Far too often in this industry I read something that makes me roll my eyes. The latest comes from a warning by Mediacom to subscribers about excessive upload usage. The company is calling and writing to customers who use upload bandwidth and warning them that they will be throttled or disconnected if they use too much bandwidth.
This is outrageous during the pandemic. The vast majority of upload traffic is coming from those who work from home or have students working from home. The heaviest users are households with two or more people trying to work simultaneously – something that millions of households are trying to do. Upload bandwidth means connecting to school and work servers and getting on Zoom calls – something that is hard for anybody working from home to cut back on. The next biggest use of upload bandwidth is backing up data on local hard drives into the cloud – something that is universally recommended to anybody working from home.
Mediacom already uses data caps as a way to throttle heavy usage. The data caps on a 60 Mbps broadband connection is one of the stingiest in the industry, with monthly data caps starting as low as 200 gigabytes of data per month. However, the data caps on speeds greater than 100 Mbps are larger – the cap for 300/30 Mbps is 2 terabytes and for a gigabit download product can be as high as 6 terabytes. These data cap plans put a cap on total download and upload traffic – but it appears there is also a secret unpublished cap placed on upload data usage.
Like all cable companies, Mediacom has slow upload speeds which are proving to be inadequate during the pandemic. The advertised upload speed for 100 Mbps download broadband is only 5 Mbps. That’s likely the most popular product being sold by Mediacom, and a 5 Mbps upload path is not adequate to support multiple family members working and schooling at the same time.
During the pandemic, it’s been reported that millions of households nationwide have upgraded to more expensive broadband products in order to get an upload data path that will work. In the case of Mediacom, subscribing to a gigabit broadband product comes with a 50 Mbps upload speed – a speed that ought to be sufficient to support people working from home. But now the company is punishing customers that pay more for the extra speed and then try to use what they’ve purchased.
This is the kind of ISP behavior that cries out for broadband regulation. If the FCC regulated broadband, it could step in and tell Mediacom to stop this anti-customer behavior. This is a company that undoubtedly accepted a lot of upgrade orders from customers wanting faster broadband during the pandemic and then turned around and told those same customers they couldn’t use what the extra fees had purchased.
Mediacom could offer faster upload speeds but has decided not to. I have no doubt that Mediacom is still using the upload technology that came with DOCSIS 3.0 from 2006. That technology deploys upload bandwidth in the band of frequency inside the cable transmission between 5 MHz and 42 MHz. This is a relatively small band of frequency and doesn’t support much bandwidth. It’s also the noisiest frequency inside of a cable network and is subject to a lot of ambient interference.
Since Mediacom is offering gigabit broadband it means it upgraded the download path to DOCSIS 3.1. But the company clearly elected to not upgrade the upload bandwidth speeds. DOCSIS 3.1 allows for using what is labeled as a mid-split option to enable frequency as high as 204 MHz to be used for better upload speeds.
I’m sure the company elected to not undertake the upload upgrade to save money. Like most of the cable industry, Mediacom didn’t think customers needed more upload speed. But now, during the pandemic, the public clearly needs faster upload speeds and is even willing to pay more to get it. Mediacom could have spent 2020 making the upgrade to the mid-split to meet increased customer demand. Instead, they are threatening and throttling customers who actually use what they have purchased. For those that are keeping tabs – this is what monopoly abuse looks like. I hope the new FCC finds a way to stop this nonsense.