Collaboration

Bandwidth metering: Is Time Warner just the beginning?

Time Warner launches new bandwidth metering experiment. The worry is the cost of Internet access may rise. Bandwidth hogs beware.

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Time Warner launches new bandwidth metering experiment. The worry is the cost of Internet access may rise. Bandwidth hogs beware.

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The blogosphere has worked itself into a panic about Time Warner Cable's new bandwidth metering experiment. There is a lot of fear that this is going to drive up the cost of Internet service for average users and businesses, or worse, force them to monitor and curtail some of their Internet downloading habits.

I was chatting with my colleague Larry Dignan about this earlier today and we were both perplexed about why people were getting so hyper about this. After all, most of them will still have the choice of changing ISPs to keep unlimited plans, at least for the short term. The ultimate goal for Time Warner is to exercise control over ultra-heavy downloaders, who hog the network's resources while still paying the same flat rate as everyone else.

Larry writes:

"I must be missing something here, because I don’t see a lot to get wound up about. For starters, Time Warner Cable is doing a trial that has been outlined since January. It’s a small experiment for new customers. And the company is looking to ditch bandwidth hogs that are costing it money. If all the trial does is convince the P2P downloaders to find a new network, Time Warner Cable will have done its job."

This will not affect average users. In fact, some of them will end paying less in a tiered system for metered bandwidth. For example, my mother-in-law and my grandfather could do a cheaper, lower-tiered service like Time Warner's 768k of bandwidth and a 5 gigabyte/month cap because they primarily use the Internet for e-mail, Web surfing, and viewing photos of their grandchildren.

This also won't affect most businesses, who already deal with bandwidth metering and caps on leased lines such as T1s and DS3s. Small businesses that use Cable and DSL lines will likely be able to get bandwidth and gigabyte rates that are similar to today's business rates (often $100-$150 per month), and most won't pay anything above that if they manage their IT assets responsibly (download updates centrally, don't allow rogue programs to constantly hog Internet bandwidth, etc.).

Meanwhile, bandwidth hogs who take up more than their fair share of the pipes and slow things down for everyone else will become economically dis-incented to keep using up so much of the broadband pipe.

So, yes, the end of "unlimited Internet bandwidth" could be coming, but it is not nearly as nefarious as it may sound from the chatter in the blogosphere.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

51 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I am always amazed at these kinds of articles. IF YOU DON'T LIKE WHAT THEY ARE DOING DON'T SUPPORT THEM BY USING THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES!

bosborne
bosborne

Just 2 months ago I switched ISP's, moving up to an 'unlimited' connection so I could 'Download all the movies you want' and 'all the music you want' at 'lightning fast speed'. Now that they've signed me up my 'unlimited' service is being capped, my present level of use will cost me 50% more and apparently, I'm just plain greedy for expecting my ISP to provide the service level that was advertised 2 months ago at the rate that was promised 2 months ago. Come on now, these are giant corporations we're talking about that know exactly what they're doing. This is nothing more than 'bait and switch' false advertising. They should be sued silly for such underhanded tactics!

info
info

Give me a break. Time Warner and other media companies are pushing more and more content on the web and wanting their customers to buy and download it from the web (versus buying a cd or dvd). Now they want to penalize the consumer for doing just that by increasing their rates according to usage. And customers probably will not have much of a choice to move, should the plan work, because many other cable companies will follow suit.

jck
jck

Time-Warner will probably give "credits" or not tally bit counts from their websites. Should that happen...Apple/iTunes, et. al. should sue their pants off

jdclyde
jdclyde

why do you want their pants off? :0

jck
jck

i need a good laugh lol

andy
andy

Do I feel you should have to pay more if you are a bandwidth hog? yes I do. But with the increased media push for us all to download content from music to videos to entire streaming tv channels as the norm, it would seem that many people are going to get caught out by bandwidth limits. Most ISPs in the UK have limit bandwidth usage or a "fair usage policy" that is badly described and very grey in its limits. I think it is unfair of ISPs to limit bandwidth to home users who are not using P2P downloads, but just downloading legal content as the media is pushing.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

They'll wire something into cable TV that monitors all computer activity?You just try to figure out how somebody put the Internet on the cable lines once.

