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.


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 10:40am

    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.

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