Metered Internet access is a fact of life for many broadband users around the world, but has been largely a nonfactor when it comes to wired broadband in the US. That may change, according to a memo leaked to the Broadband Reports forums. If the memo is to be believed, Time Warner Cable will be rolling out what it calls “Consumption Based Billing” on a trial basis in the Beaumont, Texas area.
Under the proposed scheme, new customers will be able to choose from a couple of different plans with varying bandwidth caps. They’ll be given online tools to monitor usage and will be able to upgrade to the next higher tier of service to avoid charges for exceeding their monthly bandwidth limit. If the trial works well, Time Warner would then roll out bandwidth caps to current customers: “We will use the results of the trial to evaluate results for possible future nationwide rollouts,” reads the memo.
Bandwidth caps have been a sore subject for some users who have found themselves bumping into mysterious, undefined limits. This past fall, a number of Comcast subscribers complained that their service was cut off after having reached Comcast’s bandwidth limit. The problem is that Comcast (and other ISPs) do not publicize what limits they have in place. Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy, for instance, offers users only a vague warning against “generating levels of traffic sufficient to impede others’ ability to send or retrieve information.”
Absent hard, publicized bandwidth caps, broadband providers’ only alternatives are implementing the kinds of nebulous caps Comcast has been criticized for, engaging in traffic shaping to lighten the burden on the network, or making their networks robust enough to handle demand (I’ll take door number three). Both Comcast and Cox have been pilloried for using forged reset packets to thwart P2P transfers. Cox defends the practice, saying that it’s necessary to “ensure the best possible online experience for customers.”
Putting caps in place as is apparently planned by Time Warner would remove the uncertainty for high-volume users, and would force the heaviest consumers of bandwidth to pay accordingly. The downside is that companies with bandwidth caps could find themselves at a marketing disadvantage to ISPs without set limits.
Time Warner Cable did not immediately respond to a phone call requesting comment on whether the memo is legitimate and it is indeed planning to instituted tiered bandwidth caps.
Although we have been unable to connect with a Time Warner spokesperson, the company has since confirmed the plans to Reuters.