DanLM
DanLM

[i]They'll wire something into cable TV that monitors all computer activity?[/i] Hell, they can do that now... Christ, even that one I could figure out how to do if I really wanted to. Would have nothing to do with my cable tv either. [i]You just try to figure out how somebody put the Internet on the cable lines once.[/i] ok, this one I can kind of figure out... But, not quite sure. Again, you feel ok??? Dan

Matt Larson
Matt Larson

It was only a matter of time before a large company realized they were missing out on lots of money. The move to this method of per user analysis is just natural course. I think it will be interesting to see what technologies come from this. Think about it. If you get charged by volume, then you could create programs(similar to currently existing programs but specific to the new needs that arise) that compress what you do. Tools that facilitate efficiency and economically viable solutions will flourish. Who knows, this appraoch to tier billing in an effort to increase revenue may backfire.

jck
jck

I hope some company is savvy enough and has the capital (like AT&T or Verizon, maybe?) to offer open bandwidth...drop tons of fiber and hardware in place...and make time-warner regret doing this. When an ISP says to me "You get 8Mb download, 1.5Mb upload service for $40 per month.", I take that to mean that I have upwards of that bandwidth available to me 24/7 for as much as i care to use it. it's much like going to an all you can eat buffet. they provide all the product you care to use...and you consume as much as you care to. but in this case, Time-Warner is just the restaurant who is looking to not have to buy enough food and hire enough chefs to give us enough consumable.

DanLM
DanLM

[i]Tools that facilitate efficiency and economically viable solutions will flourish.[/i] Efficiency is always a good thing for the consumer. I hope your right, I hope new tools are developed with that stated goal. Shoot, it's a shame they haven't already. This would be a non issue then. Dan

dreron
dreron

maybe, just maybe, we can see better designed pages more often, maybe even a little bit less annoying ads on the websites... Still, the should rename the service (like "pay for what you use")and change the advertising, as well as the contracts for new users; avoid applying it backwards (their costumers are, after all, paying for an internet service without a cap)

jck
jck

those who have subscriptions to iTunes and other music services...if the bandwidth use basis is changed to set-bytes per period, is it fair that those who got broadband for the fixed-bandwidth allowance so they could use those services to get music they legally pay for...now have to dole out more to ISPs to get what they are paying for? seems this mentality is setting back technology...rather than furthering it.

jarrod.house
jarrod.house

I know for a fact Comcast also has done this for years. If you are over a certain threshold they shut your modem down and send you a letter advising you to transfer your service over to a business rate plan.

jas0090
jas0090

What about for gamers. I primarily use my internet connection at home (Road Runner Turbo) through time warner to play online games with my ps3. It seems to me that this would drive that price up when the new tactic was to more or less stop the p2p people.

DanLM
DanLM

Why should I be charged the same amount as you when you use more bandwidth? Why should my service suck during the 5pm to 10pm hours because your sitting at home sucking up the bandwidth with your gaming. Sorry, but I feel if I am going to use in excess of what others do. I should have to pay for that excess. What, you want us to support your gaming habit? Think about this. Business's have to pay for large bandwidth usage. I work for a publishing company, means large scale graphics. We pay extra for the bandwidth we use. What makes gamers any different. They use more by the streaming graphics that they use then someone else. Hey, I like the cap system. If you don't use it, you don't pay for it. If you use it, you pay for it. Works for me. Dan

JamesRL
JamesRL

I am an online gamer using a PC. Lets face it, except for downloading a huge patch periodically, the gaming activity itself does not take up a hge amount of bandwidth. My game loads from disk, and all that gets sent over the net is information about where I am on a map and what I am doing - not graphical information at all just vectors. My game is not faster on a 4 MB pipe than it was on a 1.5. I even have MS Updates downloading while I game without a significant impact. So I don't see gaming as anything like the P@P stuff that goes on. James

jas0090
jas0090

I agree that i should pay more if I use more. But its hard to charge customers extra when they dont even give you exactly what they say they will in tersm fo speed. For example: I get road runner turbo - should be 15 down and 1.5 up. I get 12 down and 800k up on avg. Want to charge me for how much I use then give me the speeds your suppose to.

