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[ NNSquad ] Re: Do the Happy Dance people...

Hi Nick,

Great, thoughtful message!

I've been bouncing around the pros and cons of this over the past two days,
and I've come to conclusions that are not easily said in the bumper-sticker
terms we all seem to like.

Comcast first started this across-the-board threatening and disconnection of
higher-bandwidth users 5 years ago, based on their TOS provision against
someone using the service in a way that negatively impacted it. The trouble
is, they were using the bandwidth amount without ever showing a negative
impact -- they simply rationalized that someone who was using over *(insert
some undisclosed number)* that they simply *must* be causing an undue
impact.  That undisclosed number became known as the "invisible cap" because
it was a "defacto" cap and remained absolutely undisclosed except through
making the same hard-to-read inference to that "impact" part of Comcast's

Now, 5 years later, we have a number.  Good? No, that wasn't the problem!
They just made their service worse. They're still not proving that the users
that they are kicking off the service have caused any negative impact.
Instead, they've disclosed a number used in executing this lazy method.  By
doing so, they have now limited a previously unlimited service.  But in a
very Comcastic way, they also talk out of the other side of their mouth and
say that nothing has changed.  They won't warn anyone or cut them off unless
they're exceeding 250 GB and are one of the "top users" (a threshold that
they don't define).  If one had a suspicious mind, one might wonder if this
is to disarm any claim of bait-and-switch by both being able to disclose a
limit yet also be able to claim that there isn't a limit since they're
grading on a curve.

The customer anger you are sensing is drawn by Comcast's past handling of
its other controversies, the continuing stubborn positioning by Comcast
today, and frustration for the lack of any ability for customers to vote
with their feet.  Broadband is, for many, is not a very optional service.
Asked whether they'd give up TV or Internet if forced, most people choose to
lose TV.  The emotion expressed by people over the last few days have been
much more dramatic than I ever imagined.

Lest that has distracted you, I remind you that this whole thing was
supposed to be about whether one subcriber is impacting the network  The
Invisible Cap -- the heuristic way that Comcast was using as a substitute to
identifying and fixing network interference between customers -- became a
prophesy.  Rather than stop the practice of using bald bandwidth
consumption, Comcast decided to fulfill the prophesy!

So NO, the 250 GB is actually neither good nor necessary.  The better choice
would have been to stop the practice of using bandwidth consumption measures
as a substitute for detecting and resolving user-to-user impacts.

But since Comcast has chosen to keep doing this (which essentially reveals
and ends years of Comcast's Invisible Cap), then it is at least fairer to
disclose a number useful for customers and to have one one high enough to
challenge other brothers in their monopoly-style Cable family.

With some shade of caution, I generally share your view that 250 GB isn't
actually anti-competitive for today's services.  My concern is that the cap
will be a cap on progress and innovation.  The go/no-go decisions for
high-bandwidth entertainment projects that will emerge a year or two down
the road are being made today, and we have no commitment from Comcast that
they'll increase that 250 GB number to stay in step with typical annual
individual consumption growths somewhere in the 35%-40%.  And finally, there
is the fear-based psychological behavior people exhibit when faced any
choice between a metered service or an unmetered one.  Will they continue to
stream their movies from Netflix, not being sure how close they are to
Comcast's limit (and also having no way to accurately check) -- and if not
from Netflix, will they instead buy it from their Comcast OnDemand service
that doesn't fall under the bandwidth cap?

"So what?" you might say,  "Comcast doesn't have to satisfy everyone,
they're not responsible for people's fears, and the fact that Comcast is a
monopoly in its markets mostly isn't their fault."  All true -- but millions
of people still need an clear answer, and Comcast's incidental monopoly
power still needs oversight.  If this was a true free market with plenty of
choice, then I'd say that Comcast doesn't need to care about anybody's
concerns.  It can live or die on its decisions and nobody would care.  But
because Comcast is a monopoly player, and is the leader of its Cable family,
what this one company does affects a nation of people.

Thanks again, Nick!

Robb Topolski

   [ By the way, the proviso about being over 250 GB and one of the
     top users is a bit amusing.  Comcast has seemingly already
     explicitly defined users over 250 GB as being the top users.
     So it appears likely that anyone going over 250 is going to find
     themselves in that category.  Well, unless someone else manages
     to hit a terabyte or something.  Ahem, I wonder if that would
     be enough to push 250 down below the "top users" threshold?

        -- Lauren Weinstein
           NNSquad Moderator ]

On Sat, Aug 30, 2008 at 7:09 AM, Nick Weaver <nweaver@gmail.com> wrote:

> When you get an ISP to implement a policy that is transparent,
> neutral, and only has anticompetitive effects where the bandwidth
> needed for 8 hours a day of HD content is considered insufficient [1],
> you should be doing a major happy dance.
> Yet the response that this is some evil plot by Comcast is ridiculous.
> If Comcast was interested in building a policy that IS
> anticompetitive, the solution would be simple:  A soft cap at 50 GB,
> and $1/GB beyond that.  Voila: that WOULD kill video over the net.
> Easy.  Signed, sealed, and delivered.
> And if your reaction to a benign policy like Comcast's is as stern as
> your reaction to a true anticompetitive policy, they are just going to
> write you off: "if you are going to do the time, might as well do the
> crime."
> All the other cable ISPs and wanna-be-cable company ISPs are going to
> look at your reaction and go "these guys can't be reasoned with.  They
> can't be satisfied.  So since they will always be angry, who cares
> what they think?"
> It makes your arguments far easier to counter when you can be painted
> as extremists.
> So do the happy dance!  The network neutrality types got an almost
> pure victory in this case.  You WON this battle.
> Don't go turning a tactical victory into a strategic defeat by failing
> to acknowledge your victory.
> [1] HD today, 720P, is 2.5 Mbps over Hulu.  As Hulu is the biggest
> player in the HD game, this should be taken as a reasonable amount for
> what HD content really costs for Internet delivery.  8 hours a day is
> a LOT of HDTV.
>  [ Today's 2.5 Mbps streaming Hulu is not (as far as I'm concerned)
>    true HD quality vis-a-vis broadcast HD.  Nor should subscribers
>    be constrained to real-time streaming rates when an obviously
>    more powerful model is faster-than-real-time delivery of very
>    high quality content to local staging (e.g. local disk)
>    facilities.  Not only does local staging allow for a more
>    responsive interface, but permits off-peak transfers to be
>    handled in a much more effective manner.  Off peak transfers are
>    available to be viewed at the consumer's convenience (during
>    prime time, if desired) without adding to peak traffic loads).
>    If ISPs should decide -- as per your speculation -- that they
>    can just "ignore" the analysis of those who question various of
>    their (often proprietary) network management decisions, they do
>    so at an ever increasing peril of additional and continuing
>    regulatory and legislative interventions.
>       -- Lauren Weinstein
>          NNSquad Moderator ]

Robb Topolski (robb@funchords.com)
Hillsboro, Oregon USA