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Cable Internet—Are You Being Capped?

by Vic Ferri

Consider yourself very lucky if your cable provider does not enforce capping—data transfer limits. Data transfer caps are almost the norm now, which means that high speed cable Internet isn't as high speed as it used to be.

When cable Internet was new, it was not uncommon to realize download speeds of over 2 or 3mbs. In fact, I remember one user who was downloading at over 10mbs! Of course, in those early exciting days, the cable subscribers were few and shared bandwidth wasn't a problem.

Cable is a shared service which works like a LAN—a local area network. Your cable performance varies depending on how many people, in your neighborhood, are using the cable service at the same time.

If your whole neighborhood is using the cable service, then your Internet speed drops. However, if you are the only one using the cable service, your Internet speed could increase dramatically.

So your bandwidth could vary widely throughout the day. At least, with this shared bandwidth model, you have the chance to realize higher Internet speeds. Typically, early in the morning or late in the evening, you would notice better performance. However, this is changing. And the reason is due to capping!

Data Transfer Caps
As the broadband market increased, many cable providers began imposing data transfer caps. This goes back a few years, but many subscribers weren't even aware of it—not aware why their download speeds seemed slower than originally advertised. Data transfer caps prevent you from exceeding a certain speed limit. Depending on your provider, the download caps could be under 256kbs or over 1.5mps.

What this means is that the shared bandwidth system no longer gives you any potential, at all, to achieve faster speeds. Even if you are the only person on the Internet, your bandwidth will never increase. It's fixed at the predefined cap speed set by your provider and the rest of the potentially usable bandwidth goes unused, wasted.

Capping is controlled by your cable modem and a configuration file. The imposed download and upload speed limit settings are in this file and downloaded from your provider every time you boot. Before thinking that you can uncap your modem to remove these limits, consider that it is not only illegal to do so, but very difficult and complex. Actually, at the present time, there really is no known and proven easy method available that can remove these caps on today's modern modems. A few earlier modems were easier to uncap because they could bypass the configuration settings by avoiding the headend or CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) which checks the config file, but most modems today are DOCSIS, (Data Over Cable Service Interface—a modem standard). These modems cannot be uncapped. The headend checks and downloads the file at bootup and the modem authenticates the settings with the CMTS. Even if you managed to make an uncapping change, on reboot (which you would have to do to make the change take effect) your modem would be reset by downloading the settings imposed by your provider.

So, the bottom line is that there is not much you can do if your cable provider is setting caps, if you have no choice of another cable provider, which is the case with many of us—only one main cable service in the area—usually, the television cable company. The most you can do is try to optimize your performance as much as possible, but no amount of tweaking will take you from 256kbs to 1.5mbs. The bottom line is that your cable speed is controlled primarily by your service provider.

Again, consider yourself lucky if you have or can find a cable service provider that does not impose capping and that guarantees a minimum data transfer rate (not just a maximum one).

By the way, at the present time, my maximum cable download speed is 64kbs, but averages more often at 10kbs. I've been capped for the month by going over the transfer limit quota. Scary stuff, eh!?—the way they can specifically cap hack an individual modem. <lol>. Happy Halloween!

Get more help from Vic via his Windows Tips and Tricks support groups at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WinTips-Tricks/.



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