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Time-Warner Road Runner Service’s Usage Cap Test: 5-40GB Per Month

Phillip Dampier August 13, 2008 Broadband "Shortage" 8 Comments
Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont, on the eastern border of Texas with Louisiana,  is one of America’s mid-sized cities of just over 100,000 people, best known for the Texas Wildcatters,  a smattering of oil and gas companies, and the first advance by Time Warner, America’s second largest cable television company, into this year’s issue of bandwidth usage caps.

Company officials first announced the market test  in January, impacting only new customers in Road Runner’s Golden Triangle Division with usage caps ranging from 5GB  for the Lite Tier plan to 40GB for the Turbo Tier.   The charge for exceeding your plan’s cap is $1 per gigabyte.

Like other companies talking about usage caps, everyone likes to use their own internal definitions of what 1GB of usage represents.   Time Warner’s is:

1GB gets you about 70,000 e-mails, 34 hours of gaming or 1,344 hours of Web browsing; or, it’s the approximate equivalent of downloading 569 photos, 277 music files, 7 hours of low-resolution video (YouTube), 3 hours of standard definition streaming video or 45 minutes of high-definition streaming video.

Again, my own calculations bring some different numbers to the table, and, honestly, does anyone really worry about going over a usage cap from reading e-mail and web browsing alone?

Randomly grabbing 277 MP3 music files consumed 1.56GB of usage.   Downloading 569 photos assumes your collection consists of pictures averaging 1.75MB apiece.   I grabbed some digital photos I took to Walgreens for printing and looked at the files I uploaded to their server.   My pictures, at high resolution (but not extremely high) come closer to 8MB apiece.   One  episode of Law & Order (around 42 minutes without the commercials and dropping the stream before the end credits rolled) consumed 360MB at standard definition rates.   As noted earlier, a movie delivered by Akamai can consume 6-9GB for just one 720p high definition film, nearly double that if you choose the 1080 version.

Taking each of these activities into consideration individually, usage caps of 20GB a month (or 40GB) don’t immediately sound alarming.   But people do not use their Internet connections for a single activity, and the more people you bring to the table, such as in a four person household, the easier it is to see just how quickly a family, especially with teenagers, will quickly exceed even these kinds of caps.

Beaumont residents are the first to participate in a Road Runner trial with usage capped.

Beaumont residents were the first to participate in a Road Runner trial with usage capped.

There are users out there who use their connections for little more than basic e-mail and occasional web browsing, and Time Warner offering a plan at a discount for those users is not a problem, assuming they actually promote such plans to potential customers.   The greater issue  comes from a service provider charges the same price (or more) for a plan that is now seriously limited by a cap.  And to date, there has been no proposal for retaining an “unlimited” tier in addition to offering a range of capped tiers for those who figure they will use considerably less.

Wireless telephone companies, which historically sold usage in plans with buckets of minutes, are now moving towards offering flat rate options – pay one price, talk all you like, while the broadband industry, which marketed “unlimited, always on” connections for a variety of content they include in their advertising are now headed in the other direction, limiting consumer choice and access.

Time Warner has been complaining about broadband growth as both a content distributor and as a bandwidth provider, which adds an interesting twist to the rationale companies have to implement caps.

Saul Hansell, a reporter and blogger for The NY Times, noted company officials are growing tired of basic cable networks making them pay license fees for content, and then seeing that content being given away on the web.

Speculation that bandwidth caps may also have to do with limiting the amount of streaming video that consumers watch have also been offered as a reason for providers adding caps to their Internet service.

Time Warner’s rationale for bandwidth capping was, according to the company itself, to control what they felt was excessive use of their network.

“This is not targeted at people who download movies from Apple,”  Time Warner spokesman Alex Dudley told the NY Times. “This is aimed at people who use peer-to-peer networks and download terabytes.”

And again that brings up the question of how a 20-40GB cap is the most effective way to control a minority of users running a torrent client or server 24/7 and consuming terabytes over an entire month.   That is the equivalent of dropping a nuclear weapon on a pesty moth.   The weapon does get the moth, but it also impacts on a far larger circle of customers that don’t come close to consuming that level of data.   Every ISP has language in their contracts with customers that allow them to cut off the 24/7 torrent addict today.   Some, including Comcast, have enforced these kinds of provisions before without a usage cap.

To date, consumer reaction in Beaumont has been mixed.   Many are convinced the caps are unjustified, too low, or simply too expensive for what you get.   Others object to the excessive rate of $1 per gigabyte for overage fees.   Some don’t like the idea of having to measure everything they do online in fear of exceeding a usage cap.   There are also some that like the idea of paying for what they use, and are willing to consider different plans based on what they actually consume if it also means they get the speeds they were promised in advertising.

