If You're Going To Meter Or Cap Broadband, Shouldn't You Provide A Meter?

from the where's-the-problem? dept

With various ISPs implementing forms of capped or metered broadband, you would think it would be standard (if not required) that they also provide consumers with the tools to measure their consumption. Otherwise it seems a bit unfair to say you can only use x amount, but you have no way to know when you’ve actually done so. But, it seems that hasn’t really stopped various ISPs. News.com is noticing that despite capping broadband connections at 250 gigs/month for many months (and rumors and screenshots of it), Comcast still refuses to deliver a broadband monitoring solution for users. If that’s the case, it makes you wonder how accurate/reliable its own internal monitors are, and how it can guarantee that users actually get the 250 gigs they’re promised. Perhaps I’m missing something, but is it really that difficult to measure broadband usage? If so, that would seem to be yet another reason that ISPs might want to stay away from metered broadband: the cost of developing a system to actually track it.

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Comments on “If You're Going To Meter Or Cap Broadband, Shouldn't You Provide A Meter?”

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60 Comments
tim says:

they are full of it

measuring usage is not hard. All ISPs in australia at least have an online portal that you can log into, to see how much of your quota you have used. some are even easier, I have a windows sidebar widget that reports on my peak quota available, offpeak quota available, and days remaining until reset, making it the easiest thing in the world to keep control of. it does a remeasure every 30 minutes.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: they are full of it

We have that in the USA for most of the wireless 3G data plans…but usually the data is woefully delayed. AT&T provides a disclaimer like “the data here may not accurately reflect your actual…” admitting it’s basically as useful as a speedometer that always reads 30mph. There’s a number displayed – it may or may not be correct.

Mike and I disagree about caps, but I’m certainly on board that ISPs can’t effectively use a cap without an excellent “odometer”, and should also include outbound messages when thresholds are crossed (50%, 80%, 90%).

mklinker says:

Re: Re: Gve you a meter ?

That’s assuming they show you an updated and correct balance. I’d lump this with all there check holding and payment processing crap. Why is it that the banks push so hard for Check 21 to get there overdraft fees, but they still take a week to process a check *into* your account.

I like to call it the corporate raping of America, but that’s just me 🙂

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Call me a nut, but I’d guess that Comcast has no system in place to measure every individual user’s bandwidth. My guess is that they do have a system in place that tracks net use such as bittorrent, VOIP, and video streaming services. And those people who do such things “excessively” get clipped by Comcast.

To put it another way, Comcast uses this illusory “cap” merely as a means to get rid of users they no longer want to serve.

The wireless companies are lucky. The “own” their networks so they can limit any service they don’t like. But ISPs such as Comcast are forced by tradition to carry everything the net has to offer, including services that directly compete with their services. This is just their attempt at leveling the playing field.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you are going to make a post about bandwidth meters, perhaps you should research the subject a bit?

As mentioned, Australia has it. Bell in Canada has it. Comcast may have other reasons not to have it, but their issues aren’t a reason for all over ISPs to back away from capping bandwidth.

Sort of like finding one house with a leaky pipe so the rest of us should live without water for the rest of our lives.

Mike, you never cease to amaze me.

thublihnk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Before you write a scathing comment on an article, perhaps you should read it?
There’s plenty of reasons not to cap and meter broadband, what Mike’s saying in this article is that if you’re going to do it you should give something to the consumers of your service to monitor their own usage.
Also, your analogy is flawed because unlike water, a world without capped and metered broadband would be a much brighter place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Man I with Techdirt had a “punch commenter in the face” button (there’s a CwF + RtB feature for you) – especially when the commenter delivers with such snark.

All that is being said is that if you are going to cap usage – you better offer a way to monitor usage. If you are not going to offer a way to monitor – it’s probably a bad idea to cap.

But no – the water companies in your world can cap your water usage, but not offer you a way to know how much water you have used – NICE!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

With various ISPs implementing forms of capped or metered broadband, you would think it would be standard (if not required) that they also provide consumers with the tools to measure their consumption. Otherwise it seems a bit unfair to say you can only use x amount, but you have no way to know when you’ve actually done so. But, it seems that hasn’t really stopped various ISPs.

What didn’t he check? Does Comcast cap bandwidth? Does Comcast offer a bandwith monitor so capped users can see how much bandwith they have used? THAT is the story – not some snarky comeback that is contrary for contrary’s sake.

