Time Warner Testing Bandwidth Caps

I know this is old news, but for those of you that haven’t heard yet:

An internal Time Warner memo leaked last week. Said memo stated that the company will begin testing bandwidth caps in a small market in Texas. What’s a bandwidth cap? Basically, everything you download or upload requires your ISP to move data from point A to point B. If you send a friend a 1.2MB picture via email, that email “costs” your ISP at least 1.2MB of bandwidth (probably a little bit more than that for the text of the email itself and some “protocol overhead”). If your friend sends you a 1.0MB picture in return, then you’ve used a total of 2.2MB worth of bandwidth.

What Time Warner wants to do is cap (limit) the total amount of bandwidth its customers can use in a month. If you use up your bandwidth for the month, you’ll either have to: a) wait until the next billing cycle to use the Internet again; b) upgrade your Internet service to the next tier; or c) pay huge “per megabyte” charges for any “excess bandwidth” you use until the next billing cycle kicks in. If this sounds a lot like a cellphone plan… well, it does. In fact, you can substitute “talk time” for “Internet usage” and “anytime minutes” for “bandwidth” and the analogy is the same.

I’ll admit that I’m a bandwidth hog, so I don’t like talk of any bandwidth caps. But Time Warner’s bandwidth caps are so small that even members of Congress have taken notice. This is just my guess as to what the caps might be, but it’s based on educated guesswork:

5 Gb/mo for $19.99
20 Gb/mo for $39.99
40 Gb/mo for $59.99
Unlimited for $99.99

It’s important to remember that anything you do on the Internet counts against the cap. It’s not just downloading movies or music. Basic web browsing probably takes an average of 20KB per page. Emails probably take 5-10KB each, and that’s for a short email without any attachments. Instant messaging uses bandwidth. Updating this site uses bandwidth. Posting pictures to an online photo album uses bandwidth. RSS feeds use bandwidth. Downloading podcasts uses bandwidth. iTunes purchases use bandwidth. YouTube videos use bandwidth. Voice over IP (VoIP) phone services like Vonage use bandwidth. Connecting to your office via VPN or Remote Desktop uses bandwidth. Updating your computer via Windows Update or Office Update uses bandwidth. Using a Slingbox to watch movies on your home DVR when you’re in a hotel room in Denver uses bandwidth. Listening to your favorite online radio stations uses a good deal of bandwidth. Watching an episode of 30 Rock on nbc.com uses a lot of bandwidth. In short, everyone uses a lot of bandwidth for many different purposes, and what Time Warner wants to do is take you from your current “unlimited minutes” plan to “200 minutes per month” for the same price. And that, my friends, is bullshit.

All this is even funnier as it comes on the heels of HBO’s announcement that they’re going to offer streaming and downloadable versions of their shows to their paying customers. So if you’re an HBO subscriber, you’ll be able to download any (or all) of a minimum of 600 different HBO shows and movies. Which is great. But do you want to take a wild guess at who owns HBO? Yep: Time Warner. Talk about “the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing”!!

And guess what else coming to cable Internet users later this year*? DOCSIS 3.0. DOCSIS is the standard used by cable companies for sending data over cable television systems (it actually stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications). Anyway, the main reason for DOCSIS 3.0 is a massive speed increase. Cable providers will be able to offer 100Mbps/100Mbps packages to their customers – a huge increase over the 5Mbps/368kbps plan I have now. Basically, your cable modem will be 20 times faster… just at a time when Time Warner is putting the brakes on how much you can download! It’s like Time Warner is going to upgrade us from a BMW to a Ferrari, but will only allow us to drive at 30mph!

I’ve painted a pretty dire picture here. And that’s because I don’t want any bandwidth limits. To be fair to Time Warner, the internal memo said that such caps would only be applied to new customers. Some folks, however, are saying that you won’t be able to make any changes to your account (even for TV or phone service) without triggering the caps. It’s also not clear if this is a “RoadRunner only” issue – in other words, could I switch my ISP from Time Warner to EarthLink to avoid these caps, even though they’re using the same cable modem and bandwidth? There’s a lot we don’t know at this point, and given the huge amount of bad press they’ve gotten over this, it’s likely that they’ll ditch the whole concept altogether. Praise God if they do!

* – I should mention that Time Warner has made no mention of when they’ll adopt the DOCSIS 3.0 standard. However, Comcast has very publicly announced that they will begin testing DOCSIS 3.0 modems with their customers later on this year, in hopes of rolling it out nation-wide by 2010 at the latest. Time Warner would be idiots not to follow their lead.

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