Tests of Time Warner broadband cap rescheduled, debates continue

Time Warner Cable's proposed trials of consumption-based billing were originally slated to begin in several markets this summer, where customers would be a part of a tiered pricing scheme. Pricing would have started at 1 GB per month for $15, and go up to 100 GB per month for $75, and include a per-gigabyte overage fee.

The public's reaction was less than favorable, and the trials in Texas have been rescheduled.

Gavino Ramos, Time Warner's Vice President of Communications told the San Antonio Express News, "What happened as we're continuing to listen was we worked in some of the comments and ideas that got sent to us. We came to the realization, let's do this in October."

Trials in Rochester, New York and Greensboro, North Carolina will continue as planned, but consumers look to be equally aggrieved. Some subscribers are planning protests of Time Warner's offices for the proposed trials. One group, called Stop The Cap, believes protests keep price hikes in check. It says, "a handful of major broadband providers are now colluding in a version of telecommunications limbo, with several watching each of the others 'experiment,' to see how low a cap they can set before subscribers and public officials rebel."

This sort of bandwidth regulation has stirred debate both about monopoly, due to Time Warner's insular presence in some rural areas and its guaranteed exclusive CATV contracts in metropolitan areas. And don't forget the ongoing debate about net neutrality, which is leveraged in this case to make the argument that all users regardless of their purchasing ability should have access to "the same Internet."

When networks are built out, the level of bandwidth consumption must be projected in advance; when those projections fall short, networks encounter serious congestion problems. Now that online gaming, streaming video, remote console and hard drive access, VoIP, and video conferencing are all increasingly common uses of the Internet, bandwidth consumption has exploded. According to Time Warner, it's exploding 40% faster than previously expected.

A passage in Time Warner's statement to the FCC on Monday (PDF available here) said, "The Commission should remind NTIA that, even under the Broadband Policy Statement, broadband providers are permitted to undertake reasonable network management practices in order to manage the ever-increasing flow of traffic over their networks and thereby address the root causes of network congestion."

Whether or not this is the cash grab that the opposition believes it to be, for now, Time Warner can cite a footnote in the FCC's Broadband Policy Statement (PDF available here) as protection while it decides how to proceed.

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