Comcast's Wireless Service Will Charge You More To Stream HD Video

from the arbitrary-constructs dept

A few years back, wireless carriers began flirting with a new idea: throttling all video by default, then charging you additional money if you wanted to view video as actually intended. You’ll probably recall that T-Mobile spearheaded this effort, and wasn’t particularly honest about what it was doing. You might also recall that Sprint began throttling all video to 1.5 Mbps, all games to speeds “up to 2 Mbps” and all music streams to speeds “up to 500 Kbps.” Fortunately for you, you could avoid dealing with this arbitrary restrictions if you were willing to pay Sprint an additional $25 per month:

“This plan provides a premium quality mobile streaming experience with HD streaming videos at up to 1080p+, HD music streaming at up to 1.5 Mbps and streaming gaming at up to 8 Mbps.”

Reddit users note that Comcast is now following suit for its own Xfinity Mobile wireless service. The service leans primarily on Comcast’s network of WiFi hotspots and Verizon’s cellular network, promising users “unlimited” data for $45 per line (plus various fees). As is usually the case in wireless, Comcast’s definition of “unlimited” means around 20 GB, after which your connection is throttled to 1.5 Mbps download and 750 Kbps upload. Now, according to Reddit users, the company has also started throttling video on this service back to 480p, with plans to begin charging you more if you want actual HD:

“To help you conserve data, we’ve established 480p as the standard resolution for streaming video through cellular data. This can help you save money if you pay By the Gig and take longer to reach the 20 GB threshold if you have the Unlimited data option. Later this year, 720p video over cellular data will be available as a fee-based option with your service. In the meantime, you can request it on an interim basis at no charge.

In other words, by “unlimited” Comcast really means 20 GB on a connection incapable of delivering HD video unless you pay more money. As an added, new restriction, Comcast is also now throttling all tethered hotspots on these “unlimited” connections to 600 kbps–unless you sign up for the company’s pay per gigabyte option at a whopping $12 per gigabyte. This is, apparently, Comcast’s version of what it looks like when you try and disrupt and compete with the broader wireless industry.

On its face this isn’t the end of the world. On a small mobile phone screen, the difference between 480p and 720p will likely be unnoticable to many users. It’s the precedent that’s being set that’s more troubling. For one, this continues to be a bastardization of the term “unlimited,” a word the telecom sector has abused for the better part of the last decade without learning any real lessons. And with net neutrality rules now on the cutting room floor, throttling video, music and games (unless you pay more) isn’t too far of a leap from theoretical scenarios like this one:

Again, with a net neutrality court challenge looming, ISPs are going to try and be on their best behavior to avoid providing any ammunition to the opposition. But with anti-competitiveness in their marrow, they’re going to find it irresistible to try and push the envelope when it comes to creative new ways to raise rates on the end user. On the surface many of these efforts may not seem all that terrible, but like the boiling frog metaphor these baby steps will all cumulatively result in a decidedly-unpleasant online experience, and which arbitrary limits and caveats we’re willing to accept is going to matter over the longer haul.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: comcast

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Comcast's Wireless Service Will Charge You More To Stream HD Video”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Too simple, make the poles and wires public property much like how public roads are built. As long as the incumbents cannot block new start ups from offering service we can have some solutions.

Until then… everything it nothing more than lip service to an ideal no one intends on actually doing anything about.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Last mile infrastructure

“Make the poles and wires public property” is a naive way of saying NATIONALIZE PRIVATE PROPERTY. The companies that invested in putting those poles, trenches, vaults, pedestals, conduits, wires, fibers, etc. likely have shareholders who don’t expect you, “Anonymous Coward”, to come along and turn their INVESTMENT into your “public property.”

The solution to a monopoly is not to steal everything from the private sector and give it to the “public” (lol, because “public” really means the government, not the people) but to foster the creation of competition.

o Allow other companies to use the poles, paying a fair and market price to do so
o Allow other companies to ride the wires (this was done in the late 90s/early 00s and was called Unbundled Network Element) for a fair and market price. This is what propelled DSL companies that had no last-mile wiring to success (Covad, Northpoint, and others)

Competition is the key to making a successful consumer win in a free market. Nationalizing property is 180 degrees the wrong way.


Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

On the contrary. The rules that took effect in 2015 instantly ended some petty disputes regarding interconnection.

Netflix had been in a battle with Verizon that involved it PAYING for the equipment that would solve the connectivity woes Verizon customers were suffering when using it (and other services, there were problems with online games as well for instance). At the time the equipment cost 25k USD and acquiring it would make it better for Verizon customers to use any service including Netflix. Verizon was dragging its collective feet while breathlessly arguing that they needed to impose throttling and caps because Netflix users were gobbling up so much capacity.