Dudley argues that the usage cap issue is not a foregone conclusion at Time Warner.   Dudley told GigaOm that TWC’s experiment in Texas was just that “a test.”

“If consumers don’t want it, the company is going to back away from it.  I think this is a trial and we are going to learn from this trial,” he said.

StoptheCap! wants the company to learn as well.   If you ask customers if they’d prefer paying the same amount they do today for unlimited access or capped access, there will be little surprise as to the outcome.

Currently there are 8 comments on this Article:

  1. GMan says:

    I second your last paragraph result. But seriously question if TWC hasn’t already started monitoring our usage as well as holding it down to a level they consider is enough! And surely what they consider and what is actually appropriate are completely out of sync with one another. I myself download more than any average user and if this so called plan was directed at users such as myself, I would not get past two days before they were cutting me off or billing me for hundreds of dollars worth of so called bandwidth i.e.: MB up/downloaded material (streamed). I say not only should they not be allowed to even consider this sort of activity. They should in fact be looking at increasing the available bandwidth already provided across this country. It is as most of us already know not even close to being sufficient to our needs and or our growth expectations for the future of broadband service (s). I am in no way surprised to hear of this so called plan by the one and only TWC Company. I’ve seen their business practices first hand and without a better terminology to use I’ll use what best describes them, to me “ They Suck”. That said, I trust will not have a need to worry over this issue for much longer. Surely with a new administration on its way in, the new and improved powers that be will never allow it. It can only result in stifling our ability to remain not only competitive but also can keep us ahead of the pack in our pursuit of a bigger better line of communication between countries, companies and people of the world. Bigger is not always better but surely it is when we speak of our ability to communicate with one another! The old DRM for broadband! What next, banning books maybe!!!!!! Who would even consider such, in 2008? Nuf- said. Let’s face it the bottom line here is growth without growth. The day we started believing that stocks were only worth owning as long as they remained growth stocks was the day we signed our own death certificate. A company can be profitable even if it isn’t growing at all. The myth of growth stocks was invented just as the myth of higher taxes cause layoffs and or productivity slowdowns. It’s all BS. It may be the difference between the CEO buying a new yacht this year or another beach house but it’s not going to affect the working class even slightly. Do you really think that additional taxes on millionaires and large oil companies is going to shut them down or cause them to layoff anyone? Yeah, when monkeys fly out of your butts… It’s always the same when it comes to the consumer in this country, we pay and the top money earners don’t it’s just that simple. So, what does this have to do with curbing bandwidth. Everything if you look at it in the proper light. TWC needs to show growth so since they aren’t able to attract enough new customers to show said growth they bump up your monthly service fees and Walla, you’ve got growth. At least as shown on their quarterly report you do….but real growth, well that is debatable. In closing we should all have the same answer to these question. Not no but Hell No! No DRM, No Bandwidth scaling and no more BS! Give us what you advertise and what we pay for. It’s not rocket science. Don’t promise what you don’t plan to deliver.

  2. Lucas says:

    i look at it a different way. why should someone who barely uses the net pay the same as someone that is on all the frigging time. if the cable companies create flexible plans with perhaps a ‘buy more gigs’ option or even a pay as you go where you can buy X gigs and then when you use them up buy more, it’s not so bad.

  3. Dixie Cathcart says:

    Recently I haave had a lot of difficulty keeping DSL service connnected by Time Warner connected. NOW they have not only increase the 29.99 start up package to 39.95 each month but have just added $10 to the current fees, I do not have their bundle)this was a personal choise, and it is only a contract-which I wish I could cancel- that keep me using this service.
    I don’t like to have the service jump
    $20 just because they can do it. Stop this robbery of the service some of the online student need and get back to service

  4. Aaron says:

    I think this will have a big impact. when dsl started to put caps on its usage cable took the first chance they had to save money since there was no more competition. this will start to destroy the economy even more. because avg. users will be so paranoid about going over the cap they will cut their browsing 50% leaving online only businesses to fend for themselves. in turn making more and more businesses go bankrupt and close as more and more companys follow the cap trend. plus not to mention the business sites will have to cut down on the ads they have on their sites as those ads consume bandwidth. thus making them lose even more money. see my friends this is a good example of what would happen if amd went bankrupt it would affect us as a whole. plus i just upgraded my lite version to standard and they told me oh phone “oh dsl puts caps on their service we let you use as much as you need” i didnt even get my digital phone installed as of this comment. and its not like i can switch to dsl they are starting the same trend. the switch to HD with channels is sucking up bandwidth too making it worse

  5. Jim says:

    The beginning of the end of net neutrality. I am waiting for TW to say, “oh if you go to one of our partner websites it won’t go against your usage cap”.

