Well, folks, it’s official: Time Warner has officially begun testing bandwidth caps on new subscribers in Beaumont, Texas. As expected, the caps are terrible: customers that have “basic service” can get a 768kbps connection with 5GB of bandwidth per month, while heavier users can get a 15Mbps connection with a 40GB limit per month. Any bandwidth exceeding the 40GB/month cap will be billed at $1/GB. This news is a disaster not only for Internet addicts like myself, but for almost any family that makes use of the Internet on a regular basis.
40GB seems like a lot of bandwidth at first glance. After all, 40GB is around 120,000 web pages or 600,000 emails without attachments. But the Internet is used for much more than browsing the Internet and getting emails these days. Online backup services like Mozy use bandwidth to copy files for your computer to Mozy’s servers. VoIP services like Vonage and VoiceEclipse use bandwidth to place phone calls via the Internet. Game consoles like the XBOX 360 make heavy use of Internet play, which (of course) uses bandwidth. And games like World of Warcraft are, by definition, online only. People get a lot of their entertainment from (legitimate) online sources, such as iTunes and Hulu these days (to say nothing of YouTube, MySpace and Facebook). Updates and security fixes for Windows, Office, iTunes and Acrobat (to name just a few) can sometimes run in the hundreds of megabytes. And let’s not forget that a lot of people work from home, connecting to their corporate networks via VPN or Remote Desktop.
For a single person using the Internet only for surfing the web, getting emails and using instant messaging products, a 40GB cap is not that big of a deal. For a family of four – with dad watching videos on Hulu, mom working from home via VPN, son playing Xbox Live as much as humanly possible, and daughter seeing what’s new at YouTube.com and spending hours talking on an unlimited Vonage plan – a 40GB bandwidth cap is laughably tiny, especially since HD video is making its way to the web. A downloaded iTunes or Netflix HD movie can run up to 8GB/hour… so if you watch two HD movies on these services in a month, you’ll have used 4/5 of your bandwidth!
What’s more galling is the pricing structure: a 768Kbps connection with a 5GB cap… for $29.95 per month? In case TWC hasn’t checked, BellSouth AT&T offers DSL Internet in my area at the same speed with no cap for $19.95 a month. Why the hell would anyone pay $10/month extra for the same product?
And speaking of AT&T, the telcom giant will be rolling out U-Verse here in Gaston County “sometime later this year”. In fact, they installed one of the giant U-Verse boxes in my back yard back in March. If TWC implements caps in my area, I can promise you that I’ll switch in a heartbeat.