When the rules went into effect and could be enforced the dispute suddenly solved itself. So yeas, the monopoly can be controlled. And since dismantling it is kind of hard because it’s a natural monopoly Wheeler took the right path into controlling them. Exactly what Pai is dismantling.

Of course you’ll never admit you are full of shit but facts are facts, deal with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

NN, does nothing to dismantle the monopoly… only control it just as I stated. You support NN.

I am correct on a factual level no matter how you slice the pie. Whether NN benefits the customer or not is a non-sequitor to my comment.

As long as you do nothing about the 800 pound gorilla that is the monopolies in the room then you are doing nothing more than weak sauce attacks on the problem itself, which is not exactly a surprise given how easy it is to keep you fooled.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You will get nowhere while you insist on tackling the monopoly problem, if you do not work to do something about the corruption of the politicians which you do not trust. It is the politicians who will have to enact the necessary laws and regulations, and if they let Net Neutrality slip way, what hope of them controlling or ending a monopoly with stronger laws.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“NN, does nothing to dismantle the monopoly… only control it just as I stated. You support NN.”

Yes. Because it’s a fucking natural monopoly. Laying new infra-structure is expensive enough that you don’t see anybody trying their luck there and even when the deep pocketed try to they face another face of the problem that needs to be tackled which is the regulatory capture (which has nothing to do with the regulations put in place in 2015 by the way).

Sure you have to deal with the monopoly and for that you need to combat such regulatory capture but you can also rein them in with regulations. We have a strictly regulated environment in Europe and it works wonders. Another way is going with municipal broadband because the government has enough money to deal with the steep capital costs and there are multiple success cases out there. Of course you also need to dismantle some regulatory capture in some places as well. But again, it’s an effort that doesn’t invalidate the need for good NN rules.

You are hopeless. Please enlighten us on how to dismantle this monopoly. Multiple people have asked and you simply don’t answer. I suspect you can’t answer that so it’s easier to avoid the question, right? The best I’ve seen from you were incoherent babbling on how wise you are because regulations are bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

How do they know?

What video service isn’t encrypted these days? Are they just guessing someone’s watching HD video based on the target IP and the bandwidth used? If so, a VPN would be a workaround; and the services could eventually rearrange their networks to prevent detection (Ex: Google could serve Youtube video from the same domain/IP as large software updates).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How do they know?

They could probably determine if it’s video pretty easily by seeing how it responds to throttling: if it’s a file, it’ll take up whatever bandwidth you give it, but most video streaming services will lower the quality to match the available bitrate, which could cause a measurable change in the rate of the data being streamed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: advert

“It’s not parody, it is prediction based on what the ISPs are actually doing.”

Where are they actually doing this? I haven’t seen any actual ISP charging for different websites.

Sure, they may want/need to charge more for certain kinds of service, but then, why should a person (such as my 90+ year old parents) who only looks at websites (which require a very simple connections) pay the same as the people who want streaming connections, which are more expensive to manage?

I don’t have a problem with charging more for different types of service. To me, the biggest problem is calling it “unlimited” when it’s really not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 advert

By far the biggest cost in networks is the wires and fibers running all over the country. Also, the cost of power for electronics does not change very much between idle links and those running at full capacity. Also, the big streaming services use CDNs, their own or other peoples, to provide the data at city an town level, so streaming has a limited impact on backbone capacity.

So it makes little difference whether the user is an occasional user or a heavy user.

As for charging for different websites, what do you think all this zero rating is about? It gives the ISPs content service an advantage, and can be used as a lever to extract money from the Likes of Netflix if they want the delivery of streams to be such that they can keep their customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 advert

By far, the biggest cost is the people to manage and maintain the infrastructure.

Streaming requires a constant connection, which requires much more overhead to manage, provide resilience, routing, etc.

And I ask again, where are ISPs charging a different cost to visit one web page over another? That’s what this parody is implying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 advert

Almost all Internet connections these days are persistent, or hadn’t you noticed that little fact.

And I ask again, where are ISPs charging a different cost to visit one web page over another?

Note that allowing some streams not to count towards a data cap, while others do is limiting the use of some sites unless a person pays heavily for overage charges. It also demonstrates that capacity is not the problem, while cord cutting and subscribing to streams where the ISP does not make the content providers profit is a problem to the ISP.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 advert

http/s and smtp connections are most certainly not persistent, at least not in the same sense as, say, a database or streaming connection.

