Comcast targets bandwidth hogs in test

After coming under fire for targeting peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic, Comcast is about to try out a new network management approach that slows down traffic for heavy bandwidth users.

Comcast will start testing a new method for managing traffic on its network this week that targets heavy Internet users.

Starting Thursday, Comcast will test a new system that will throttle back or slow down traffic during times of congestion for heavy bandwidth users. The initial tests will be conducted in Chambersburg, Pa. and Warrenton, Va. Later this summer the company plans to expand testing to Colorado Springs, Colo.

Comcast, the largest cable provider in the U.S., has been under fire for months after it was discovered the company had been slowing down peer-to-peer traffic on its network . The company claimed it had singled out peer-to-peer, file-sharing traffic, because it was eating up an inordinate amount of bandwidth, which caused degradation across the rest of its customers.

Consumer groups were incensed by the tactic, and the blogosphere filled with criticism. The Federal Communications Commission is currently looking into the situation to see if Comcast has violated any of its Net neutrality principles .

Comcast has since begun working with peer-to-peer providers and has said that it will not target specific applications on its network. But the company contends that it still must find a way to better manage traffic on its network. And these latest tests, which will run in each market for a month, are meant to help the company figure out the best method for managing its network.

This latest approach is focused on individual users and does not target a specific application. If the network is congested, Comcast will slow down traffic for customers who are using over a certain threshold of bandwidth, regardless the applications they are running.

Comcast isn't the only cable operator struggling to keep up with bandwidth on its network. Time Warner Cable, the second largest operator in the U.S., has expressed similar concerns. The company said earlier this week that it will begin testing a new metering system in Beaumont, Texas .

The way it works is that subscribers who go over their limit for uploading and downloading material will be charged $1 per gigabyte. The test will only apply to new customers in the test region. The tiered pricing will work this way for the Internet portion of subscription packages that also include phone or video use: At the low end, users will pay $29.95 per month for service at a speed of 768 kilobits per second, with a 5GB monthly cap. At the high end, users will pay $54.90 per month for service at 15 megabits per second, with a 40GB cap.

It will be interesting to see how customers react to the both tests. Will the Comcast broadband hogs even notice their traffic has been slowed? And will Time Warner's customers take a beating if they go over their limits? I guess we'll know more when these tests are completed. Until then, if you're a customer in either of these tests, please let me know how it's going. You can reach me at maggie.reardon@cnet.com or feel free to post your comments on this blog.

 

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