What are your thoughts? How much bandwidth do you use?

What are your thoughts on Comcast’s bandwidth limits? Do they help or hurt the industry, and innovation in general? Also, I’m curious to know how much bandwidth other people typically use.

Leave a comment below to weigh in on the subject!

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