If loading a network packet for an email message or web page takes 10 seconds, it’s annoying but not a deal breaker. If streaming packets are delayed by 1/100th of a second, it starts becoming an issue. That’s huge orders of magnitude that must be monitored & managed differently, different skill sets, etc.

“Note that allowing some streams not to count towards a data cap, while others do is limiting the use of some sites unless a person pays heavily for overage charges. “

Again, you’re confusing streaming with other connection types. I specifically said web pages, and you mention streams.

Also, your statement that this “demonstrates capacity isn’t a problem” is a conclusion not supported by the facts you’ve presented. Pricing of traffic is one method to manage demand, and is, in fact, one of the methods to manage capacity. It’s used in many different fields for capacity management – for example, back in the POTS/home phone days, certain phone calls were more expensive during the day than at night. Even wireless companies charged different fees during high demand times than lower demand times.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Lock in your price for 12 months

What price is that? The advertised price, plus whatever ‘additional charges’ you can think up? Sorry, but our administrative fees are costing us some profit, so we are gonna charge you to administer your account, starting at $5.00 per month, which will increase by $1.00 per month until someone tells us we can’t do that anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

i said this yesterday in the comment about AT&T. when is there going to be some backlash against these ISPs and against the politicians who failed to stop Pai doing what he has, screwing the people on behalf of the companies? everyone knew what was going to happen and everyone said what was going to happen. only Pai and the government ignored the comments, saying that there wouldn’t be anything untoward happen, that the repeal of net neutrality was covered and look what has happened! all within a few days!! lies, lies and more lies!!

I.T. Guy says:

Its amazing. They go to great lengths telling you how fast, great, and reliable their networks are then go to even grater lengths to make sure nobody uses it.

Honestly I am ready to go back to a flip phone. Sure I want to use all my data but the task of monitoring/worrying about it makes the whole experience not worth it and “unlimited” plans are still to expensive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Comcast Wireless

In my experience, very few understand this and even fewer understand they are allowed to own their own hardware with no fees.

They complain about how slow their wifi is during the evening hours. When they call into Comcast, Cocmast tries to fix it by upping their price tier.

It took some explaining by a few users on our neighborhood group that Comcast was letting too many simultaneous connected devices onto their router, slowing everything down. When they switched to a cheap router they bought off of Amazon, suddenly their speed jumped significantly.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Question: is network bandwidth unlimited or not?

“Question: is network bandwidth unlimited or not?”

Question: are you overselling your capacity? Are you engaging in false advertisement when selling a determined speed? Are you lying? (By you I mean Comcast).

If you have a congestion problem then throttle everybody. And clearly state it when selling further.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Broadband service providers are a subset of ISPs

There’s a difference between the minority of those who provide Internet service — the Broadband ISPs, and the rest of us.

ISPs are EVERY SINGLE INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER, a majority of which favor net neutrality, work hard to establish industry standards, and have a positive reputation in the community. is one of the prime examples of such. My company in Arizona is another.

Broadband providers of Internet Service like Comcast, Cox, AT&T, Charter, are those who work hard to lobby Congress and the FCC to remove restrictions, don’t understand unlimited, and lie artfully in every filing.

If you are going to chastise Comcast for not understanding the word “unlimited” please apply the same to yourself for not understanding “ISP” and applying your comments to “ISPs” when you mean Broadband (or cable) providers.

Ehud Gavron
(And yes, I support net neutrality, settlment-free peering, unlimited means unmetered+unfiltered+unlimited etc. and by “support” I mean we do it and we don’t charge for it!!!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Broadband service providers are a subset of ISPs

There were a lot of little guys in favor of dropping Title II as well. For example the WISPa stance:

Now I know every member in WISPa was not in support of this move, but I also know some very vocal members that supported it as well.

My hope is when the lawsuits start rolling out, we’ll find out exactly who is screwing their customers and I hope it isn’t just a slap on the wrist this time. I’m out of the broadband/ISP business now and run a few colocation buildings now, but I understand where you are coming from. Not every ISP is horrible, but the barrier to entry is so high in most areas that it’s usually just 1 or 2 choices at most and usually that’s been the Telco and a legacy CableCo which are apart of the companies you named.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Broadband service providers are a subset of ISPs

If you are going to chastise Comcast for not understanding the word "unlimited" please apply the same to yourself for not understanding "ISP" and applying your comments to "ISPs" when you mean Broadband (or cable) providers.

