Frontier ISP toys with 5 GB usage cap

Small regional ISP Frontier Communications has now joined Time Warner Cable in floating the idea of instituting monthly user caps even for subscribers who don't use much bandwidth, anyway.

Although Frontier has not yet decided about potential charges for monthly usage above 5 GB, the Rochester, NY-based DSL provider has now revised its usage policy for residential customers to set 5 GB as "a reasonable amount of usage [for] combined upload and download consumption," according to information on the company's Web site.

More ominously, perhaps, the revised policy also states that "customers must comply with all Frontier network, bandwidth, data storage and usage limitations," adding that Frontier "may suspend, terminate or apply additional charges to the Service if such usage exceeds reasonable usage."

Ironically, Time Warner -- Frontier's only competitor in the Rochester, NY market -- is now testing usage caps in Beaumont, Texas. In Beaumont, users are given a choice of two different programs. One of these provides a paltry 768 Kbps downstream and 1 GB per month. The higher-priced plan offers 15 Mbps downstream with a 40 GB per month limit. Charges are $1 per GB above that.

Comcast, a major ISP which is reportedly contemplating 250 GB monthly usage caps, has also been conducting tests in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and Warrenton, Virginia around a method of controlling traffic problems that slows file transfer speeds for individual heavy users during peak times of Internet use.

Meanwhile, at least two wireless providers -- AT&T and Sprint -- have already instituted 5 GB monthly usage caps. Yet these apply only to AT&T's LaptopConnect and Sprint's EV-DO.

Meanwhile, some analysts are now foreseeing increasing consolidation on the wireline side, with larger ISPs with more bandwidth access gobbling up regional ISPs that would need to invest in upgrading their networks to keep up. For instance, Michael Nelson, an analyst at the Stanford Group, has predicted that Frontier could be a likely acquisition target for Windstream Communications.

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