Watchdog Group Requests FCC Examine AT&T, Comcast Broadband Caps

In a development that's glad news for any AT&T customer stuck with the company's new 150GB broadband cap, the New America Foundation and the Public Knowledge group have jointly asked the FCC to examine data caps. While they admit that such caps are not prima facie evidence of monopolistic abuse, they note: "they [broadband caps] carry the omnipresent temptation to act in an anticompetitive and monopolistic ways. Unless they are clearly and transparently justified to address legitimate network capacity concerns, caps can work directly against the promise of broadband access."

AT&T comes under particular fire. "Unlike competitors, whose caps appear to be at least nominally linked to congestions during peak-use periods, AT&T seeks to convert caps into a profit center by charging additional fees to customers who exceed the cap. In addition to concerns raised by broadband caps generally, such a practice produces a perverse incentive for AT&T to avoid raising its cap even as its own capacity expands. (emphasis original).

The letter raises further irregularities in AT&T's billing, including questioning why AT&T's limits are 100GB lower than Comcast's (introduced two years ago) and why AT&T has seen fit to saddle regular customers with a 150GB cap while U-Verse customers are given an extra 100GB. Furthermore, there's the fact that ADSL lines have always been marketed as less likely to be slowed by the activity of others on the same connection. The author of this story once worked for BellSouth when ADSL deployments were first marketed to the Louisville area and can confirm that this point was formally used to sell customers on ADSL at a time when cable providers offered higher maximum speeds.

The author's broadband usage for the month of May—AT&T has added an option to see day-by-day consumption.

The letter calls for full transparency and an investigation by the FCC into how often consumers exceed the cap, the services excluded from the cap (including telephony and voice/video programming), how customers are warned, the size of the penalty incurred by customers who do overstep the cap, and how data caps are related to network congestion.

This last is a critical point that's entirely missing from AT&T's current system. We've discussed the issue of Internet caps before and noted that while distasteful, an ISP has a legitimate right to control total bandwidth usage in order to provide good service to the entire network. AT&T's caps do not fall under this type of action. The company makes no claim to throttling bandwidth (a limited good) but has arbitrarily attached maximum data transfer policies based on how much money the customer already spends on AT&T services.

Hopefully the joint letter will nudge the FCC into investigating the issue. Data caps / throttling connections will always leave those few users who stress these connections less-than-happy—but AT&T is trying to establish a profit center for itself under the guise of network stewardship. With any luck, the plan will backfire--either because users depart for greener pastures, or because consumers who formerly opted for the company's higher-end ADSL plans now choose slower connections with less chance of inadvertently pushing them over the limit.
Via:  Ars Technica
omegadraco 3 years ago

I hope the FCC does investigate this, I think data caps are bad practice. I highly doubt that the 2% of people they claim use in excess of this bandwidth cap really affect the network that much.

realneil 3 years ago

[quote user="omegadraco"]the 2% of people they claim use in excess[/quote]

So get rid of those 2% and leave the rest of us alone. AT&T is just going for larger profits like they always do. That pesky "providing value for the dollar" to it's customers keeps getting in the way though.

jonation 3 years ago

i think a lot more than 2% of users have netflix, which can easily get you there... Anyone wanna start an ISP with me? I've got great ideas on what not to do.

3vi1 3 years ago

I just got a note from SuddenLink last month where they wanted to inform me that I had "above average" utilization.

They claim the average for users on 10Mb is 43GB. Seriously? I bought L4D2 on Steam for my son, and Sims3 for my wife, updated Linux distros on five or six machines, watched a number of HD videos... and I'm already almost up to that 'average' for the month, and it's only the 8th. And that's without sharing Knoppix and other distros on bittorrent, like I usually do.

inspector 3 years ago

Hum 3vi1, seems like you should do less of that :P lol j/k

Sucks how the internet is coming down on us. How can home internet be capped, phone cap is alright with me but when im at home i should be able to use w/e i want! :)

omegadraco 3 years ago

The fact of the matter is we pay enough that we should not have to deal with caps. I seem to remember someone on here calculated out that a user could potentially hit the cap in 7 days.

MGirard 3 years ago

It's time for companies like AT&T and Comcast to face the music. We live in a high-speed, high-bandwidth world, a world whose speed and bandwidth requirements are increasing constantly. Either they upgrade their hardware to deal with the increased load, or stop offering internet service.

joel h 3 years ago


It doesn't work that way. Think about it this way: The 98% who don't exceed already *are* being 'left alone.' You aren't being charged more. You aren't being penalized.

Those of us who exceed 150GB are being charged more, but not for the reasons the company claims. The best real-life example I can think of is the Wisconsin governor who recently tried to claim his wage and health insurance cuts were based on fiscal sensibility--only to confess via telephone that really, it was all about union busting.

Regardless of how you feel on that particular issue, there's a similar pattern at work here. AT&T says this is about relieving network congestion, but isn't actually doing anything about it. Instead, they're charging people who use the network more, then claiming it makes a difference.

Also, 3vi1:

Consider this:

Most households don't play L4D2. (I'll let your Sims count). You updated Linux distros on 5-6 machines. Most people don't use Linux, don't download distros, and don't *use* 5-6 machines. Finally, you watched HD videos. The overwhelming amount of HD content is still consumed via television.

You're not an average user. I'm not either--but you can't seriously think your usage pattern is representative.

3vi1 3 years ago

>> You're not an average user. I'm not either--but you can't seriously think your usage pattern is representative.

I don't care if my usage pattern isn't representative.  I paid for unlimited internet.  Give me unlimited internet.  Otherwise, advertise your caps and let the market sort it out.

jman7 3 years ago

What this is really about is a war on family use of the Internet media. Its about making sure your only value choice for video content is AT&T Uverse video they plan on rolling out everywhere eventually.. They want to keep Netflix, Amazon and Google video in its place and prevent the proliferation of ITV. The FCC needs to get off their butt and do something about this.

Countries all over the world are expanding broadband into the 1 Gig range and moving their countries forward. The US is slowing down its Internet and dooming our technological advancement to crawl so a bunch of fat cats investors can get richer. Lets not forget most of the Internet is built on government handouts to the telecommunications companies to advance our countries society. Its our Internet and we want it back with no restrictions and price gauging. AT&T always make a great profit margin so there is no reason other than they can spend less on infrastructure and pocket even greater profits while forcing more customers to choose their video services.

As far as relieving congestion I don't see it.  Never had  a single congestion problem on my DSL before these caps.  I had Charter Interent before their  caps and never had an issue with no slow downs ever.  There is no over congestion. There is a lack of willingness to make things faster but as far as a daily congestion which is effecting performance - no way.  If congestion is the problem perhaps the best technique would be slowdowns for high bandwidth users during peak hours. But its not about that its about control of the US population and showing the average US Joe and Jane that the rich people call all the shots.

omegadraco 3 years ago

@jman7 great points and this is the main reason why this group is requesting the FCC to examine the broadband caps because they are about profitability and not overall performance. Throttling bandwidth use is much more effective then simply charging customers more. But even throttling should not be allowed since you are supposed to be provied a certain speed connection.

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