An article from CNet this morning describes the experience of one Comcast cable internet user who recently received notification from his service provider that he was causing an "unreasonable burden" on the service and that if he did not cut his usage in half, his service would be suspended. This is apparently a growing trend in the increasingly price-competitive world of high-speed internet.
Although I am not going to find myself crying too much for people who are moving 60-100GB/month, the situation with Cox seems pretty unreasonable given that they have no specific limits on use.
According to the story, they don't want to deal with changing the limits on a regular basis, so they look for patterns (recently sending notices to the top 1% of the users who are consuming 28% of the bandwidth) instead of imposing a specific limit on the use.
Demonstrating once again the benefits of competition, the DSL providers are fighting back by making a point of the lack of limits on their lines. Of course, with DSL, they are already providing certain limits by virtue of the speed of their offerings -- the most likely DSL configurations provide between 1 and 1.5Mbps of download and 150-250kbps of updload capacity, vs. 10Mbps bi- directional for some cable services. In both the cable and DSL cases, though, the speed limits are more theoretical than realistic, because network conditions and (in the case of cable, especially) network utilization from other users has an impact.
To put 60-100GB into perspective, this is 500Kbps-1Mbps for an entire month. Even for a cheap ISP, the bandwidth costs alone could push $25-100/month. Of course, the big guys (like Cox) buy in such bulk that it isn't going to make that much of a dent, but there are some real costs involved.
Here's an interesting thought, though. If 1% of the users are pushing 28% of the bits and this guy is in that 1% at (let's say) 100GB/month, this indicates that the the 100 users for which he is the top 1%, they are moving a total of about 357GB/month. This equates to 3.4Mbps sustained bandwidth, or about $300/month-- $3/user.
Perhaps Cox should look at the numbers like the DSL people do and just let their customers be happy.