Time Warner to test metered Web use

Time Warner Cable says it will charge users based on how much data they transfer in an effort to control peer-to-peer traffic on their network, but the new pricing model could scare off customers.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

Time Warner Cable is testing a new pricing structure where heavy broadband users will be charged based on how much data they transfer, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

A trial for the new pricing scheme is expected to begin in Beaumont, Texas, later this year. Time Warner is testing the new pricing model to see if it can curb usage of peer-to-peer applications on its network, said Alex Dudley, a spokesman for the company.

Peer-to-peer protocols allow users to access content that is distributed throughout the network on other computers running the same application. It's commonly used to transfer music and video files, as well as other large data files.

Service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner, have been complaining recently that peer-to-peer traffic eats up valuable bandwidth. AT&T argues that much of this traffic is used to distribute illegal content, and the company is testing filtering technology to block it.

Comcast has taken a different approach. It has used traffic shaping to slow down some kinds of peer-to-peer traffic. These moves have prompted outcries from consumer groups, and the Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating whether Comcast has violated any of its policies or principles.

Meanwhile, Time Warner thinks that metering bandwidth usage will help solve the problem.

"The idea is to create a more consistent, enhanced experience for our customers," Dudley said. "We can't allow a small percentage of customers to use an inordinate amount of the network to the detriment of the majority of customers."

My first impression of this new model is that Time Warner is treading on some dangerous territory. What is ironic to me is that the company will probably scare off the very high-end customers it wants to attract.

Think about this. Today Time Warner offers a fixed priced for data service. The fastest speed service available is for 10 Mbps downloads and 512 kbps uploads for $44.95 a month. Someone who is willing to spend $45 a month for 10 Mbps of bandwidth is probably the same person who uses peer-to-peer applications. Your basic run-of-the-mill users are probably subscribing to the cheaper 1.5 Mbps/256 kbps service for $29.95

I can almost guarantee you that the $44.95 customers are also savvy enough to know that they are going to lose in the metered-Web model. And they will likely just switch to a competitor, such as Verizon Communications, which offers 15 Mbps downloads and 2 Mbps uploads on its Fios fiber service for $53 a month. Of course, the problem for most consumers is that Fios isn't available everywhere.