DanLM
DanLM

And to be honest... I perform off site backups to my home machine. Which, depending how buisness goes... May push me over the tier allocation. I doubt it, but that possibility is always there if someone fills their home directory which I am backing up.

jck
jck

the cable company has sold me 8Mb/s down, 1.5Mb/s up. that means, they know i am going to use that amount at points during the day...or all day, if i so choose. it is the service that i have paid for. if ISPs are not building their networks to handle all of the bandwidth required to serve their customers as they promised, should a user or any user be made to pay more because the provider has not kept sufficient resources to provide what he has promised customers? it's similar to what airlines have been allowed to do for years: overbook flights knowing that a certain percentage of passengers don't make flights. but when they overbook and they have too much load for the set amount of transport they have, they are required to cut back by compensating some customer for not providing the service they promised. i think ISPs should be held to that same standard. if you sell the public a service and can't deliver, you are obligated to remunerate them. again, it seems to me like they are trying to rake in more money for no purpose other than to line their pockets. and, you and i will see no more benefit even with this plan. lag is a constant. that's the internet nowadays. business is greedy. that's a constant too.

rory
rory

As I understand it the majority of isps are using networks that already existed when the internet exploded in the 90s (copper phone lines are have been around longer than my grampa). It sounds to me like these companies just want to charge a premium for good service rather than invest back into the network. When am I going to get a fibre optic line into my house?

jck
jck

they give me 8Mb/1Mb service, I pay $40 a month. that is our agreement. that is an exchange. now, they are going to change the terms of my agreement, and still charge me as much or more since i game and i buy music downloads? it was an honest exchange of services before. but because their management and design and sales people haven't worked together to predict and maintain the proper facilities to keep up with their obligations or the market, they are looking for ways to change that service to solve their problem and make it more profitable. and all without giving me or you a better quality service. you'll still have lag. guaranteed. there are always gonna be kids whose parents will pay whatever they want bandwidth for. ISPs will just get richer, and you'll still be frustrated. their solution is not a way to relieve you of your issues. it's a technical placebo to get the people complaining to be quiet for the bit while their profits increase.

jdclyde
jdclyde

he wasn't beotching at me, just about the performance. i would have done the same. go wings, 2-0 in second period! woo woo!

DanLM
DanLM

They oversold their available resources. They have no choice now other then to be honest and use a tier system. It finally became an honest exchange of services. Dan Is it me or this bloody web site slow today? Or is it my bloody work connection. Speaking of bandwidth. ;o)

jdclyde
jdclyde

he didn't KNOW I was downloading.... B-)

jck
jck

say: "It's free. If you want 10Mb/s for yourself, get a job and buy your own." lol

jdclyde
jdclyde

and downloaded about 4 gigs last night, WHILE ThingTwo played on Xboxlive. He was bitch'en about lag, for some reason.. :)

wrlang
wrlang

TWTC has every right to monitor bandwidth usage. People who don't like the result MAY be able to change vendors. Obviously if there are no other suitable vendors in your area you can't really change vendors. Many rural areas are a captive audience. People in urban areas tend to think only in urban terms. It's a failing we all have. The only reason to monitor bandwidth is to begin to restrict usage or charge hogs more. TWTC is a business and as a business has only two real objectives, to reduce cost and increase revenue. This monitoring is the perfect solution. With it they can increase revenue for bandwidth hogs and collect until the hogs find another vendor. This has the added benefit of either delaying infrastructure upgrades because hogs go elsewhere or paying for upgrades on the hog's dime. Works as long as TWTC has banked the upgrade money before they start the upgrades. If the hogs leave in the middle of the upgrades, then TWTC will need some credit to complete the upgrades. We'll see if they've thought it through that far. Another assumption is that there is actually a small group of bandwidth hogs out there. We assume that there really are small cells of bandwidth hogs terrorizing our internet BEFORE the bandwidth monitoring has even been started. If you already know what your monitoring is going to find, then why monitor it. What if TWTC finds that there isn't really a small group of internet terrorists sucking up huge bandwidth? Time will tell whether the monitoring will affect only those internet terrorist bandwidth hogs or if TWTC will need to go after all users of youtube, myspace, facebook and other streaming sites.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

