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Comcast Deploys 50 MBS High Speed Service
October 22, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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In the battle for the hearts and minds of the Internet public, Comcast recently suffered a stunning defeat in the name of net neutrality. The FCC, in a 3-2 ruling, found that Comcast had violated the principles of net neutrality by inhibiting BitTorrent traffic. While Comcast suffered a black eye, the public generally has a short memory, especially when most Comcast customers have probably never heard of BitTorrent to begin with.

Comcast has a significant advantage over BitTorrent advocates in this respect. Since file-sharers represent a small numerical percentage of overall internet traffic, the majority who never use the protocol won't lose much sleep if the former are throttled, marginalized, or swept under the rug. They especially won't mind considering the magnitude of today's news from Comcast, as the ISP unveiled their new tiered broadband packages and service enhancements. In most markets, Comcast will double the bandwidth capacity of their 6 and 8 MBS packages to 12 and 16 MBS at no extra cost.

Now, the big news of course is the introduction of two new residential tiers - "Extreme 50" and "Ultra". Extreme 50 will offer 50 Mbps (or 6.25 megabytes/sec) downstream, and 10 Mbps upstream for $139.95/month. If that's a bit pricey for you, "Ultra" offers 22Mbps downstream for $62.95/month. Although BitTorrent users have often times felt at odds with Comcast, the cable provider's press release offers an enticing lure.

"With Extreme 50, Comcast customers, for example, will be able to download a high-def movie (6 GB) in about 16 minutes, a standard-def movie (2 GB) in about 5 minutes and a standard-def TV show (300 MB) in a matter of seconds. Customers with Extreme 50 also will be able to download digital photos, songs and games faster than ever."

Today’s lesson for the BitTorrent community, or at least the BitTorrent community using Comcast, is: if you want to download at full throttle, you’re going to have to pay for it. Downloading a 6 gigabyte HD movie at blazing speeds is enticing, and it’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe that some hard core file-sharers will decide that $139.95 per month is worth it.

These users will still face the same 250 gigabyte bandwidth cap as before. A Comcast representative informed us, however, that this cap only affects less then 1% of costumers. Most users only consume 2-4 gigabytes per month. With the 250 gigabyte limit, the end user can still download between 10-20 HD movies a month. While undoubtedly cheered by average customers, heavy downloaders feel the faster speed will only help reach the bandwidth cap in less time.

Comcast’s announcement will help the ISP repair its public image, especially in the markets that see their speeds double. It will also finally initiate an increase of broadband speeds in the United States, which remain woefully slow compared to the rest of the world. According to Comcast, 50 MBS is just an introduction, as 160 MBS should be on the way soon.

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