Qwest’s Unofficial 250 GB Data Cap

Today, Comcast officially announced a 250 GB cap, while threatening to disconnect users who exceed this limit more than once. Comcast is taking the heat once again, but they are not the only ISP that limits its users. Other ISPs, Qwest being one of them, have exactly the same policy - and the same threats.

qwest capThe 250GB bandwidth limit that Comcast has announced is not as new as it may seem. For several months, even years, Comcast subscribers who went over an “unspecified limit” have been contacted by the ISP. Customers are presented with two options: cut back their bandwidth use, or find a new provider. Today, however, they officially announced a 250 GB limit, perhaps in an attempt to be more transparent about their network management practices.

We’ve wrote before that ISPs are looking for new ways to manage their network by introducing bandwidth caps and metered plans. Although we’re not in favor of it, we have to applaud Comcast for being open about it. Most other ISPs have similar policies, limiting their unlimited services, but they seem to get away with it. One of these ISPs is Qwest, one of the larger Internet providers in the western United States, who forces customers to accept an invisible 250 GB cap.

Qwest’s approach is quite aggressive to say the least. When customers reach the magic limit, their web traffic is is redirected to an “excessive use” page. The page informs the customer that they “noticed extremely high usage” on their Qwest Broadband account. The notification blocks all HTTP access from your computer, making it impossible to access any website. In order to proceed and release the block on your system, customers must acknowledge notification on this web page, and agree to a new service agreement.

There are no other options, no personal phone calls, no further explanation what acceptable use is, or how customers can track their usage. The new service agreement, dated August 12, 2008 (pdf), allows Qwest to limit your use in any way they see fit, and even terminate your service when the customer exceeds the (invisible) limit again. Note that Qwest does not specify how much bandwith customers are allowed to use. They only state (pdf) that “normal” subscribers use 1-3 GB a month (oh really?), and that 40.000 – 80.000 typically sized MP3 downloads is considered to be excessive use.

Comcast’s MP3 limit 250 GB limit comes down to 62,500 4 MB MP3s, so it is safe to say that Qwest has a bandwidth cap that is similar to Comcast – 250 GB. Unlike Comcast, excessive use is not specified anywhere in the service agreement, so customers can only guess, and hope that their service will not be limited or terminated out of the blue.

One of the affected Qwest users, who tipped us off, told TorrentFreak: “Since Qwest holds a monopoly in many areas, they can continue to reduce allowed bandwidth usage as they add new users while not adding new infrastructure. Such radical bandwidth limitation will have a chilling effect on further evolution of the Internet. If people can’t get bandwidth, then they can’t use bandwidth intensive services such as YouTube and Netflix. We may never know what the future could have been.”

Indeed, as we have said before, ISPs should think ahead. To most “normal” customers 250 GB may sound as a lot of bandwidth, but this might be totally different in the future. Making an online backup of your harddrive is pretty much impossible with a bandwidth cap like this, so will HD-streaming. It hinders innovation while it’s ignoring the real problem. ISPs should invest in their network instead, but I guess it’s not only the entertainment industry that finds it hard to adapt to technological change.

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