Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


May 18, 2012

Ding dong, the cap is dead.

Comcast has lifted the 250 gigabyte-per-month data-transmission cap it imposed on its residential Internet customers four years ago. The cap may not stay off, but it won't be 250 GB again.

Comcast officials said on the company's blog and in a conference call that Comcast plans to test at least two data-management approaches - giving all its residential customers a 300 GB-per-month cap; and giving the customers who subscribe to its three cheapest Internet plans a 300 GB cap and the customers who subscribe to its two most expensive plans higher caps. In the latter approach, Comcast hasn't determined what the higher caps for the two more expensive plans will be. In both approaches, Comcast will give customers who exceed their caps the ability to buy more transmission space in 50 GB blocks for $10 apiece.

Comcast doesn't yet know where it will test the approaches, when it will start the tests and how long the tests will go on. It also may come up with and test additional data-management approaches. Residential Comcast Internet customers who don't live in an area where the announced approaches, or others, are being tested will continue to have no cap on their data usage until the company settles on a policy for all its residential Internet customers. Comcast doesn't know when it will do that.

David Cohen, an executive vice president with Comcast, and Cathy Avgiris, a general manager and executive vice president with the company's cable unit (and presenter at last week's Cable Academy), said the reasons for lifting the cap were that the Internet and the services people use on it are very different than they were four years ago and the company didn't want its customers worrying they would bump up against their caps for using video-streaming and ot her services offered by Comcast and other companies.

Cohen and Avgiris said very few of Comcast's customers ever bump up against the cap. They wouldn't say how many, or what percentage, of its customers do, but Avgiris said the median monthly data usage by Comcast's residential Internet customers is eight to 10 GB. "It's a matter of messaging more than it's a matter of capacity and we just didn't like the message we were sending to our customers by telling them that [they had] a static 250 gigabyte cap," Cohen said.

Comcast's cap has been criticized by people who contend that the company should provide unlimited data transmission to its residential customers, and they weren't mollified by the company's announcement. "Comcast has never had any legitimate reason to cap its Internet customers, and today's announcement of new overage charges is just another example of the cable giant's efforts to discriminate against and thwart online video competition," Joel Kelsey, a policy adviser for Free Press, said in an emailed statement from the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Comcast has drawn fire from Netflix for its Xfinity TV on Xbox 360 service, which enables Comcast customers to use the Microsoft-made game console to stream whatever movies and TV shows their subscriptions allow them to see. Comcast doesn't count anything streamed over the service towards its customer' monthly data caps because, it says, the service uses the Xbox like another cable box and doesn't send any data over the public Internet. Netflix maintains the service discriminates against it and other providers of streaming video over the Internet, a charge it reiterated in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

Tiered data-transmission plans are common among wireless carriers and other cable-TV companies, including Time Warner Cable, have tried them, too. Philadelphia Business Journal

A week after it killed it, the House resurrected a bill Wednesday that would ban taxing Internet access in New Hampshire. The House voted 245-80 Wednesday to add the tax ban to a Senate bill on dredging. The House also added an appropriation for $1.5 million to provide services to the disabled. Opponents of the tax ban said the state could not afford the loss of revenue, estimated at $6 million annually.

But supporters said New Hampshire should not tax Internet access. The Senate next considers whether to try to negotiate a compromise. Last week, the House killed a bill passed by the Senate containing the tax ban because the Senate had refused to accept another section of the bill passed by the House that put $16 million in surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30 into the state's savings account. The Senate said the state faced too many uncertainties to earmark the money for savings. Both chambers said the tax ban was to end confusion causing some companies to pay the tax while others do not.

Witnesses representing Verizon, Comcast and the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association testified in support of the legislation at a Senate hearing last month. Revenue Commissioner Kevin Clougherty insisted in a letter to the Senate that New Hampshire has not and does not tax the Internet. He said it is up to the telecommunications companies to separate taxable two-way voice and text communications from bundled charges that include access and data fees to avoid being taxed on the total charge.

State law currently does not define Internet access. It was written before the Internet was widely used and before the invention of wireless networks, which allow access to the Internet over smartphones. The bill would modify a 1990 law by prohibiting taxing the charges consumers pay to gain access to the Internet through broadband and wireless connections. The tax is charged on two-way phone use, other voice communications and text messaging as well as on bundled charges when companies don't break out two-way voice and text communications.

The House also added measures to the bill that could pose hurdles to its acceptance by the Senate. One would increase the threshold amounts for taxation for business taxpayers to file with the state and another would require business tax form changes proposed by revenue officials to undergo a review by a legislative committee. The Senate opposes both those proposals. Associated Press

An effective and affordable technology for viewing TV in 3D without wearing special glasses will come to market this year, said Philadelphia-based Stream TV Networks, Inc., through its newly announced manufacturing partnership with Unihan (Pegatron) Corporation.

Stream TV's process - dubbed Ultra-D - will initially be implemented in a 42- inch 3D display and companion Ultra-D Seecube converter box, which handles the switching and processing of incoming signals and can "auto-convert" conventional 2D TV shows to 3D. Viewable with good effect from many angles - unlike more restrictive "auto-stereoscopic" TVs shown by Toshiba and Philips - Ultra-D utilizes "a unique amalgam of hardware and software in perfect sync," shared Stream's announcement. "It introduces a layer of lenses on display panels that directs light at an optimal angle to create a 3D image for the human eye. Behind the scenes, a matrix of sophisticated algorithms scans an incoming feed to decipher the different layers that may be used to extrude and generate depth. This depth may either be user defined or computer generated."

Manufacturing partner Unihan (Pegatron) is a Taiwan-based electronic and computing designer/manufacturer alligned with the ASUSTek group but spun off as a separate entity in 2008. Its' work is most visible here in ASUS brand laptops, desktop PCs and monitors, including a 27-inch computer game monitor using Nvidia 3D Vision 2 chip set and active shutter glasses. The company also makes motherboards, broadband devices, wireless systems, game consoles, networking equipment and set-top boxes. Yesterday's partnership announcement with Stream TV was timed to the opening of the Computex show in Taiwan.

Stream TV Networks is headquartered in center city Philadelphia, with a satellite office in Silicon Valley and an R&D department in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Stream previously fielded a line of eLocity branded mobile tablets. First claim to fame of brothers/founders Mathu and Raja Rajan was as co-inventors of ZeroWater, a proprietary water filtration system.