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Big Telecom’s Big Billing Shadow

Comcast is rolling out “usage-based billing” in a number of its Internet markets, including Alabama, but says most customers won’t ever approach the limit.

Comcast is rolling out “usage-based billing” in a number of its Internet markets, including Alabama, but says most customers won’t ever approach the limit.

Ever-vigilant Internet conspiracy theorists were quick in May to tie the proposed Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable to an announcement that Comcast was introducing “usage-based billing” for Internet customers.

It’s a code for data caps with overage fees, they whispered online, and they were right.

Comcast responded with news releases assuring customers that the caps being floated in selected markets, including Alabama, were set to a high enough level that the “vast majority” of users wouldn’t breach them, in the words of David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast.

The 300-gigabyte cap being rolled out by Comcast, with an extra 50 gigabyte warning track, would allow a customer to download about 125 HD movies a month, the company estimates.

While some interpreted the move to be a swipe at movie streaming providers like Netflix, Internet chatter suggests that it’s P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing called bittorrent networking that’s actually being targeted. It’s a way to trade software, music, movies and digital books online, unpopular with copyright authorities but favored by millions of college students worldwide.

Torrent users, as they’re also called, might download up to 2 terrabytes a month using the system, which grabs small bits of files from different web sources at the same time. Torrent can achieve download speeds higher than 1.5 megabits per second and its code is open-source, advertising-free and adware/spyware free, though some search engines charge users nominal fees in connection with it.

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