What defines a hog? The person using all of their 3 or 5 Mbps connection on a regular basis, or the person only using 1/2 their "alloted" bandwidth? I would say neither. If I pay for a 5 Mbps connection, I should have 5 Mbps available at all times, or they need to prorate me. If I choose to use that bandwidth on a consistent basis, I have the right, since I am paying them for the privilege. The cost of cable internet in my area keeps going up, which is odd considering they laid a fiber backbone and infrastructure over 10 years ago, fiber to the house is a possibility here now. If ISPs are worried about the "scarcity" of bandwidth, going after P2P users is like going after only humvee drivers to conserve gas, while ignoring all other trucks on the road. Yes P2P uses a decent bit of bandwidth if poorly configured, but its far from the #1 internet bandwidth user. (Lets all wave at YouTube and thank the nice spam mailers). Its the poster child, the "illegal action" legality to allow them to raise prices while providing no better quality of service (and many people in my area are complaining about lower quality of service). If a users internet bandwidth is creeping above their maximum, then by all means cap them, slow their pipe down to WHAT THEY PURCHASED. The problem here is that cable companies are being vague as to what constitutes a "hog". I would not hesitate to say they are trying to penalize those that continually max their connections, not stop those that use more then their paid service should provide. Once again the end-user will pay for a companies poor decisions and business model.

grande.christopher
grande.christopher

The ISPs are all in business to make money. Isn't everyone? We're in a (sort of) free market economy. This means that companies are not regulated. If supply/demand dictates that a company can demand whatever it wants for a service, then by all means that company should come up with whatever excuse it can to twist its customers arms a little harder. Personally, I'd rather not have an internet connection running in to my home if it means paying twice for the same (subpar) service.

qhartman
qhartman

My biggest problem is that it opens the door for these companies to start charging more while delivering less, while the overall scarcity of what they are delivering has not decreased. This is especially problematic in under-served markets (of which there are many in the US) where there is no or insufficient competition to help control the rate changes. I understand that their business models are have historically been based around being able to over-subscribe their lines and that they are discovering they can't do that anymore. They've created the expectation that if I'm buying an XMb connection with no cap on it, I should be able to redline that connection all day and all night if I like. Clearly, they were too short-sighted to think of the logical conclusion of that attitude and they need to change their business model. However, I don't think this is the business model change they should be going after. I mean, all over the world there is better, cheaper broadband available than there is in the US and (as far as I know) it is generally offered without bandwidth caps. Why is this happening in the US and nowhere else that I've heard of? My gut tells me that this is just a smokescreen for corporate greed. The cable providers have taken a page from the cellular providers and are trying to up their already enormous margins by enabling rate inflation of unlimited plans and the ability to charge exorbitant rates for overages. Ironically, this is happening just as cellular providers are realizing that unlimited plans may be the way to go.

stanton.chris.m
stanton.chris.m

It would be typical of a cable company to pull some shite like this. It does not surprise me one bit.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

'gut feelings' are often not based on any facts. Bandwidth is getting cheaper. Cable will give way to switched systems like FiOS by Verizon. They still will have to pay more for switch gear to a home than to a centrally located hosting data center. So they will charge more for that. If you are mindlessly putting p2p stuff on your home connex you need to pay the extra cost. 'Why is this happening in US'? 1) we are less govt regulated so they can change to prevent abuse more easily 2) we are more spread out than Singapore, Korea, or Japan. High speed bandwidth costs more to implement. Blah Blah Blah 'corporate greed'. That makes YOU greedy if you don't give ALL your money to charity and starve. They are in biz to provide a service without forcing anyone to buy it, make money at it and pay taxes in the process. Unlike if a govt runs the networks it costs 2x to run, doesn't respond to changes, and doesn't pay taxes.

