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Comcast launches bandwidth meter pilot

Comcast's long-awaited bandwidth meter is finally here, though it will be limited to those in the Portland, Ore., area.

Comcast on Tuesday announced the launch of a pilot program for its Internet customers to keep track of how much bandwidth they're using. The company is finally introducing a Web-based metering program, which will let users check these numbers from any browser.

This comes a little more than a year after Comcast began enforcing a strict 250GB cap on download bandwidth, exiling those who went over twice for an entire year before being able to get Internet service again. In the interim the company had offered no official tool for customers to see how close they were getting to that limit, outside of a free McAfee Security software program that needed to be installed on each computer sharing that connection.

The new online meter is coming first to customers in Portland, Ore., as part of a pilot project, which could be expanded to other parts of the country beginning next year. Those in the pilot will be able to track all activity that goes through the cable modem they have rented from the company or purchased on their own. The meter shows the past three months of data use, though to begin with, users will only be able to see what they've used in December. It tracks each gigabyte used, which the company says is rounded down to the nearest gigabyte instead of rounding up. That data is refreshed every three hours.

Comcast says that this new metering system is quite accurate. To prove that, it hired consulting company NetForecast to do a comparative analysis which put Comcast's meter at within plus or minus 0.5 percent of its own internal testing (PDF).

Comcast's new bandwidth meter will only be available to those in Portland, Ore., before the company rolls it out to other markets. Comcast/CNET

In an e-mail, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas wanted to reaffirm that most Comcast customers will never have a problem with going over. "The median customer consumes approximately 2 to 4GB of data in a month," he said. And even with the new bandwidth monitor, "almost 99 percent of our customers should not be concerned about their monthly data usage or even crossing our 250GB-per-month excessive-usage threshold."

Comcast says it needs to do more testing before branching off into the rest of the U.S. In the meantime, those Portland customers who have been chosen to be a part of it will find an invitation in their e-mail to test it out.