The distinction here is… what, exactly? That DSL (used by is technically baseband? But then we’re not even talking about cable providers, we’re talking about wireless providers (admittedly, they’ve tried quite hard not to have their products confused with "real" internet connections). So, by what definition is AT&T a "Broadband" provider but Sonic isn’t?

Maybe it would be more useful to call them the American internet service cartel/oligopoly, if that’s what we mean. Or incumbents, or giant ISPs.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Broadband service providers are a subset of ISPs

DSL is broadband (, but that’s of no consequence to my point.

When TechDirt says “ISPs do this REALLY BAD BEHAVIOR” he paints all Internet Service Providers with this broad brush. What should be done is to only paint the “Bad Guys”, those being part of the duopoly of Telco+CATV providers.

Similarly ILEC doesn’t include the CATV provider, and “giant ISPs” include lots of companies that have a huge geo-footprint and yet aren’t part of that Telco+CATV duopoly.

Precise language is generally important when reporting on news, exhorting people to action, and seeking to achieve education of the reader and enlightenment with an end to action.

To that end, so long as there is a distinction between the tens of thousands of ISPs and the less than 100 Telco+CATV Broadband Providers, it is worth making the distinction.

P.S. AT&T is a broadband provider by nature of having charters and custom agreements with municipalities giving them a monopoly on their service in that area. Sonic builds its own infrastructure to compete with the existing T+C brands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Broadband service providers are a subset of ISPs

Precise language is generally important

So, what are you proposing as the term to use? "Bad guys"? "Duopoly"? Certainly not "broadband providers", which would include Sonic and perhaps your company (linguistic precision demands you don’t assign a meaning contrary to the normally-understood one—which for "broadband" is approximated by the FCC’s definition).

BTW, don’t confuse "incumbent", an ordinary English word, with "ILEC", a precise telephone company term.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is this the 'Idiot in a hurry' test as applied to articles?

When TechDirt says "ISPs do this REALLY BAD BEHAVIOR" he paints all Internet Service Providers with this broad brush. What should be done is to only paint the "Bad Guys", those being part of the duopoly of Telco+CATV providers.

I’m pretty sure the only one getting confused by that is you, with most people understanding that when an article comes out slamming ISP’s by name for dodgy behavior it doesn’t mean every ISP in general, no exceptions. The article was providing the names of the ISP’s in question right until the end, I rather doubt many people are going to make the jump from ‘specific ISP’s’ to ‘every ISP ever’ just because it didn’t name them every single time.

The companies listed are ISP’s(regardless of what else they might be in addition to that), and they are doing those things. You say yours doesn’t? Great, then the article wasn’t talking about you.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Is this the 'Idiot in a hurry' test as applied to articles?

I’m pretty sure…
> most people understanding…
> I rather doubt…

Thanks for sharing YOUR opinion about what you are sure about, what you doubt, and your characterization of the rest of the opinions of the reading populace.

Thank you for putting your name to your opinions 🙂


Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Like for like

I didn’t see any “points raised” that weren’t just your opinions. There were two factual statements that are inarguable (ISPs listed by name; companies listed also perform ISP functions, etc.) and that’s it.

So, no, I don’t think a debate on opinions will yield much. Effectively you’re ok with Karl calling out all ISPs but then naming a few and think that’s ok, and I don’t.

If only Congress could have multiple opinions and a civil discourse.


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Like for like

Effectively you’re ok with Karl calling out all ISPs but then naming a few and think that’s ok, and I don’t.

Yes, I am okay with that, because I place more value on the intelligence of those reading the articles than you seem to.

While I grant that it’s possible that a minority may read articles like this and jump to ‘all ISP’s will do this’, I expect most will see the myriad of examples where specific ISPs are named and their actions listed and understand that those ISPs are the ones being discussed on the occasion that a name isn’t specifically provided.

Anonymous Coward says:

assumptions and assholes

This article assumes no vpn use…which is why I assume it’s an advertisement.

What are speeds like when you minimize their spying on you?
…and what the hell is wrong with TD for not even questioning that? DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ANYONE WHO CHOOSES TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVACY SHOULD BE THE TOPIC. Are a significant portion of TD readers so technically incompetent and ill-informed as to NOT be using a VPN? Jeaze, whose fault is that? Who’s the asshole here? Me? Sure maybe, but am I the only one?

This genuinely comes off as advertising to me- doesn’t matter how much you criticize, your listing product offerings- and failing to even mention the most important thing- that the only way they are able to throttle is by spying so they know WHAT/HOW to throttle…

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...