<font size="3">Putting a lid on broadband use </font>
Earlier this month, a Philadelphia Comcast broadband subscriber got a letter from his service provider, telling him he'd been using the Internet too much. Keith, who asked to keep his full name private, said he'd subscribed to the service for four years and never had a complaint before. Now he was being labeled a network "abuser."
Worse, he said, Comcast refused to tell him how much downloading was allowed under his contract. A customer service representative had told him there was no specific cap, he said, adding that he might avoid being suspended if he cut his bandwidth usage in half. But even then, the lack of a hard number gave Keith no guarantee.
"I don't mind restrictions, but how can Comcast expect users to stick to a limit when they don't say what the limit is?" he said. "If they're going to impose limits, that's one thing, but at least tell us what they are."
Keith isn't alone in his newfound position under the Internet service provider (ISP) microscope. Other high-volume Comcast subscribers have been getting letters since late summer warning them of overuse. A few others have even had their service suspended after the first warning. Comcast spokeswoman Sarah Eder said that its new enforcement policy was barely two months old.
As Keith and other frustrated users found, the company's warnings to subscribers were not triggered by any "predetermined bandwidth usage threshold," Eder added. Only about 1 percent of subscribers received letters, which were based on having exceeded average usage patterns rather than a specific number, she said.
For now, this quiet imposition of usage caps affects only a tiny fraction of extraordinarily high-volume users. But it goes to the heart of the competitive decisions cable and telephone companies are making as they struggle for broadband dominance. Comcast in particular is working to provide ever-increasing download speeds , and as result it is struggling to contain busy file swappers and others who are putting stress on their networks.
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