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Time Warner Cable ready to test metered Net use

On Thursday in Beaumont, Texas, the company will start a trial run of a service that charges users more for higher-speed access and higher download capacity.

Some customers of Time Warner Cable in Beaumont, Texas, may soon end up paying more for their Internet access than other customers.

In a test of metered Internet access that's set to begin Thursday, subscribers who go over their limit for uploading and downloading material will be charged $1 per gigabyte, according to an Associated Press story, citing a Time Warner Cable executive.

The trial run for the metered Web use was expected. The company had said in January that it would test the new pricing model in Beaumont as a way to limit the use of peer-to-peer applications on its network. Cable companies and P2P services have long clashed over bandwidth demands, especially for the transfer of large video files.

The tiered pricing will work this way, for the Internet portion of subscription packages that also include phone or video use: At the low end, users will pay $29.95 per month for service at a speed of 768 kilobits per second, with a 5GB monthly cap. At the high end, users will pay $54.90 per month for service at 15 megabits per second, with a 40GB cap.

"We think it's the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure," Kevin Leddy, Time Warner Cable's executive vice president of advanced technology, said in Monday's AP story. He said that just 5 percent of the company's subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines.

Time Warner Cable has 90,000 customers in the trial area, but the test pricing structure will affect only new subscribers. The gigabyte surcharges go into effect after the first two months of service.

Reaction to the start of the test was swift--and often harsh.

"Is Time Warner Cable crazy?" writes Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm, who says she is a customer of the company. "(H)ere's where I question Time Warner Cable's sanity: By offering tiered service at 15 Mbps it's promising me faster speeds that I will have limited opportunity to use, potentially driving me into the arms of another provider. Additionally, the cable guys are in a fight to the death with the telephone companies, who are unlikely to resort to such plans because they don't have the same limitations when delivering last-mile services."