Luci says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’d be interested in hearing what conclusions you believe he is making and what facts are missing? Comcast meters usage. Comcast does not offer a utility to monitor your own usage. Conclusion: Comcast should offer a utility or not meter usage.

Where am I missing what you’re after? Or are you truly just trolling? I believe the latter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, please read the last sentence:

“that would seem to be yet another reason that ISPs might want to stay away from metered broadband: the cost of developing a system to actually track it.”

It’s wrong on many levels. First, there are plenty of ISPs with metering systems. Second, Mike hates capped internet usage (it goes against his “FREE!” view of the universe), and third, the issues of Comcast should in no way stop other companies from doing what they see as right.

It is a massively overreaching conclusion, one drawn only to support Mike’s large universe view, not to impart any useful information.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I feel weird as I write it, but you and I agree that caps are OK. However, what has Mike written in THIS article that isn’t plainly true?

As the others have written, comcast has a cap, caps should come with a good meter. That’s the bulk of the article, and not even you are debating it. Butchers who charge by the pound should have a scale in the shop…not so radical.

His last sentence is not the crux of his article. Mike is merely tying it onto some ongoing arguments he makes. He says that there appears to be a cost to the project of implementing meters. He then makes the minuscule leap of logic to the fact that this cost counts against any benefits. Why can’t you make that tiny leap?

It’s simple cost/benefit analysis.

There is one blatantly wrong, self-contained falsehood in this thread, and it’s yours:
“Comcast may have other reasons not to have it, but their issues aren’t a reason for all over ISPs to back away from capping bandwidth.”

Well, as a guy who works with telecom carriers, let me assure you that sentence is wrong. Every ISP looks at their competitors to learn lessons. I get paid to help them to it. If Comcast has reasons not to have caps, ALL the other ISPs want to know as much as they can about those reasons, and how they relate to their business. If “a reason not to have it” is found at Comcast, then it usually IS “a reason for all other ISPs to back away”. It won’t be the only factor in their decision, but it will be one.

Do you not know the concept of cost/benefit analysis?

Anonymous Coward says:

They should invest in more streets, than in traffic cops

Makes sense, most T1 CSU/DSU hardware has a screen with statistics on it.

Shouldn’t be hard to implement. But if the broadband companies had to spend $50.00 to replace all the cable modems, DSL modems and similar hardware currently in service, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest that into building out infrastructure?

Jon Bane (profile) says:

Re: They should invest in more streets, than in traffic cops

I used to do BYOM with Comcast and it had a nice counter in it. Further, I have never seen an enterprise networking device that didn’t include the ability to show usage statistics. It is an expected feature in that class of hardware. So there is ZERO reason from a technology standpoint that Comcast couldn’t provide it. Even in the off chance in hell that their equipment doesn’t have simple counters, they are certainly a large enough customer that they could request the functionality to be added in.

The bottom line is, this is about money. Whether it be financing the application to provide the statistics or simply wanting to charge overage fees. There is no reason they can not. Simply, they will or have not.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: They should invest in more streets, than in traffic cops

I think you’re right. Of the two options you list, I think it’s just that putting in a meter solution takes some time, and some money. You have to:

– meter each user
– get that data into a telco-grade database
– develop a real-time database update data feed from meters
– develop systems that trigger actions at certain events like overage
– change marketing
– develop web pages for user self-support
– develop notification systems like email and SMS
– get an SMS partner to deliver messages
– have a call center trained to handle inquiries, remediation
– have a system to implement repercussions, like throttling
– integrate all of this

This is a real project, and not trivial. It costs money, it takes time. It is, however, the kind of things that ISPs, telcos, and MSOs do (in their slow, plodding manner). What is actually more likely to happen is that most of them will carry on stumbling as they are, until a nimble vendor (billing company, throttling company, etc.) sells them on a complete solution. Then they’ll skip to the integration step.

In short, it’s totally doable, it’s not prohibitively expensive, but don’t expect turtles to move like hares.

tim says:

Re: Re:

The thing is, if they are forcing the cap on you, there is no way in hell you should have to pay to get a monitor to make sure you dont go over it. It would be like someone saying ‘you have a huge fuel tank on your car, but it you use more than half of it, you get charged extra fees.’ and then they take the fuel gauge off your car.

