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Comcast Releasing Promised Usage Meter
Trial launched in Portland, accuracy measured by independent firm...
by Karl Bode 01:08PM Tuesday Dec 01 2009
You'll of course recall that back 2008 we were the first to report that Comcast was implementing a clear 250 GB usage cap for all users. Despite some grumbling, this was actually a good thing, given many Comcast users spent the better part of the decade complaining that Comcast was kicking people off of the network for "excessive consumption," without actually defining what "excessive" was. Unfortunately, when Comcast implemented the cap (on residential tiers only) they didn't provide users with an official bandwidth meter.

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We showed you leaked screenshots of the meter back in December of 2008, but the actual release never materialized. When asked about a release during 2009, Comcast simply noted that the meter was still being tested among Comcast employees. Users meanwhile were directed to use the bandwidth meter included with the McAfee antivirus suite provided free to Comcast customers.

Comcast reached out to us this morning to note that the official meter is finally getting close to release. According to Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, customers in Comcast's Portland market are getting e-mails informing them that they're part of the first consumer trial of the meter. Additionally market and/or national launches will follow, but Comcast isn't giving a time frame beyond the first quarter of 2010.

"The meter displays usage on a per Gigabyte basis, over a calendar month, which may be different from the customer's monthly billing period cycle," says Douglas. "The meter updates roughly every 3 hours and is designed to display usage conservatively and in favor of customers, such that it rounds down usage to the nearest GB rather than rounding up." Douglas offered us a screenshot (above), which mirrors the leaked versions we brought you late last year. So what was the delay?

Comcast wanted to make sure the meter was completely accurate before putting it in customer hands. The company this year hired the services of NetForecast in order to determine the meter's accuracy. With Comcast's announcement of the meter's first live trial market, NetForecast firm has released the conclusion of their study here, which clearly discusses precisely how bandwidth is measured, while claiming they've confirmed that the meter is accurate to within plus-or-minus 0.5% each month.

Comcast reiterates to Broadband Reports that the vast majority of their customers never come close to the 250 GB monthly cap. "The median customer consumes approximately 2 to 4 GB of data in a month," insists Douglas. "For the fraction of less than 1% of our customers who are concerned about exceeding our excessive use threshold, this meter will help them monitor and calibrate their usage," he says -- adding that it could also be helpful to detect bandwidth leeching bots, viruses, or teenage Wi-Fi freeloading neighbors.

Comcast says their desire for an accurate meter is geared toward user education. It is however possible that the effort put into this meter is paving the way for an eventual attempt to impose per-byte overage charges -- something that's been hugely unpopular among consumers used to the simplicity of flat-rate pricing. At this point, there's been no indication from Comcast that metered billing is in the future -- but Comcast customers should be prepared for the possibility.

When the meter goes live in your market, Comcast tells us it should appear within the user account details of the Comcast portal. You can also get additional information from Comcast's network management policy website. Comcast also discusses the trial over at their Comcast blog.

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reply to IPPlanMan

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