Sunday, May 11, 2008

Comcast, Caps, and Usage Tracking

Disclaimer: I am a Comcast home-broadband customer.

The Story

Seen this story yet?

Comcast Considering 250GB Cap, Overage Fees -

The gist of the story is that Comcast may be close to imposing monthly data-download caps. Possibly around the 250 GB a month level.  Folks who exceed it could be charged $15 for every 10 GB they hit past the monthly level.  According to the post, it would only impact some 14,000 users out of Comcast's estimated 14.1 million users. Do the math.

According to my math, dividing 250 GB into a 30-day month, results in a daily download threshold of about just over 8 GB of data per day.

The Question

So the big question I have as a Comcast user is this: Should I be worried?

I do download ISO files for live Linux CD's from time to time, as well as some Microsoft Virtual PC sets.

I also download a fair-amount of freeware utilities and software. It's a terrible hobby of mine.

I personally am not that much into video downloads very much. Sure, I hit the occasional YouTube viral video, or watch some Microsoft TechNet training videos.

The girls occasionally watch a broadcast TV show they missed, mostly from ABC; Ugly Betty or Lost usually.

Some nights when I am on a really long blogging kick or am folding laundry early into the morning I might listen to some streaming music.  But not too often.

I do spend a number of hours,especially on weekends, doing web surfing and looking for new and useful utilities. However, static web pages generally don't really use GB's of download traffic.

However, it doesn't seem to me that we could really consume a full 8 GB of data, per day, every day, all month long.  There are quite a few days that go by when the computers at home don't get turned on at all.

So based on my non-scientific thoughts, our usage pattern shouldn't reach the cap.


I suppose the best thing to do would be to actually install and run a network bandwidth meter on our systems.  That way I could get a great idea of how much we really use.

So, I went looking for any freeware utilities that might be worth running for a while to help with network usage logging and monitoring.  Here is what I found.

(Listed in my personal order of preference and recommendation.)

NetMeter 1.1.3 - (freeware) - Really sharp and customizable graph showing upload and download rates. Make it as big or small as you want. Select individual or all network interfaces for monitoring...handy if you use both wired and wireless adapters at the same time.  Transparency supported along with font/colors of your choice.  Autosaving of log files. Custom configuration of when month period starts as well as first weekday. Nice little system tray icon.  Option to set to load at startup. However, the real "meat" of this program is the Totals and Reports. This feature shows how much data was transferred today, this week, this month, and overall.  Based on collected data, it has a tab to show data upload/download projections for future usage. Cool! Finally, you can view daily/weekly/monthly reports in table format. These can be imported and exported. Simply awesome!  If you are looking for one tool above all others to help you log and monitor your network data usage, this might just be it. Simple, beautiful, and well designed. The best.

MiTeC Network Meter - (freeware) - Download, unzip, and run. Single .exe file. Pick one or more network adapters as found on your system. Not very sophisticated, but simple to read. Shows the upload and download totals for data for the session. Doesn't save or log the results, so not a good solution for ongoing or regular usage monitoring.  At least it is pretty and tiny for very session-specific monitoring events.

SpeedApps Cyber Bandwidth Monitor - (freeware) - This utility displays a little graph of upload/download rates and data volume. It is resizable.  There are some additional tools that are included, but the most useful component here is the "summary log."  It will display the daily, weekly, or monthly totals for usage.  So in theory, just add this to your startup group and it should log the running totals.  It looks like it is still in development as other features don't fully work yet.

CCSchmidt's Interface Traffic Indicator - (freeware) - Clever tool but requires a bit of networking knowledge to get up and going. Allows you to measure inbound/outbound traffic though an interface that is SNMP-capable.  So you should be able to monitor and log traffic on an individual computer or on a network router.

MISPBO Network Monitor - (freeware) - Very simple and basic network adapter monitor. Download, unzip and run.  No fancy and technicolor  GUI here. It's all black and white here.  Displays the start time, the duration, the adapter MAC address and IP. and the speed.  Shows traffic usage totals for in/out in terms of rate, peaks, average, and totals.  Again, no data saving or logging support.

Other Tools

CurrPorts - (freeware) - This tool won't tell you how much traffic you are generating, but it will show what is chattering away on the network.  See also Robin Keir's great tool VStat.

AdapterWatch - (freeware) - Another Nirsoft tool to show you details on local adapters. Will also provide very detailed statistics on TCP/UDP, IP, and ICMP. You can generate reports, and it will show ongoing usage totals since program launch, but it really isn't a "logging" tool.

Show Traffic - (freeware) - Interesting little program to display and monitor network traffic on a selected local adapter.  Used to find suspicious network traffic and peer into what is using the adapter.

So, since I started this post about an hour or so ago, how much data did I download while surfing, researching, file downloading, etc.?

According to NetMeter, just over 25 MB of data.

I'm not worried, yet.



Anonymous said...

I've heard about this. I am presently a Cox Communications customer with their Premier Package. Their limits are a lot less at 60 GB (, but however they seem to treat them more as 'guidelines' than an enforced limit. The biggest thing I would use most bandwidth would be for online gaming, but that is generally during the weekends.

During the week it is reading blogs and other low bandwidth stuff. I don't really do TV on Internet and don't even do streaming music (not since Narada Radio went offline).

Still what Comcast is imposing seems very generous.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this AVG guide! Really appreciate it

Anonymous said...

Wait till the EU "government" works out how to tax downloads...