The caps themselves are a ridiculous idea, but imposing extra fees/restrictions without letting you know much you have used in the first place should be criminal.

BTW, in Australia, we generally get the option of internet shaping OR excess fees, depending on how much we value the fast speed – is that so in the US as well? or is it only fees?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You offer an analogy that hit home. I have a Honda Superhawk VTR1000. Great bike…no gas meter!! There’s a light that comes on when about 8 miles before empty.

I used to run out of gas ALL the time, then I got cautious and just use the trip odometer, reset each fillup. I now know my range is 120 miles riding + as far as I am willing to walk after that.

A normal gas tank meter gives lots of useful information through all levels in the tank. Honda’s stupid light is almost useless: it tells me, suddenly, that I’m out of gas and desperately need more NOW. And even that light is better than what Comcast offers.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

BTW, you know why, yes?

You ZA people tend to hit a lot of the same sites we Americans hit, served from…America. A very high percentage of your traffic travels overseas.

However, you don’t have a lot of undersea fiber to connect you, so the big ZA ISPs must use satellite to pull in the foreign content. That’s expensive, even with lots of local caching. Your ISPs, thus, can’t offer unlimited because they don’t have unlimited wholesale deals.

And that’s why your caps come with good notification systems, because your ISPs have had some time to develop and integrate it.

Sailingmaster (profile) says:

Comcast doesn't want it's customers to know...

how much bandwidth they’re using. Makes it easier to charge you more money, and lets be real specific here.

Comcast is not interested in providing a service. What Comcast wants is as much money as they can squeeze out of a customer, even if it will cost them that customer’s business.

I know, that doesn’t make any sense. However, there are people who do not have a choice. Outside major metropolitan areas, most small towns have only one choice for cable. DSL may or may not be available. Worse off, in some major cities, collusive agreements between cable providers prevent actual competition between said providers except in areas of new home & commercial construction. Even then, in some areas it’s already been divided up as to who gets what.

At any rate, with what amounts to a hostage market, it should be no surprise that Comcast treats its customers shoddily and fights municipal ISPs tooth and nail.

Microsoft is not the evil empire, it’s Comcast.

AnonCow says:

I called Comcast to find out my month-to-date bandwidth usage and nobody could tell me. After being transferred around, I ended up in their fraud & abuse department. The fraud & abuse group is the team that reviews usage and decides who gets bounced off their network. I was told that it is not done in real-time. They look at traffic reports well after the fact and then decide which customers to shut off.

The solution is simple. The FCC just needs to require that any ISP that caps bandwidth has a real-time tool for customers to check their usage. It’s not really that outrageous of an expectation. Same goes for traffic shaping. If an ISP is going to dump my packets, it should be able to tell me when and which packets are getting dumped.

Kuwi says:

Only 250gigs.

Sucks to be you guys. Nearly every residental non-dial up connection in New Zealand is capped. Mine is capped at 10gigs a month and I pay $2.95 for every gig I go over, which is usually by at least another 10 gig.

250gig cap. You don’t want to know the digusting things I would do to have such a data cap in my life.

Paul-G (profile) says:

You already have a meter

Pop up your router management screen and click a few links. The numbers are normally found in the ADSL connection status pages somewhere.

Admittedly a power outage or device reset loses the numbers. Most users have a reasonably consistent profile over time so it should not be too hard to estimate a general value.

The advantage of this is that it is YOUR meter so you can trust the results.

Mike says:

BW Meters

You can always find free tools online for this sort of thing but remember there is overhead to worry about as well, the 12GB you transfer every couple of days will probably have a bit of overhead on it.

Most Major Canadian ISPs have BW Meters for their customers: Bell, Shaw (I believe), Telus, and Cogeco. The only one that your customer can’t see on their own without jumping through 50 hoops is Rogers.

Give the guy a break, he (or someone he knows) probably got tagged with an over-use charge and couldn’t find out what happened 😛

Yeebok (profile) says:

Do people hit that cap ?

As I’ve stated many times, most people posting as ‘anonymous coward’ or similar are ignored by me and presumably many others.

“despite capping broadband connections at 250 gigs/month”

Poor dears. I have a 35Gb/month cap, and that’s considered large to most people I know near me in Australia. I don’t often go near it but there are times I do.

