Comcast has rolled out faster Internet speeds (in one market) and they actually didn’t raise rates to do it! The people responded by… downgrading their service to save a buck. There has been some anger directed towards Comcast and others that they have failed to upgrade their networks. Well, in some markets at least (including my current market), they actually have been working to trot out faster services.

Part of me thinks it somewhat tragic that they (apparently) aren’t being rewarded for their efforts. The other part of me questions how much of this is their own doing. As ridiculously generous as their 250GB cap is, I can’t help but wonder if they’re making some people afraid to upgrade too fast. When I heard about the Zaulem Sound’s impending upgrade, I commented that this will allow people to reach their cap all that much sooner! A slight exaggeration since a 250GB cap is still out of reach for most people, but upgrading at least provides the illusion of yet another thing to worry about if they want to upgrade.

That brings me to one of the problems I had with the caps in the first place. Cell phone usage exploded right about the time people were getting enough minutes that they didn’t have to count minutes. Back before that point, people didn’t want to pay a monthly fee and then have to worry about going over and paying a substantial per-minute fee. The limits still exist, but it’s more than most people use. Of course, Comcast’s limits are also over what most people use, but people (including tech people like me) really don’t know how much bandwidth we use. Plus, the penalty for going over on Comcast isn’t paying extra, it’s losing service.

Of course, if Comcast (and other providers) are losing money on a certain class of customer, they have the right to establish whatever limits they see fit so long as they are transparent about it. I can’t help but wonder, however, if a better tactic would be to try to get these people to simply start paying more. The kinds of people that swap a lot of data are also the kinds of people that would consider signing up for Comcast’s Ultra and Extreme Plans. Yes, giving these people faster access could result in them swapping more files, but I’d have to think that there is a natural limit. And I think that imposing these limits and essentially telling them that their patronage is not welcome is a good way to make people wary about paying for faster access.

If subscribers both on the lightest and heaviest plans are similarly limited to 250GB, there is at least the perception that there is limited benefit in upgrading. That perception isn’t entirely rational since few users will even come close to reaching 205GB, but… what value is there in it? You can’t download more. There is still no guarantee that the connection will be faster when you need it to be (ie you’re still at the mercy of overall network speeds). Your connection won’t necessarily be any more reliable. The best advantage to higher caps are for people that intend to download large amounts of data. And those people aren’t welcome.

Time Warner, on the other hand, continues to pursue tiered pricing based on bandwidth. I still see the same problem here as with the old cell phones. You arguably want people to become more rather than less reliant on your product. That’s less likely to happen if people are having to monitor their usage closely. Time-Warner isn’t cutting off high-end users like Comcast, but they’re placing the usage on the tiers absurdly low.

Also worth mentioning, of course, are that both Comcast and Time-Warner are firstly cable companies and both have reasons to be concerned about streaming video cutting into their business. So if people become more broadband-reliant they might gain in one area but lose in another. The pool of potential customers in the US is also dwindling as so many have already made the transition. So if they’re going to be content to lose business as cable providers for the Internet, they’re going to have to make their money by either (a) focusing on the most profitable customers or (b) find ways to get more enthusiastic customers to be willing to pay for more.

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6 Responses to Pitching To Ditched Customers

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    That perception isn’t entirely rational since few users will even come close to reaching 205GB, but… what value is there in it? You can’t download more. There is still no guarantee that the connection will be faster when you need it to be (ie you’re still at the mercy of overall network speeds).

    There’s certainly some value in it. I don’t download anywhere near 250GB per month, but I would like the files I do download to transfer faster than they currently do. True, you’re not guaranteed the max bandwidth all the time, but I assume that downloads from robust servers must be significantly faster under a 50 Mbps plan than under a 10 (or whatever) Mbps plan most of the time.

    If not, then yeah, there’s literally no value because there’s no practical difference between the two, but I’d be surprised if that were the case. I think Comcast would be exposing themselves to a pretty solid false advertising charge if they actually did this, and I don’t think they’re that stupid.

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    To clarify, my primary concern is latency, not monthly throughput. I don’t want to download more; I just want to shorten the amount of time between deciding that I want a particular file and actually having it on my camputer.

  3. trumwill says:

    I think Comcast would be exposing themselves to a pretty solid false advertising charge if they actually did this,

    I’m not sure that they would be. They’d still be faster outside of peak hours. Even though you couldn’t watch a YouTube at 5:45pm, you could still download OpenOffice at n-times the speed at 8:45. That sort of thing. It would have value, but not in the way that most people use it.

    You’re probably right, though, that it’s going to be fast-er during those times, but it still may not be fast enough. Fast enough more of the time on the whole, but not necessarily fast enough when you need it (if it’s when everybody else needs it).

  4. john says:

    I’m guessing that the reason they don’t offer “Extreme” or “Ultra” plans is that a lot of the people who would take advantage of those plans are illegal file-traffickers. They don’t want to be seen as promoting piracy, but they don’t want to actually deal with it either. It’s easier to sweep it under the rug when people are lumped together more broadly. Just speculation, though.

  5. web says:

    “Bandwidth” is a lousy measurement for internet access, because it doesn’t exist in the way they usually describe it. It’s a momentary function of the capacity of the equipment, nothing more.

    What they should be required to sell, in my opinion, is a guaranteed minimum speed (and equivalent 1:1 up/down ratio thereby, since no modern equipment is non-duplexing). If you get more? Great, good for you. The fact that they have been getting away with advertising the faked “up to X maximum” (in essence, selling what they can’t deliver) is where most of the false advertising lies already.


    the actual problem (for comcrap/timewarner/etc in particular) is that internet video has begun to be “good enough” (and conversely, cable TV boring enough) that some people are dropping their cable services altogether. Their response hasn’t been to make their TV service better or more worthwhile, but to try to kill off the competitors. First they tried the “you should pay for access to customers” model, trying to shake down (for example) google/youtube. Then they wanted to set up “tiered access” models similarly.

    When the FCC knocked both of those ideas down (rightly so on antitrust reasoning), they went for the latest idea – keep the cable service crappy enough that people are forced to (for instance) pay to rent a DVR rather than watching their show off of Hulu/Boxee/etc.

    It’s about vertical integration, which has always been horrible for the consumer.

  6. trumwill says:


    I wasn’t clear, I guess. They do offer those packages. They just can’t get people to sign up for them. But yeah, that may well be a reason why they don’t lift the ban on people willing to pay a lot more. People that currently use over 250GB are very likely doing something that they shouldn’t (either file-trafficking or doing business of a “residential” account). However, people that fear that they might do over 250GB in a single month covers a considerably larger group, even if that fear is illegitimate most of the time.


    I don’t think that it’s part of an aggressive plan to keep Internet service crappy. They’re expanding capacity and speed all of the time. I think that the contrary motivations come into play when it comes to doing so at a slower pace than they otherwise might. The fact that when they do upgrade service that people respond by downgrading to a cheaper plan also offers up another (non-conspiratorial) version why they are less than enthusiastic about giving people faster service. People aren’t willing to pay for it.

    I would definitely like a “guaranteed minimum” plan. I’d pay extra for that, for sure. But I think that it’s one of those things that’s only possible with an absurd amount of excess capacity given that people use the internet at such common times.

    A lot of this would be less an issue if more multimedia sites didn’t require a constant connection. I realize that there is DRM and whatnot at sake, but I wish that I could temporarily download something from Hulu at midnight the night before, watching it whenever I want the next day without fear of peak usage, then have it disappear off my HD. I’d even download a special player that wouldn’t let me fast-forward through commercials if they did that.

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