kmoore
kmoore

You said everything I would have said, but better. Very heavy users should pay for the extra resources. Businesses should adjust AND make a profit. Government should, usually, stay out of commerce. BTW, with views like this, why are you living in California? Ken

GregR
GregR

If an ISP advertises an unlimited internet connection @ 8Mb/s then that is what they should provide. The fact that they are getting away with what they are is another symptom of a total lack of consumer protection in this country. Before you go getting wound up, there is a big difference between consumer protection and socialism, so please leave that trite argument behind. It is an absolute lack of consumer protection that has allowed ISP's in the US to milk their antiquated networks for so long while at the same time looking for ways to charge users more for what they already have. I don't think you'll like what you end up with when your ideas follow through to their logical conclusion.

jck
jck

they are 1 step from being in collusion. you don't see real competition. similar rate plans, similar bandwidth levels, similar everything. one does not try to out-do the other on a regular basis. and if one does (e.g.- BrightHouse (Time-Warner in FL) has 10 and 15Mb/s home connections, where as AT&T has only 7Mb/s), then you are charged a premium...and not a small increase for a small increase in bandwidth. btw...about bandwidth issues. the fact that ISPs are getting clogged up on their networks is because when most implemented 5-10 years ago, they didn't expect to have the user base they did. it has nothing to do with a few or even several heavy downloaders in each area...it has to do with poor growth planning. they didn't predict the mass numbers of PC users who'd exist, buy their service, and do file sharing. and they've not grown their infrastructures in the past 3-5 years accordingly to accomodate for this. also, they used to advertise (Cable One, Time-Warner, and Comcast...i saw commercials before) about "download all you want" and "your connection is 24/7" and "no need to connect and disconnect" as well...they already have means of limiting your bandwidth. that's how 768k customers use the same cablemodem from Time-Warner as 8Mb customers do. you can control dataflow at the router or modem itself. they're just whining to get more money. Sorry to disappoint Dij

jck
jck

i have friends who own stations...they do price their fuel not only according to what they get it from the supplier for...but also, what their competitors are at. of course, gas stations have a cap above wholesale as to what they can sell for...at least in Florida. as for giving them a break....the bandwidth issue has been around for years. it's nothing new. Time-Warner just sat on their butt and did nothing about it and raked in the money until telephone and satellite,etc. ate up enough of their share...and then they looked for the scapegoat to blame for this...and it was...resource hogs...not their inability to allocate capital enough to grow their bandwidth and keep up with the growing home PC market. it was incompetence by a lot of ISPs...not just Time-Warner...that has these bottlenecks happening. And yes, businesses are supposed to get money...and as much as they can. but when they change their terms in mid-stream (like cable...phone...credit cards...all do) and reduce the benefits and facilities available to their consumers...they are essentially reducing service while not reducing cost. to me, that is akin to fraud. as for California...if you're gonna buy me a house in Rancho Bernardo...i accept :)

kmoore
kmoore

Gas stations have similar products, locations, and prices. The are not in collusion. The just have the same demands and limitations. Yes, lack of planning certainly has something to do with all of this. But looking back and planning for the last 10 years is certainly easier than what they faced then. Maybe we should give them a break. And businesses are supposed to get money. And more money, if the can. BTW, with views like this, maybe you should move to California. Ken

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Original post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=724 Is bandwidth metering inevitable? Is it such a bad thing?

khamelinck
khamelinck

What if your ISP disclosed that for these wonderful rates certain restrictions apply?

