Let’s face it, privacy is dead. In this increasingly electronic and inter-linked world, with its capacity to capture, store, and analyze data by the digital ton, the minute you step foot into it you’ve surrendered any claim to privacy you ever thought you had.
Sprint coughed-up GPS information to law enforcement eight million times last year. Not on eight million users, Sprint is quick to point out. Rather law enforcement can request GPS information on any particular user every three minutes for up to 60 days. (After that Sprint doesn’t say what happens.)
And Sprint isn’t the only one handing out information about you.
According to a note from Comcast: “The meter displays usage on a per Gigabyte (GB) basis, over a calendar month, which may be different from the customer's monthly billing period cycle. The meter updates roughly every 3 hours and is designed to display usage conservatively and in favor of customers, such that it rounds DOWN usage to the nearest GB rather than rounding up.” (Given the disparity between calendar month and billing cycle, and rounding down rather than up, how useful will this meter be for avoiding overage charges?)
Comcast notes that “99%” of their subscribers won’t have to be concerned. Their median subscriber only consumes between two and four gigabytes of data per month. The meter, it appears, is for that 1% that might be exceeding the limit.
But, might it be possible, that in providing the meter, Comcast has thrown down a gauntlet? Some of those “median subscribers” might take it as a challenge to see just how close to 250 GB they can come. Another example of best laid plans?
Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media, sat down with NewTeeVee Live for some interesting announcements and details about some of their future offerings. In particular, the fairly long interview, circled around Comcast’s “On Demand Online,” which will be released this December.
She talked about this new service in a way that we heard people talking about DMCA rights to purchased media. Banse explained that they wanted to offer subscribers a chance at accessing their content from anywhere while not undermining the subscriber business model.
As a Comcast subscriber, you can register three independent devices on your Comcast account through either Fancast or Comcast.net. Once the devices are registered to your subscription account, you’ll need to download a Move Networks powered player that will play all available content.
The content offerings appear to be very plentiful mostly due to Comcast’s business model of being able to maintain subscribers over the internet. Banse felt that having the On Demand Online service tied to the subscriber account there remained a level continuity for programmers and advertisers. Thus, many networks have opted into the new service.
The interview is long-winded but interesting at points. You can check it out after the jump.
Have you heard? Comcast is raking in cash like no one’s business. The internet service provider reported today that their net earnings for the third quarter amounted to $944 million. That is a 22% increase year over year. Some of this comes from cost cutting, but Comcast has seen substantial subscriber increases as well.
Comcast saw a 2.7% decrease in the number of TV subscribers, but that was offset by large increases in internet and phone service. Overall internet subscribers grew 6.4% to 15.6 million, while voice accounts grew a staggering 20% to 7.3 million. Overall, Comcast’s customer base grew 3.4% to 46.8 million.
With these strong numbers, Comcast seems more able than ever to proceed with plans to acquire a stake in NBC. No new announcements have been made, but reports suggest that the ISP wants to move into the media space with a controlling interest in GE-owned NBC-Universal.
The issue is pretty simple. In 2008 Comcast secretly slowed down access to peer-to-peer data sharing sites, which it’s not supposed to do. Then, to compound it’s error, it lied to the press and consumers about what it was doing. The FCC stepped in and gave Comcast a stern talking to, and required Comcast to write on the chalkboard a hundred times: “I will not engage in discriminatory practices.” Minor punishment, really.
But it didn’t sit well with Comcast, which filed suit against the FCC in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Basically, Comcast is arguing that the FCC doesn’t have the legislative authority to regulate Comcast’s behavior, and therefore the FCC’s ruling is unenforceable and should be thrown out. What the FCC did, according to Comcast, was to enforce policy, not regulation or law. And policy doesn’t count.
The FCC counters it does have legislative authority, under the Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and Congress did grant it authority over cable companies. The FCC also pointed out that Comcast, when approved by the FCC to acquire another cable company, was specifically warned it would be held to terms of the policy in question: the FCC’s Internet Policy Principles. The FCC wrote in its court brief: “Comcast ignored that crystal clear warning. It cannot seriously claim to be surprised by the consequences.”
It makes sense: you pay for what you eat. But if a restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat buffet, then decides you’re eating too much and should be charged more, it doesn’t go over too well. It seems something similar is afoot with Internet providers: the promise of the all-you-can-eat buffet is cutting a bit too deeply into their bottom-lines, and now they think you should pay more.
