Broadband Customer Gets Cut Off for Overuse

Last week I wrote about the Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force Hearing on Net Neutrality and Free Speech on the Internet. One of the big issues discussed was the fact that ISPs are reducing bandwidth for folks they feel use too much bandwidth.

Several ISPs have been cited for doing this, most notably Comcast. In the hearing the ISPs maintained that they needed to be able to manage their networks to work for everyone. One presenter seemed to note that the real issue was that the super users were generally doing something illegal.

Well today a blog post from someone who had been cut off caught my eye (Clearwire Makes Me Sad). It’s not the first instance I’ve read about – but this blogger (Aaron Huslage) does a good job of describing the facts of his situation. Also he mentions that he worked for an ISP in the 1990s (so I liked him right away) and compares how the ISPs budgeted for customer usage then as compared to how they do it today.

I can remember one issue we had with capacity in the 90s in some rural parts of Minnesota was that people were online a lot more in the winter. So you had to decide whether you’d build for the peak times or for a sunny day in August.

I think the ISPs today need to consider the same today and market accordingly.

This entry was posted in Policy, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

6 thoughts on “Broadband Customer Gets Cut Off for Overuse

  1. Just to clarify, the type of bandwidth reductions you are referring to here do not really have anything to do with the “net neutrality” issue. Net neutrality refers to whether companies like AT&T and Verizon should be able to charge different rates to high-bandwidth users, such as Goggle and YouTube, and whether the different pricing represents some sort of discrimination. What is happening here is that an individual consumer violated Clearwire’s “acceptable access policy” (AAP). That person exceeded some preset monthly limit on bandwidth use leading to either a slowdown or cutting off of service.

    Except for DSL, broadband services are shared-access. The more people online at the same time in a given area, the greater the shortage of available bandwidth and the slower the service becomes at peak hours. Some Internet access technologies start out with inherent bandwidth limitations. The satellite services — HughesNet and WildBlue — have “fair access policies” (FAPs) which are equivalent to Clearwire’s AAP. A new subscriber agrees to the FAP when he/she signs a service contract. But of course many people don’t read the fine print, so satellite Internet blogs and chat rooms usually have plenty of people complaining about being FAP’d without warning. (I think there might be some argument as to whether Comcast has always adequately explained its policy upfront.) Some services offer online access to account information, including bandwidth usage stats.

    An ISP can plan ahead as much as it can, such as by planning for more bandwidth usage in the winter, but you can see how that will get you only so far with nationwide services, especially nationwide satellite services.

  2. I don’t see that charging Google and You Tube different rates is any more discriminatory than reducing or cutting someone off for “overuse”. After all I don’t get cut off for watching too much TV on my satellite service or for making too many local calls on my landline. And, I don’t get to charge my ISP when the speed of my DSL line falls below what is guaranteed or when I can’t access it at all. There should be policies in place to hold the ISP’s accountable to service quality. There should be oversight that ensures they are delivering the actual speeds for the services they offer. And above all no matter how much someone wants to use there should be enough band with available for all subscribers to run at the maximum and that everyone across the country has equal access.

    These are some of the ideas that the Communications Workers Of America are addressing with their project Speed Matters. Check out our website at http://www.speedmatters.org for more information.

  3. We all expect the Internet will get faster. There will be more fiber, 700 MHz wireless network build outs, improved compression systems, and so on. The question always is, who’s going to pay for all of this stuff?

    Under a heavily regulated Internet with net neutrality rules, the companies that own the pipes (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) will pay for it and, depending on how the net neutrality rules are written, they may not have the flexibility to pass those costs on to their highest bandwidth users. They will have to pass it off to individual consumers instead. That will translate into steep increases in monthly access charges and possibly sharp decreases in homes using Internet. Eventually, the people that own the pipes will have no incentive to build more pipes and upgrade them, which could lead to more FAP/AAP problems.

    Under the current rules, if companies like Google have higher overhead, they will have to charge more for their suites of online tools and charge higher rates to their advertisers. A lot of things that now are free or available at nominal cost could go up in price and, therefore, disappear due to lack of consumer interest. Consumers will be able to pick and choose which Google gimmick they want to play with. But at least the market will have decided. Also a few advertisers may decide they are not getting enough attention through their online ad appeals and will employ other marketing strategies. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether a heavily regulated Internet is fairer than this scenario.

    As for the FAP/AAP issue, it has a lot to do with simple contract law and little to do with the future growth and regulation of the overall Internet. For satellite Internet providers and companies like Clearnet, this likely will be an issue for a long time. For companies that have the headroom to increase their capacities by laying more fiber, the issue is almost nonexistent and will remain so as long as they have the incentive and favorable regulatory environment to continue adding capacity.

  4. Like Roger, I think that Net Neutrality goes both ways – focusing on the contact/application providers (such as Google) and the users/surfers. BitTorrent was an application that was mentioned a lot during the Judiciary Meeting. BitTorrent of course kind of blurs the difference between user and content provider. But I think the strength of the Internet is that ability to let everyone become a content provider. We’re seeing more and more of that.

    I don’t have any problem with tiered service – but I think if you sign up for a certain bandwidth that you ought to get that bandwidth. There has to be a better solution than throttling bandwidth or cutting off super users. No one likes to be in a situation where your ISP (or any vendor) points to the small print in the contract. It generally means you’ve crossed the threshold of receiving good service and have entered a realm where you’ll get only what’s legally required from the vendor.

    Another big topic in the Judiciary Meeting was the bandwidth hogs that are doing illegal things online. I think cutting someone off for illegal activity is a different issue.

    I guess from a service perspective I just can’t abide by what some companies have done. But…

    I’m not necessarily for Net Neutrality either for many of the reasons that Randy mentions. The companies that own the pipes are doing the heavy lifting and others are profiting. It’s a pretty thankless position right now. Open access networks can help diffuse the cost of network build out. There may be some other business models that will work as well. Tiered service may be a route that works – but I hope that the tiers will be transparency. So that we know what we’re getting, what we’re not getting, and why.

  5. I am of the opinion that an AAP/FAP is useless if not fully enforced.

    While running a small independently O&O ISP it was critical to enforce our AUP to protect local bandwidth and the Internet access of our entire subscriber base. We were unwilling to allow 1 super user to blacklist our entire IP range by sending out spam, or have the RIAA come down on our IP block because 99% of super user traffic was illegal activity, or whatever illegal activity would brand that user as a threat to our customers’ access’ integrity.

    We had no data transfer cap in our AUP, but we did monitor usage patterns as they directly related to illegal activity (spam, virus, copyright infringement, etc.).

    I have personally disconnected customers for violating the AUP and I will continue to enforce this agreement with our customers. It is to be respected and understood.

    The beauty of this is that there is a choice. Unless you live in Togo, MN of course.

    If you fully intend to be a super user/bandwidth hog you will seek out and find ISPs with “hog-friendly” AUPs and exploit that offering. If you don’t fully intend to be a super user/bandwidth hog, but (like me) become one then you will, at some point, run into AUP issues or develop a thirst for more bandwidth and exercise your option to choose your ISP.

  6. I had a national ISP I loved. They didn’t enforce their spam AUP. They (and many of their innocent clients) ran into problems with blacklisted email because a few of their clients sent spam, tons of it. I no longer use that ISP.

    How a provider handles spam is one of the first things I look at – it’s so hard to save your domain name from the blacklist once it gets there – so I am with Zach on that one.

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