mckinnej
mckinnej

This thread seems to have boiled down into two basic camps: 1) it's a free market, so the cable cos can do what they like because they're entitled to make money, and 2) I pay for X, so I should get X. Let's take this argument into another context and see how people feel. Let's say I run a steak restaurant. My only menu item is unlimited steak. Over time I notice that some customers are eating too much steak. They are eating so much that other customers can't get steak even though those other customers may only nibble a bit of their steak. Let's say my supply is limited too. I could get more, but it's going to cost me more and take a long time to get. I would have a hard time pushing that cost to the customer too, so it's not going to help my current problem. At this point my choices are limit the amount of the steak so everyone can have some, but not necessarily all they want, or I can charge by weight and make customers pay for what they eat. Either way I'm going to piss off some customers and likely lose some. Eventually it would all settle down and the customers I'd have left would be happy. I think that's pretty much what the cable cos are looking at. It's a no-win situation. Luckily for them, they are often the only steak restaurant in town, so their customers don't have much choice. Even if you do have a choice it won't help because the other guy has the same problem and will likely implement the same solution. But if you think there isn't a rate hike hidden in this, I want some of what you're smoking.

BDealer
BDealer

Here's a prediction....providers will want to charge the hogs for using too much bandwidth, but they will have a bottom cost too. You won't see them giving back rebates to the smaller users. So, telling us "we will pay for what we use" is a crock of horse dookey. If they want to clear the internet of unnecsssary traffic, let them start with the spammers and hackers. Get the Feds involved and start blocking access to the skum of the internet world. That will free up more than enough for them to increase profits.

t.got
t.got

especially if the provider is not ethical. I managed a pizza buffet restaurant back in the 80s. We had a handful of customers who could really put it away. One guy ate at least 36 slices of pizza (= to 3 14" pies) every visit. On the other hand roughly 20% of my customers would eat one or two slices, a little salad and a little pasta and were done. The other 75% fell somewhere in between. Based on the few gluttons, we could have raised the price of the buffet and lost probably 10-15% of our small-appetite diners but we wouldn't have made any more profit. Believe me I looked long and hard at it. We would have still be using the same number of pies for each buffet period no matter what, when waste was factored in. So we just kept the price as it was and suffered the few gluttons while the business continued to grow. I recently switched from DSL to Cable for the speed because I sporadically use P2P. I'm a member of that 75% group I mentioned earlier. I don't want to be penalized for eating a whole pizza by myself once or twice a month. Fortunately, in this market, we have a choice of providers. Unfortunately, the choice sucks. You've got 9+ Mbs, 99.99% uptime and local support or 1.5 Mbs, 80% uptime and overseas support, when you're lucky enough to get through to support. I know it's pie-in-the-sky, but wouldn't it be nice if the providers would look at it the way we did in the pizza business 20 years ago? The average bandwidth remains the same despite the small percentage of gluttons out there. But monopolies real or implied only look at ways to squeeze more out of the consumer who relies on them.

jck
jck

if a restaurant owner has a buffet line...and they continually get more customers...is that a reason to limit the output of goods by getting rid of the buffet? usually if a restaurant owner has a growing customer base, they expand their facilities to accommodate them...not get rid of the buffet all together and go for limited-portion meals only. just how i see that things are going to happen. they reduce service and make a bigger profit. you're right tho. people are smokin something good if they think this is gonna benefit the consumer at all.

jck
jck

LIGHT THOSE LIGHTS!!! lol B-)

jdclyde
jdclyde

from everything I have ever read about this, the mass majority of all fiber laid hasn't even been lit up yet.

jck
jck

I know Brighthouse (aka-Time Warner Florida) down here hasn't expanded hardly at all, but they have moved up to having 10 and 15Mb home connections for like $90 and $120 a month. That's what's clogging up the bandwidth here. They increase the per connection rate, but their backbone is still at the same low-end fiber speed they have had here for 4 years. like i've been saying...they put themselves in this situation...not the consumer.

jdclyde
jdclyde

And that is what they try to limit, because any business that doesn't remain profitable does not stay in business. If you get the pigs in the buffet line that think they don't get their moneys worth if they don't fill their fat faces until they can't move anymore, it hurts the business and the price has to go up for the average non-pig customer to cover the expenses. getting MORE customers isn't what hurts unless they don't expand capacity to keep up with demand. If you oversell and can't keep up, you lose it all.