US-based ISP Comcast is reported to be considering the introduction of a 250GB monthly cap for its subscribers, with surcharges of $15 per 10MB levied against those who exceed the limit more than once in a 12-month period.

Broadband Reports (BR) quotes an anonymous source at Comcast claiming there is a “lot of momentum” behind the plan, with initial testing likely to take place within the next few months.

The intention, according to BR’s source, is to crack down on the heaviest users, whose bandwidth hogging impacts on other users:

"The intent appears to be to go after the people who consistently download far more than the typical user without hurting those who may have a really big month infrequently," the unnamed source told BR.

The acceptable face of traffic shaping?

Details of the plan have emerged at a sensitive time for Comcast. The ISP currently finds itself under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over its traffic shaping practices. This has led some observers to suggest that the proposal is an attempt to bring clarity and lucidity to network traffic management in a way the FCC finds acceptable.

Fortunately for UK broadband users Comcast doesn’t operate in the UK. However, with recent wrangles over the effect of the BBC iPlayer on network congestion fresh in the mind, Comcast’s proposal will doubtless be watched closely on this side of the pond.

Possible side effects?

Exorbitant surcharge fees notwithstanding, it has to be asked whether the proposals could end up compromising the development and uptake of other bandwidth-hungry yet legitimate services.

While a 250GB might seem like a generous limit at present, that is unlikely to remain the case for much longer, especially given the increasing popularity of online multiplayer gaming, legal movie downloads, live TV streams and TV catch-up services.

And, of course, as and when HD content becomes widely and readily available over the internet, 250GB could well be seen as a starting point, rather than a cut-off.