Charter Follows Comcast With Broadband Usage Caps

Charter Cable (s chtr) plans to start enforcing monthly data caps on its users in December, according to a company spokeswoman. The cable operator will also implement a congestion management plan similar to the one Comcast (s cmcsa) designed after it got in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission for blocking P2P files in 2008. Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont emailed me and said Charter will likely post this information to subscribers within the next week (hat tip to DSL Reports who first reported the change was coming).

Here’s what Charter customers can expect:

  • Subscribers to its Lite and Express services will be capped at 100GB of bandwidth per month.
  • Subscribers to the Plus and Max services will be capped at 250 GB per month.
  • Subscribers to its Ultra60 service will be capped at 500 GB per month (previously the Utra60 tier was unlimited)
  • Charter will not charge overage fees for those who exceed the caps, but their account may be suspended

Charter will start notifying excessive users next month to “make them aware of their usage patterns, to help identify possible causes (e.g., unsecured wireless routers or viruses) and review security options with these customers to reduce the risk of unauthorized Internet use,” said Lamont via email. Eventually (Lamont didn’t say after how many times) that user’s account would be suspended. Unfortunately, for those who get these calls, Charter doesn’t yet have a tool to help those customers measure their use, but is working on one. However, when Comcast implemented its caps, it too lacked a measurement tool, and getting one out was a long process, so Charter subscribers may have to wait a while. Lamont expects one next year.

Lamont said that 98 percent of Charter’s 5.2 million customers will be unaffected by the decision to enforce the caps (Charter actually first included caps in its acceptable usage policy in February 2009). However, demand for broadband is increasing every week as folks use more online applications and consumer video from the web. For example, streaming a movie on Netflix (s nlfx) uses about 1 GB per hour, so that equates to about 100 hours of Netflix streaming video each month. Services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus that involve high-quality video streams are only becoming more popular and pervasive as more consumers connect their televisions to the web. We made this argument back in 2008 when Comcast implemented its 250 GB per month cap and continue to believe that such caps could act as a threat to innovation.

Currently Charter says the typical U.S. residential Internet customer consumes between 15 and 20 GB worth of data on a monthly basis when taking both uploads and downloads into account. Lamont writes, “The usage thresholds defined within our AUP greatly exceed current typical residential use and accommodate future growth.” I reached out to Comcast to find out if changes in user habits had led to increased consumption on its network, and spokesman Charlie Douglas said that the usage was still pretty much the same on its network with the median download for a customer being between 2 GB and 4 GB per month. That’s a wide discrepancy between Charter’s data and even the Cisco (s csco) data that shows worldwide household Internet consumption is 14.5 GB per month.

Charter will also introduce a congestion management policy with a protocol-agnostic approach that’s applied only during periods of congestion (Charter notes that congestion is rare on its network). The policy will affect only the heaviest users (less than 1 percent) in small time increments. Those affected will have their bandwidth limited, but no Internet activities will be blocked. For Comcast’s similar policy see our coverage here.

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