Last year, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner division began testing “consumption based” Internet service in Beaumont, Texas. In corporate-speak, “consumption based” is a polite euphemism for “capped bandwidth”. In Beaumont, new TWC customers were given a paltry cap of 40GB a month. TWC has since rolled their “test” out to several other markets, and has also played with the caps, in some cases making them as small as 5GB/month.
5GB/month might be fine for older couples that use the Internet mainly for surfing a few web pages and emailing pictures of their grandkids. But for “digital families” that use streaming video services like Hulu or Netflix, that back up their computers using an online service like Mozy, that use a non-cable company telephone service like Vonage, that have kids that use Xbox Live or some other gaming service, that use VPN or RDP to connect to their corporate networks… well, metered bandwidth simply won’t work.
It might be one thing if TWC was offering a reasonable pricing package for these wimpy Internet plans. After all, it is only fair for grandma and grandpa to pay $9.99/month for using a mere 1GB of bandwidth, right? Wrong. From the looks of things, TWC appears to be prepared to offer a super-crippled 5GB/month plan for a tiny discount (say, $29.99/month) while at the same time, they want to jack up the prices for heavy users to $150/month (or more).
Let me also point out that Comcast – perhaps the most reviled company in America – has had bandwidth caps for some time now… and their cap is 250GB/month. TWC hasn’t mentioned what their “final cap” might be, but consider this: if TWC and Comcast both charge $44.95 a month for high speed Internet, and if TWC goes with a 40GB/month cap, Comcast customers will pay 18¢ per GB per month, while TWC customers will pay $1.12 per GB per month… for the exact same product.
So… why is TWC doing this? There are two reasons.
First, Time Warner (and other cable companies) initially “oversold” their broadband capacity. It costs a lot of money to run fiber optic cables and set up an Internet infrastructure. The only way TWC (and the others) could make it cost effective was to have far more customers than the network could support. Back in 1997, when web pages were small and bandwidth-intensive services like YouTube, Hulu and Bittorrent didn’t exist, this was an easy bet. But now that many people use their Internet connections 24\7 for one reason or another, TWC’s networks are groaning under the weight of all that traffic. By putting caps in place, TWC is hoping to coax (or force) people to stop using so much damn bandwidth, thus bringing their network back under control.
Secondly, Time Warner is rolling out a bunch of new services, and they want you to use them instead of a third-party. If you currently have Vonage or VoiceEclipse phone service, TWC wants to put a bandwidth cap in place to scare you into using their service. If you currently use Hulu to watch TV shows you might have missed, TWC wants to put a bandwidth cap in place to scare you into renting one of their DVRs. If you currently use Netflix’s new streaming service, TWC wants to put a bandwidth cap in place to scare you into using their Video On Demand service instead. Like most of life’s big questions, this all comes down to money, and this is as naked a money grab as every there was.
Thankfully, people are starting to take notice. New York Congressman Eric Massa (of Rochester, the site of TWC’s 5GB/month test) is mad as hell about it, and is looking into creating legislation that would ban bandwidth caps. Ars Technica has been on this story for a while, and just today published this piece, taking TWC to task for their half-truths and lies.
For my part, I can only say this: TWC, if you bring such caps to the Gastonia, NC market, here’s one customer that will switch over to AT&T’s U-Verse so fast it will rip a hole in spacetime!