MODESTO, Calif. — Ken Glover admits he's on the Internet a lot: downloading movies and songs, surfing sites, playing "World of Warcraft."
Comcast says he's on too much, and they'll cut him off if he doesn't cut back.
"To me, `unlimited' means whenever I want," said Glover, 35, of Modesto. "When I'm not at work, I'm on my computer."
When his $55 monthly service was shut down last month, Glover said, he called Comcast to find out why.
A company official told him that he'd gone over the "limit" for using Comcast's high-speed Internet service. So the company was exercising its right, listed in the contract's terms and conditions, to shut him down temporarily.
He'd be cut off for a longer period if the problem continued, Glover said.
Comcast and some other Internet providers say their service isn't "unlimited" in the way customers think.
Customers who use too much bandwidth, or space for transmitting data, may either have to upgrade to a business account, which costs more, or be disconnected.
No fair, Glover said.
"I've got no problem with a cap, but show me what the numbers are," said Glover, a postal clerk.
Because the company wouldn't tell him when or where he'd crossed the line of excessive usage, he said, he doesn't know how to stay in its good graces.
A Comcast spokesman said the company tracks usage to keep the system working well for all customers.
"The customers who are notified of excessive use typically and repeatedly consume exponentially more bandwidth than an average residential user, which would include, for example, the equivalent of sending 256,000 photos a month, or sending 13 million e-mails every month (or 18,000 e-mails every hour, every day, all month)," Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd wrote in an e-mail.
Such high usage, according to tech experts, indicates a customer using the Internet for something like hosting a server or sending spam e-mails.
Glover said he doesn't use his cable Internet in any such way.
One expert said online gaming and video downloads could take up an excessive amount of bandwidth, too.
Tech experts said the problem is unique to companies that offer online service through cable.
Cable Internet is like a string of old Christmas lights, they say: If there's a problem with one bulb, it affects other bulbs down the line. Customers who use a lot of Internet bandwidth affect speeds and access for other customers using the same cable.
Comcast isn't the only company that has limits on customers' Internet use.
A technician with AllDial.net, a national Internet service provider, said his company doesn't limit bandwidth use.
But the Michigan-based firm does cut off customers after six hours to keep company servers from being overused.
The practice occasionally draws complaints, the technician said, especially when users are downloading large files.
William Moreno, vice president of Salida, Calif.-based Internet provider Fire2Wire, said his company monitors users to make sure they don't take advantage of bandwidth, but it doesn't have a formal policy.
He added that if his company sees excessive use, it will tell the customer exactly how to curb the problem.
"That the cable companies can't do that seems kind of interesting to me," Moreno said.
In cyberspace, the bandwidth issue is an irritation to many computer users.
Washington state resident Scott Garsh noted on his Web site that home phone companies don't limit the number or kind of calls a customer can make.
"But if you read most Internet service `acceptable use' statements, you will find that they have restrictions similar to the ones I just described," he wrote. "Some have clauses against `excessive network usage' (but do not define what this means)."
Many customers on the forum at www.broadbandreports.com, which features several postings about network use problems, say that they were unaware of such policies before their providers warned them.
Even though he knows now, Glover said he's worried because he doesn't know what to do differently.
"I'm not doing anything now that I wasn't doing the whole time," said Glover, who got Comcast Internet service two years ago.