from the not-the-future-we-were-promised dept
Major ISP Cox Communications has begun throttling the connections of entire neighborhoods for what the ISP deems “excessive usage.” More specifically, the ISP has begun severely throttling the upstream connections of internet users who consume too much bandwidth for the ISP’s liking, even if those users have paid the company extra for faster, unrestricted service.
Despite ISPs making it repeatedly clear that their networks are handling COVID-19 related strain very well, complaints about the new restrictions have been popping up at Reddit over the last month. While Cox confirmed to Ars Technica that it had started throttling the upstream speeds of entire neighborhoods, it wasn’t willing to clarify how many neighborhoods are impacted and just how much data is deemed “excessive” by the cable giant:
“Cox responded by lowering the upload speeds on the gigabit-download plan from 35Mbps to 10Mbps for the customer’s whole neighborhood. Cox confirmed to Ars that it has imposed neighborhood-wide slowdowns in multiple neighborhoods in cases like this one but didn’t say how many excessive users are enough to trigger a speed decrease.”
Some users who are impacted say they already pay Cox $150 a month for a 1 Gbps down, 35 Mbps up (now 10 Mbps) connection — and an additional $50 per month to avoid going over Cox’s 1 terabyte monthly bandwidth cap (which triggers a $10 per additional 50 GB surcharge once surpassed). And they’re still facing slowdowns:
“Mike, a Cox customer from Gainesville, Florida, pays $150 a month, including $100 for 1Gbps download speeds and 35Mbps upload speeds, and another $50 for “unlimited data” so that he can go over Cox’s 1TB data cap. Mike told Ars via email that most of his 8TB+ monthly use consists of scheduled device backups and “data sharing via various (encrypted) information-sharing protocols,” such as peer-to-peer networks, between 1am and 8am.”
Please keep in mind that as ISPs pushed for the net neutrality repeal (which demolished much of the FCC’s authority over telecom), they claimed repeatedly that this would result in a massive surge in investment (that never happened, and at some ISPs, like AT&T, investment dropped). The idea that “regulatory freedom” would result in near-Utopian outcomes has been the mantra for several years, yet suddenly users who already pay an arm and a leg for bandwidth find themselves inexplicably throttled anyway? Without any transparency into “how much is too much?”
Telecom lawyer Harold Feld asked all the right questions on Twitter, noting that this certainly wasn’t the deregulated Utopia US broadband consumers were promised:
For one thing, if our deregulated Internet is handling the Covid surge so well, why is Cox finding it needs to ration upload capacity? This should be unnecessary. /2
— (((haroldfeld))) (@haroldfeld) June 9, 2020
Again, we heard more times than we could count that the net neutrality repeal and FCC lobotomy requested by telecom lobbyists would result in waves of investment and near magical outcomes. Yet here, instead of investing in the necessary upgrades to handle the added load, Cox is throttling the connections of entire neighborhoods that already pay an arm and a leg for bandwidth (Americans consistently pay some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world). Worse, they’re doing so in a way that’s entirely not transparent, and likely would have violated the transparency requirements in the FCC’s net neutrality rules, had we not demolished them at lobbyist behest and in stark contrast to the will of the public.
Granted this is happening because, as we warned all along, mindlessly deregulating US telecom doesn’t magically result in spurred investment and Utopia. In large part because when you eliminate regulatory oversight of a broken, monopolized market (without embracing reform or competitive policies), telecom giants always just double down on bad behavior. For ISPs that means higher prices, stifled investment, worse customer service, and more of the kind of non-transparent behaviors US consumers have complained about for decades.