The problem is one of expectations. Internet providers set up unlimited access as a method to attract people onto the Internet. And it worked. The Internet not only became populated, it began to offer a wealth of services that changed the nature of the retail marketplace, and is on the verge of doing the same for the media industry. Unfortunately, as the opportunities to be online expand, so to did our appetite for bandwidth. Meeting those demands has become something of a problem for Internet providers.
Because the federal government won’t allow Internet providers to differentiate traffic that moves over its hardware: porn and The New York Times must be treated with equal deference, Internet providers must find other ways of limiting the use they encouraged. "A flat-rate, infinitely expandable service is unachievable," Dick Lynch, chief technology officer of Verizon Communications Inc. (So to is a flat-rate, infinitely expandable brick of cheese.)
Earlier this year some Internet providers put monthly caps on usage. Comcast, for example, said no more than 250 Gbs a month. Comcast says this only impacts a small number of high-usage customers. AT&T, in Beaumont, Texas and Reno, Nevada, is offering tiered-pricing structures, with penalties for going over your monthly allotment.
More radical are plans by some, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, Inc. for instance, involve a return to usage-base pricing: you pay for what you eat. The problem with this approach is customers don’t like it. They really, really don’t like it. So much so that Time Warner was forced to shut down a pilot metered Internet program last year. Further, online businesses won't be thrilled. It could put a serious crimp into online browsing, leading to a downturn in Internet business. And Netflix probably won’t be too keen on the idea, with all it has invested in streaming video.
No resolutions as yet, but it seems certain that something is bound to happen. Maybe not metered usage, but something that involves taking more money out of our wallets is a given.
Forget about all the negative attention Comcast has received this past year, the Cable operator insists it's not "a dead duck," as Web 2.0 Summit conference organizer John Battelle described cable companies in general. Not only is the company not a dead duck, but Comcast seems to think it's the reason the Web is where it's at today.
"We're going to keep investing, because we believe there are great ideas in this room and in this country and in the world," said Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO. "In the same way, it's unthinkable that a Google or a Yahoo or a Facebook or a Twitter would be happening it we hadn't made those investments (in broadband infrastructure) 15 years ago."
When pinged on what he reckons is the reason the U.S. trails some other countries in broadband technology advancements, Roberts said he didn't think that was true at all.
"We have the same equipment (as other countries), the same wires, the same infrastructure, why is the adoption different is a different question," Roberts explained.
Roberts also talked about Comcast's role in the Net neutrality debate, particularly the scrutiny his company has received over imposing bandwidth caps, saying he welcomes the criticism because "we're going to be an active participant."
Just recently Comcast dropped the price on their “Extreme 50” Internet package (for those that are also subscribing to their Digital Voice or cable TV) from $139.95 to $99.95.
This new Extreme 50 package was just launched in Washington, DC and surrounding areas today, but the price for the $139.95 service is dropping nationwide. Along with this deployment, Comcast plans to get DOCSIS 3.0 to 65 percent of their territory by the end of this year.
According to Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas, “We already have a bundled incentive with our other tiers, so this is similar. It was just a matter of time before we introduced a bundled incentive price for Extreme 50.”
With this drop, Comcast now offers the cheapest 50Mbps broadband in the United States.
According to the rumor mill, Comcast is going to release a 100Mb service sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Currently, the fastest available service from Comcast is 50/20Mb, and will run consumers roughly $189 per month. There’s no word yet on how much this rumored service will cost, but going from the current model, we can gather that it will be costly.
We’ll be sure to keep our eyes on this as it develops.
Bandwidth caps are the latest and greatest ways for ISPs to keep people in check, and while some ISPs do have admittedly sizeable caps (such as Comcast’s 250GB/month and AT&T’s slightly less impressive 150GB/month), Time Warner’s is a pathetic 40GB/month, and starting soon, those living in the Lone Star State won’t be the only ones subject to it.
Austin, San Antonio, Rochester, NY and Greensboro, NC will be the next cities that will have to deal with the diminutive bandwidth cap. And, a note to people in these locations, every gig you go over your cap, it’ll cost you a buck.
Now, that’s not to say that a buck all on its own is a big deal, but when you consider that downloading four conservatively sized HD movies, at 5GB a piece, takes up half of your monthly allotment, there’s something to ponder. And, if you enjoy the perks of HD video on Hulu and YouTube, there’s more to worry about. And gamers, if you like to buy your games on Steam, you’d better watch yourselves too! Those megabytes sure can add up quickly, and so can your bill.