To keep on topic though, the ISP should provide some form of monitoring tool. My ISP (iiNet) provide a sweet set of tools for managing your account and viewing usage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Meters

Well the smart people would refer to both their own meters *and* the ISP provided meter, thereby gaining the ability to note discrepancies and take action if needed. Including “class action”, if that’s necessary. But the fox guarding the henhouse doesn’t like the idea of a dog guarding the henhouse as well. Then he can’t secretly grab a hen now and then. Unless he can bribe the dog.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Meters

I would always prefer my own meter over theirs. Wouldn’t it be like the fox guarding the hen house using theirs?

Yah, I know a guy who tried that with his electrical power meter. His meter showed that he used a lot less electricity than the power company’s meter, but they still charged him based on their meter. They even replaced the meter a couple of times, but it didn’t make any difference. Long story short: Eventually, they told him they were going to cut him off if he didn’t pay up. Can you imagine that?

vastrightwing (profile) says:

you agree to a fee

Once up on a time, companies produced value: today they resell stuff and charge fees:
Late fees, overdraft fees, insufficient fund fee, maintenance fee, exceeding cap fee, convenience fee, downgrade fee, early termination fee, in activity fee, unpublished phone number fee, check bag fee, print ticket at home fee, restocking fee, fee for including a safe in your hotel room, etc. By the way, in reading this text, you have just agreed to pay me a reading fee of twenty five cents. Thank you!

Ian L (profile) says:

A few corrections

1. Broadband metering, even cable metering on a system identical to Comcast’s, is easy to do and is done right now on many ISPs.
2. How can Comcast easily beter broadband? Push an update to all modems (simple) that enables SNMP and sends the data back to Comcast. Done.
3. In reality, 250GB is just an arbitrary limit that Comcast equates to “a lot of data”. From what I’ve heard/seen, they’re only going to cut a customer off if they’re downloading/uploading enough to congest the network for everyone else. So at that point Comcast has the choice to cut the person off, or upgrade their infrastructure, or make the customer move to a business plan whete a higher payment means Comcast can invest more into their infrastructure.
4. Want to measure your own usage? Grab a router compatible with DD-WRT or tomato, install it and there you go. Any Linksys WRT54-series router (G, G2, GS, GS2) can support the firmware, as can some of their higher-end routers (like my WRT310N) and routers of other manufacturers (for example the Dell TrueMobile 2300 if you can believe that). So you can go ahead and monitor your own usage.

I don’t like caps and overages (or service cutoffs; we don’t have after-overage throttling in the US for wireline carriers) more than the next guy, however people need to get their facts straight. Comcats’s 250GB “soft cap” is to my knowledge the most liberal one in the residential ISP field for companies who do cap usage. If you don’t like the cap, $60 per month will buy you a business-class connection at their lower tier (6/1 or 12/2 depending on the area) and you’re good to go.

I have Comcast in Colorado and it works fine. I use TWC (no caps yet, thankfully) in Texas and it works fine. I use a wireless ISP in Texas, with a 25GB cap…I haven’t hit that cap in a long time since the internet is pretty crappy to begin with. If I had a 250GB cap on the wireless connection, I’d be on a higher speed tier and download more, but they don’t offer that. So I do all my downloading in town, where the tubes are clear…yay adaptation.

Anonymous Coward says:

They Just Don't Want To

Perhaps I’m missing something, but is it really that difficult to measure broadband usage?

The mistake you seem to be making is that of making an unfounded assumption.

You seem to be assuming that because Comcast is not providing the information that it is difficult to do so. Having experience as an engineer in this area, I would say that it would be very easy to do. So, if Comcast isn’t, then I’d say that it’s likely just because they don’t *want* to.

If so, that would seem to be yet another reason that ISPs might want to stay away from metered broadband: the cost of developing a system to actually track it.

That’s a conclusion based your previous faulty assumption of Comcast’s motivations.

Peter (profile) says:

Caps?

Well we have caps here in the Yukon from are only ISP provider and they give us a way to track our usage per month. Let me tell you we do not get anything close to 250 gigs/month cap! Max connection speed is 10Megs, and the monthly cap is 20Gigs/month with 10 dollar charge for every 1 gig you go over. We get to pay 79.95 a month for this privilege.
So be happy with 250Gigs for a monthly cap I say.

http://www.nwtel.ca/personal/internet/cable/cable-ultra/

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