Service Problems

Dan Mitchell at The New York Times reported today that certain Comcast cable Internet customers have had their service cut off after being told they exceeded the company’s bandwidth limits. The problem, Mitchell reports, is that Comcast will not tell its customers what those limits are.

Here’s the interesting part: when one of the forewarned customers spoke to Comcast’s customer service department about it, they denied having sent any notices. The man was told he was probably the victim of a prank call. A month later, his service was disconnected.

Comcast says it limits customer bandwidth because a heavy user can slow down nearby users’ connections; but if companies don’t disclose what the limits are, what is a user to do? Do we begin to limit our use of the Internet because we’re afraid we might get cut off if we surf too much?

This incident seems somehow connected to Net Neutrality in the sense that it determines who has unfettered access to the Internet. Granted, in this case the customers have signed user agreements that may dictate how much bandwidth they get, but if that sort of agreement is the only choice we have, that makes it unfair–just as unfair as limiting which content providers get more bandwidth than others.

If the providers, our gateways to the Internet, begin to adopt tiered service universally, then only those with money to spare will able to access digital media in a truly “free” way. Sure the difference may only be a few kilobytes per second, but this is a philosophical issue anyhow. The quantity of the difference doesn’t matter; what matters is that there is a difference at all.

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