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Dishing on Big Bandwidth

7/04/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Even as cable operators prepare to roll out higher-speed DOCSIS 3.0 “wideband” broadband service, they’re also fine-tuning ways of curbing the small percentage of subscribers who consume far more than their fair share.

Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, speaking on the CTO panel at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Cable-Tec Expo here, described the operator’s test of three different “protocol-agnostic” network management systems.

Comcast this spring said it would adopt the new approach after Internet activists complained that its practice of throttling back peer-to-peer applications violated the Federal Communications Commission’s policies ensuring open access.

Comcast’s plan is to identify the 2% or 3% of customers who over the last hour or two have consumed more than 50% of the capacity on the network, Werner said. Those heavy users are then given lower priority and will have their bandwidth limited for a temporary period of time.

“Even those who go to that lower state will be above [digital subscriber line],” Werner added. “So it’s not terrible.”

Who are the worst offenders? Werner said some subscribers have used “in the 3-plus Terabyte range. … They did nothing but download movies constantly.”

Cox Communications senior vice president of engineering and CTO Chris Bowick said one Cox customer downloaded 1.5 Terabytes of data in the last 30 days — the equivalent of 377,000 songs or 188 DVD movies.

Cox plans to start deploying DOCSIS 3.0 wideband service in the third quarter in “strategic markets, markets that will require those speeds,” Bowick said.

“There’s no need to launch DOCSIS 3.0 ubiquitously unless you need those speeds from a competitive perspective,” Bowick said. “We’ll roll out DOCSIS 3.0 in a very targeted way this year and into next year.”

Werner said Comcast has gained some insight into deploying DOCSIS 3.0 in its initial Minneapolis/St. Paul market.

“All in all, though, it’s been relatively straightforward,” he said, adding that “50 Megabits is probably the speed we’ll go out the door with” in other markets. Comcast spokeswoman Jenn Khoury later said the operator has not yet decided on specific bandwidth tiers for other market rollouts.

September