American ISP flashes phantom bandwidth cap
With 5GB, you get termination - except that you don't
Yet another American ISP is toying with the idea of a ridiculously low bandwidth cap.
Last month, Frontier Online - a regional carrier serving 24 US states - quietly slipped new language into its terms of service that appeared to cap its roughly half a million broadband customers at a measly 5GB a month. That includes both uploads and downloads.
"Customers must comply with all Frontier network, bandwidth, data storage and usage limitations," reads the new T of S. "Frontier may suspend, terminate or apply additional charges to the Service if such usage exceeds a reasonable amount of usage. A reasonable amount of usage is defined as 5GB combined upload and download consumption during the course of a 30-day billing period."
But after complaints from countless customers and a swashbuckling protest site dubbed Stop The Cap!, Frontier now says that the new words in its terms of service mean absolutely nothing. With a brand new FAQ page dedicated to the 5GB cap, the company's fast talking marketers insist the cap doesn't really exist.
You see, even though the terms of service say that Frontier may terminate you if you exceed 5GB of bandwidth, the FAQ says it will not:
Question: If I hit 5GB will my service be interrupted?
Answer: No. Your service will not be interrupted at 5GB. You will continue to use our High Speed Internet service without disruption.
In an effort to resolve this paradox, we spoke to a company spokeswoman. But she too has a gift for contradiction. "In the past, we had a general statement [in the terms of service] that anyone using an excessive amount of bandwidth could be terminated. Now, we're saying exactly what we think is excessive," the spokeswoman told us. "But at this point, we're not monitoring bandwidth. And we're not kicking people off if they use more than 5GB a month."
Whatever it originally intended with that T of S change, the company is now says it's merely warning customers that a real cap is on the way. Next year, the company tells us, it will actually roll out bandwidth tracking software, and it may introduce a tiered pricing system. "In 2009, we will introduce software that allows us notify the customer of their current usage," that spokeswoman said. "And we'll look at different pricing models that address consumption."
So, the 5GB limit - which isn't really limit - could change? "That's right," she told us.
Let's hope it does. The Reg sees no problem with bandwidth caps - as long as they're reasonable. And a 5GB limit is not. As ISP tilter Robb Topolski points out, you could consume a full 32GB a month with a 56Kbps modem.
Frontier claims its average user consumes just 1.5GB a month. But we find this hard to believe. Indeed, Stop The Cap! has turned up internal company documents proving that actual consumption is significantly higher.
banwidth caps and market size
most companies are primarily considering caps for small markets only, consider the cost for maintaing a Fiber MAN (Metro Area Network), even in small markets expanding bandwith can reach into the high 100's of millions to low billion/yr.
In a small market you dont have the customer base to drive the profit to a point where that amount is an acceptable portion of your profit, ie writing it off as cost of doing buisness. so companies are considering tiered systems for those markets to compensate for the portionally larger cost of upgrading and mainting the network to provide high bandwidth connections.
Larger markets it really isnt needed as the subscriber rate generates enough of a profit to off set the costs and most companies wont be rolling out caps to larger markets.
undoubtably some companies will try to roll it out to all divisions, but will learn quickly afetr the backlash and retract it.
small markets well your just SOL, tis inevtable giving the basic math.
We have caps here in Oz
They are not too bad so long as you only get shaped if you exceed the cap... the plans that charge a per/Mb or per/Gb penalty are pants.
Speaking of which, I just got a notice from my ISP (Internode) saying they are (almost) doubling my cap without increasing my monthly access fee (from 25Gb to 40Gb) and reducing the cost for those who already had the larger cap. I'm well pleased.
Getting back to Frontier.. the wording of the Ts & Cs also allows them to apply additional charges in the event of the cap being exceeded. I'd be more worried about how big the excess usage charges are going to be than the likelihood of my account being terminated. We actually had the Consumer Watchdog here in Australia issue a warning about the potential for excess usage charges to blow out to hundreds if not thousands of dollars extra in a single month (ok so the warning was specifically targeted at users of the new 3G iPhones with all the telcos levying excess usage charges on caps that are between 200Mb and 5Gb - but it is just as applicable to any ISP that levies excess usage charges).
Behind the cap, a desire to deter video via net?
The only sane reason for laying out a cap like this with no option to buy overruns is to drive out the customers who actually use some of the bandwidth they contracted for. Now who are those people? Primarily the people who download purchased or rented video content.
Surprise surprise, Frontier is in the business of selling delivery of video content as a service separate from whatever an uncapped DSL customer might elect to stream or download.
Ah, well. Begins to make sense, the ridiculously small cap. They get rid of the high bandwidth users, and retain the emailing crowd who wouldn't notice if their spam is delivered at 78Kb or 1.5Mb. So what's not to like about that. All Frontier has to do for them is more or less maintain the infrastructure at status quo, and focus serious investment resources on the business contracts and the other component, the VIDEO DELIVERY.
I filed a trouble ticket awhile back because my download speed dropped to something in the neighborhood of 270K. Had I been just reading a pile of email, you think I would have noticed?
I think about my own DSL use, which includes movie rental / purchase from iTunes plus purchase of the occasional entire season of old TV shows, and I grant you that it's erratic and sometimes substantial (22 CSI Miami episodes = 9.81GB in one day) but sometimes inconsequential, say a few hundred MB of surfing for news and weather before heading out for a weekend.
I would be willing to stay inside a cap, if it were a reasonable cap for the internet of 2008, not the internet that Frontier fantasizes about. Their internet is an imaginary one, one that excludes delivery of video content: look at their explanation of how much of what kind of data fits into 5GB, in their explanatory link from their new Acceptable Use Policy, and you will see that video content is not mentioned. At all. Hmm.... Isnt.That.Odd.
And so I think this (while on hold to cancel my DSL contract and start paying for a phone-only arrangement, month to month basis): you know what? I can get all that video content from Amazon or Netflix, and my other usage of the internet is pretty much news surf and mail, so it seems like my old 56k dialup setup would suffice. I will miss the richer internet for awhile, but not the damned flash ads and auto-play ad videos on the front pages of news sites and market-watching sites.
What I genuinely regret is that by cancelling my participation in this internet of 2008, the rich one, the innovative one, the one making demands on content providers, carriers and users alike, I will be contributing to the backwards progress of the internet. But please don't forget that it was Frontier Communications who invited me to that party.