    This is also aimed squarely at the “I don’t need cable” I can download my episodes user. Not after this.

    What an anti-business, anti-consumer crock of snow this is. The amount of patent misinformation coming from Time Warner will be a sight to see.

  6. Terry says:

    I see the good points and bad, but lets face the fact that this is a step backward for technology. I understand that not everyone uses the internet the same way. I also believe that there is an unsided bias that goes with this bandwidth cap. There is constant mention of controlling traffic of those who download from torrent sites, or host content themselves – the “abusers” if you will. On the other side, there is mention of the poor internet challenged individual who merely looks to read the news and check the email. These people may use the internet more than they realize…

    What about all of those Xbox 360 and PS3 owners out there? There are all kinds of add-ons that you download for your games that are hundreds of MB in size. But I’m not just talking about gaming. These consoles are geared toward the next generation of how we get our media….Streamed. Both platforms offer video download, and those of you who have downloaded HD programming know the files can be huge. Netflix offers streaming video on Xbox 360, and aside from consoles they also offer there own video streaming box that hooks to your tv. At some point, we may just be watching our everyday television via the internet. How will the TWC caps affect this? Easy, you’ll be paying for every bit of it. (Sorry Netflix, I will be cancelling my subscription in July.)

    For those of you who have the next generation of smart phones, do you use the wifi capability in your home because you get a better signal? I have the blackberry curve and on my phone I have wifi with UMA. Im not sure what it stands for, but basically when im home, it links to my home network and sends all of my text messages, email, and even my voice calls through the internet instead of a cell tower. I had to laugh when I realized I pay tmobile to use my internet for the voice calls. Now it looks as though I may pay even more for those calls if I happen to go over my monthly internet cap.

    And what about those great offers for VOIP phone service? It makes sense that all that talking we do on the phone translates into some amount of data per second that we will pay for. We may as well go back to using hard lines for our phone use.

    Does this mean we can now sue all those companies that like to add the autoupdate feature to their PC software? Your operating system has to update itself to be more secure. If you have antivirus, firewall, malware blocker, or spyware blocker software you download updates daily to be more secure. Many of these programs you pay a subscription for, and now you may be paying for the updates as well. Are we supposed to turn this stuff off now and jeopardize our security to save money? And those are all the basic programs. Don’t forget about all of those other add-ons that probably came with your pc. They all want you to have the latest version.

    What happens when you are nearing your 40G cap and you contract a virus that mass emails from your pc? Hopefully your AV caught it before you start paying extra to TWC!

    And finally, I wonder if Timewarner has really thought about the fact that they will be instigating criminal activity because of this change in internet usage. Think about it. How many people out there buy routers and do not secure them because they either dont know how, or do not want to be hassled with entering passwords? Tightening the bandwidth may help line TWC’s pockets but will undoubtedly force some to prey on open networks. Think of the mess that will create. That poor email jockey that claims they never use the internet suddenly gets a whopper bill from TWC. How will they prove they should not have to pay for it? Ultimately, it’s their IP that will run the bill up. Better staff up in customer service Timewarner, I hear the phones ringing now….

    Ok. Before I get responses that I am going overboard and some of the things I mentioned use minimal bandwidth, doesnt it stand to reason that collectively these things could add up over time and force even a so called “non-internet abuser” to go over their alloted usage per month?

  7. Shari says:

    3 people in our family play mmorpg’s. Probably around 30 hours of gaming DAILY total … and that’s on weekdays. One of us downloads 10 gig games on a monthly basis, and on occasion we stream movies from netflix. We’re a normal family … and currently have RR Turbo to keep up with us all. This plan pulls the Turbo off the table, which is the start of the trouble… paying the same as turbo for less bandwidth? Then you have to wonder whether they really mean the 34 hours of gameplay per gig… will they stick to that, or is that subjective? Different bandwidth meters give different results, and none of the ones i’ve tried gave me those. Everything else showed us using close to 40 gigs within a week. They really need to pass out the meters ahead of time if they’re set on doing this. I can’t afford a dollar per gig if we’ll be going over by 120 or more per month… that surprise bill the first month wouldn’t be very kind to an internet dependant family like ours ^^

  8. Brian Hill says:

    Heres a podcast documentary talking about Time Warners plan along with the child protection crusaders plotting for net control, net spying, and net censorship.


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