Do data caps during a pandemic make the case for symmetrical broadband?

Doug Dawson writes from the frontlines with a lot of engineering expertise in his back pocket and an eye toward how policy helps of hinders the end customer. Yesterday he took at look at data caps in the cable industry

During the pandemic, it’s been reported that millions of households nationwide have upgraded to more expensive broadband products in order to get an upload data path that will work. In the case of Mediacom, subscribing to a gigabit broadband product comes with a 50 Mbps upload speed – a speed that ought to be sufficient to support people working from home. But now the company is punishing customers that pay more for the extra speed and then try to use what they’ve purchased.

This is the kind of ISP behavior that cries out for broadband regulation. If the FCC regulated broadband, it could step in and tell Mediacom to stop this anti-customer behavior. This is a company that undoubtedly accepted a lot of upgrade orders from customers wanting faster broadband during the pandemic and then turned around and told those same customers they couldn’t use what the extra fees had purchased.

Mediacom could offer faster upload speeds but has decided not to. I have no doubt that Mediacom is still using the upload technology that came with DOCSIS 3.0 from 2006. That technology deploys upload bandwidth in the band of frequency inside the cable transmission between 5 MHz and 42 MHz. This is a relatively small band of frequency and doesn’t support much bandwidth. It’s also the noisiest frequency inside of a cable network and is subject to a lot of ambient interference.

Since Mediacom is offering gigabit broadband it means it upgraded the download path to DOCSIS 3.1. But the company clearly elected to not upgrade the upload bandwidth speeds. DOCSIS 3.1 allows for using what is labeled as a mid-split option to enable frequency as high as 204 MHz to be used for better upload speeds.

Maybe the Minnesota Broadband Task Force should add data caps to their discussion on speed goals. There are two barriers that matter to the end customer: do I have access and can I afford it? Data caps can make using broadband less affordable with the added worry of unpredictability. Anyone of a certain age with remember cost-per-minute of AOL internet connections or even metered long distance phone calls. It hinders use.

This entry was posted in Cable, Digital Divide, 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s