Friday, January 18, 2008

Metered Broadband

Yesterday Time Warner announced they will begin testing new metered pricing for broadband customers referred to as "Pay-Per-Download" plans. Rather than a set monthly rate, customers will pay fees assessed by usage.

“We want the network to maximize returns for all of our customers,” said spokesman Alex Dudley, adding that a small number of users currently consume a disproportionate share of bandwidth. “Ninety-five percent of our users would not be the extreme users who are driving this.”

Once the test starts, new customers will be offered a choice of four plans that allow them to download set amounts each month—5, 10, 20 or 40 Gigabytes. As with cell phone service packages, those who go over their allotment will be charged extra. Time Warner hasn’t yet determined the price of each tier. The test will start later this year with new subscribers in Beaumont, Texas.
From a Net Neutrality perspective, this could be a good thing, as it allows providers to better manage their networks for profit without restricting access or high-bandwidth applications. From an internet usage point of view, perhaps not so much. I don't relish the idea of my internet connection rekindling the annoyance of managing "daytime, nighttime, and weekend" minutes with the old AT&T mobile services.

Critics of the test argue that though it may provide a work-around for providers to manage while remaining Net Neutral, it doesn't address the growing need for investment in infrastructure.
“Telling consumers they must choose between blocking and metered pricing is a worrying development,” Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said in a statement. “The best answer to any capacity crunch is to build the kind of high-capacity networks available in the world’s leading broadband nations.”

Public Knowledge’s Sohn agreed that any long-term solution to bandwidth problems requires improving the infrastructure. “The ultimate goal has got to be a fatter pipe,” Gigi Sohn said.

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