Prior to setting a cap on the amount of bandwidth a high-volume customer could use before having service terminated, Comcast instead cut off a set number of users regardless of how much bandwidth they used, according to documents released by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.
Comcast announced at the end of August that it would impose the 250 GB usage cap on subscribers that had been hinted at for weeks. The cap, which takes effect Oct. 1, appears to cover uploaded material and downloads, given that Comcast’s example included the number of digital photos that could be uploaded.
In announcing the cap on its Web site, Comcast said: “We've listened to feedback from our customers who asked that we provide a specific threshold for data usage and this would help them understand the amount of usage that would qualify as excessive.” Comcast made its announcement on Aug. 28, and the stories about the cap appeared that day and for the next couple of days following.
What Comcast didn’t mention, however, was that it had reached a settlement with McCollum’s Economic Crimes Bureau to pay $150,000 to the state to resolve “concerns over disclosure issues related to bandwidth use policies,” according to an Aug. 29 news release issued by the McCollum’s office. The settlement was the result of a state investigation of Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in which Comcast “allegedly did not inform consumers of a specific bandwidth limit” for customers to be notified of “excessive use, which could lead to a customer being kicked off the service.
The actual settlement document shows that instead of cutting off heavy users of the service according to a specific amount of bandwidth used, Comcast instead cut off the top 1,000 users out of Comcast's 14.4 million customer base (about .007 percent of subscribers), regardless of how much they used.
According to the settlement, “Pursuant to the AUP, as currently applied, each month the top 1,000 bandwidth users out of Comcast’s entire customer base of approximately 14.4 million subscribers (i.e., approximately .007% of subscribers) receive a direct, personal notification from Comcast by telephone that they are violating Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy, because of their excessive use of bandwidth.”
When consumers asked Comcast to specify a cap on usage, “Comcast did not provide consumers with a specific bandwidth usage limit, stating that the consumers’ service would be at risk if they remained among the top 1,000 bandwidth users and directing them to the AUP and frequently asked questions explaining the AUP’s excessive use policy,” according to the settlement document.
That wasn’t good enough, as the Attorney General said that “a ‘top 1,000’ criteria, as previously applied, did not clearly and conspicuously disclose to the consumer the specific amount of bandwidth deemed to be excessive under Comcast’s subscriber agreements.”
The agreement gave Comcast the right to set the limit for “excessive bandwidth usage” by the beginning of 2009 and to spell out more clearly the terms under which customers could have their service terminated. The agreement also required that Comcast not use the term “unlimited” to advertise its high-speed Internet service as long as Comcast reserves the right to terminate user service for using too much bandwidth and without a “clear and conspicuous disclosure in close proximity to the term ‘unlimited’ of any applicable qualifications” of the use of the word.
Nothing in the agreement document indicates how much bandwidth the top 1,000 customers actually used, which could be a gauge to determine how appropriate the new 250 GB cap is.
According to one posting on DSL Reports, customers with 400 GB of usage were cut off. If that is within the ball park, the 250 GB cap might be seen as lower than necessary for Comcast's network management while being seen as an inhibiting factor for customers.