At the beginning of April Bill Gorman forwarded me an e-mail he'd received from Comcast about a bandwidth usage meter and asked if I'd gotten it. I rarely check my Comcast e-mail so instead i just logged into my account to check out the usage meter. I hadn't even known that I had a 250GB per month allocation and what I saw was that I was using very little of it:
In March I had streamed what I felt was a lot of video to my PC, but even then I didn't even make it to 10% of my allocation.
Goaded Out of Inertia
That chart inspired me to do something I'd been meaning to get around to for over a year, but hadn't - upgrading to a new DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. I'd not been terribly thrilled with my Internet speed, but for regular use -- web surfing, working with the blog or even for most online video it was fine and inertia won the day.
While I'm sure Comcast's intent with the usage meter was not to goad me out of inertia and into more usage, that's exactly what happened.
I bought a Motorola SURFboard eXtreme cable modem from Amazon (~$100). I probably wound up spending about 30 minutes on the phone with Comcast getting the new modem provisioned and working correctly. To Comcast's credit, my experiences with customer service during the modem switch were excellent. It was well worth the time and expense for me since I saw 4x-5x speed improvement -- from what had been an average of usually under 5Mb/s to over 20Mb/s.
Speed Increase + Netflix Leads to Huge Usage Surge
As you can see, I was able to significantly increase my usage, but short of downloading a 100GB file just for the heck of it I wasn't getting anywhere near my 250GB allotment.
Almost all of the increase in usage can be attributed to Netflix instant streaming over WiFi to my TV through a PS3. The bulk of that was ~75 episodes of Bones, which, with the faster Internet connection was available to stream in HD, and probably ~25 episodes of Law & Order: SVU. Even streaming about 100 TV episodes, the bulk in HD plus my normal 12GB or so, I used just over half my allocation.
250 GB is a Lot of Bandwidth
Realistically, I can't see streaming 100 episodes a month on a regular basis. I'm just one person though, and a family of four who did a lot of streaming might push the limits.
Cord cutters aren't quite as mythical as the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot, but there aren't yet as many of them around as some would have you believe. Unless the cord cutters have a constant source of free WiFi, there is still a cord, and in the case of Comcast, 250GB a month is a lot of cord to work with.
I'd estimate even with high definition you could download over 200 hour long programs (though stripped of commercials down to around 42 minutes) and much, much more if not high definition and still have plenty left over for normal surfing.
While I'm sure there are people who can push and even exceed the 250GB limit, they're a tiny minority. The big question to me isn't who those people are, but rather why Comcast broadcast the availability of the usage meter to every customer instead of just burying it in the help section somewhere and letting the relative few who needed it find it.
Though I'm sure very few had the same reaction I had and were spurred to increase usage by more than 10x, the thought of "Wow, we're hardly using any of our allocation," was probably common.