Comcast Aims to Help Bandwidth Hogs Impose Self Control

Comcast is trialing a service that tips off heavy users when they are about to run afoul of the company's acceptable use policy and thereby run the risk of having their bandwidth pinched during periods when the network gets congested.

Called Comcast Usage Meter, the Web-based service keeps track of the total traffic between a customer's cable modems and the cable modem termination systems that act as gateways into Comcast's network. The trial started Tuesday in Portland, Ore.Customers are allowed up to 250GB of traffic per month and after that they are considered in violation of the company's acceptable use policy. That means the company may then, as a network management measure, throttle back the traffic of those customers during actual congestion, resulting in longer file-transfer times, slower Web surfing and sluggish gaming.

The service allows customers to see how close they are to their limit so they can avoid high-traffic activities and be exempted from such throttling. The readings are within three hours of real-time, and are plus or minus 1% accurate, according to NetForecast, a testing firm asked to evaluate the meter.

The service is aimed at the 1% of customers who violated the usage policy that was set up about two years ago.

Comcast has fallen under Federal Communications Commission scrutiny because its network management policies discriminated against certain types of traffic, notably non-Comcast VoIP and peer-to-peer traffic.

Targeting specific protocols violates the FCC's open Internet principles. These principles are currently under review with an eye toward formalizing them into FCC regulations under the banner of network neutrality.

While its policies don't include throttling specific protocols, they do point out specific activities that "may cause excessive data consumption". These include file transfers, peer-to-peer traffic and newsgroups. "You must also ensure that your use of the Service does not restrict, inhibit, interfere with, or degrade any other person's use of the Service, nor represent (as determined by Comcast in its sole discretion) an overly large burden on the network," the policy says. "In addition, you must ensure that your use of the Service does not limit or interfere with Comcast's ability to deliver and monitor the Service or any part of its network."

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