Comcast posts Net speed limit

Cable: The company aims to improve service by targeting those hogging the lines for hefty data transfers.

January 10, 2000|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,SUN STAFF

In an effort to head off speed bumps down the road, Comcast Online announced last week it would impose a speed limit on its cable Internet service.

The move is part of a nationwide effort by Excite@Home, the California-based company that supplies Comcast and other cable operators with high-speed communications links, to prevent a small number of heavy Internet users from bogging down the service for all its customers.

The company sent out e-mail notices to subscribers in the Baltimore area last week outlining the plan, which will take effect next month.

The speed limit will affect only the rate at which subscribers can pass data from their computers to the Internet. This so-called "upstream" speed will be capped at 128 kilobits per second.

Comcast Online general manager Scott Allison said most subscribers probably won't notice the cap since upstream channel is typically used for e-mail and Web page requests, both of which are quickly processed.

But some subscribers, particularly those who use the high-speed service to ferry hefty data files between work and home or to upload snapshots to a personal Web page, may find the process takes more time.

"You have to make sure the vast majority of subscribers really get the kind of service they expect," said Allison.

The maximum "downstream" rate -- the speed at which information travels from the Internet to the subscriber -- will remain unchanged at 10 megabits per second.

It is this number that largely determines the overall speed of the service, since most Internet users spend the day pulling down Web pages and other files.

The new policy underscores a growing problem that companies which provide high-speed Internet service to the home are facing: data hogs.

The company's statistics show that less than 1 percent of subscribers account for more than 90 percent of traffic on the network, said Eric Holsman, product manager for Excite@Home.

In one instance, when customers complained that their Internet service had slowed to a crawl, @Home engineers found that a nearby subscriber's teen-age son had set up a Web camera pointed at a teddy bear and was broadcasting the image to his Web site every two seconds.

In another case, a cable Internet user had strung 10 modems to his home PC and opened shop as a mini-Internet service provider.

Digital music files are another common problem. Not only are these popular files often illegal to distribute, but they can also clog up the network. Comcast officials in Baltimore recently shut down a teen-ager who was using his computer to distribute hundreds of them.

"These guys just suck bandwidth," said Allison.

Because cable Internet subscribers in the same neighborhood share the same pipe to the Internet, a data hog can quickly slow the service for many users. Excite@Home engineers say that in areas of the country where the upstream speed limit has been put into effect, downstream speeds have shot up .

Company officials say they have more robust business-oriented services for heavy-duty users, although they cost considerably more than the $40 per month that residential cable customers pay.

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