Time Warner Cables’s plans to kill the Internet

April 11, 2009

Update: Some good news for once; it looks like Time Warner Cable has capitulated on the new tiered plans. The language seems to indicate they might try it again in the future, hopefully if they do they’ll make the bandwidth caps more sensible for consumers.

If you’ve followed technology news this month you’ve probably heard about Time Warner Cable’s plan to expand its new bandwidth caps to four other cities, including (of personal importance to me) Rochester, NY. The idea of capped broadband isn’t exactly new, but TWC’s plans (ranging from 5GB to 40GB) haven’t taken long to draw criticism from customers and journalists.

The plans are, simply put, bad. I’m not even really against the “pay-as-you-go” pricing model. I use a lot of bandwidth and would prefer unlimited access, sure, but I can see the argument of having reasonable metered usage fees. The difference is that TWC’s usage fees are not reasonable; it’s hard to see them as anything but protecting their traditional cable TV subscriptions from new services such as Hulu and Netflix’s downloadable service. TWC’s tiers are priced as if it’s still the 90s, but with Mozy, Hulu, Netflix, Steam and so on it’s easy for someone to greatly exceed the bandwidth cap with only legitimate usage. This is no longer something that’s only going to affect only technical users or media bootleggers.

At best, Time Warner Cable is hurting their own customers in order to protect their cable TV subscriptions. At worst, this is something that’s going to hurt a lot of emerging online business markets as their customer base on TWC (and other ISPs that follow them) are reduced or eliminated.

It’s not all bad news though. New York state congressman Eric Massa announced he’s drafting legislation that will prohibit the bandwidth caps. Time Warner Cable also seems to be adjusting the new plans in response to the bad press they’re receiving, including introducing a new “unlimited” tier for $150 per month. Still, at three times the cost for the same service subscribers have now, it’s a pretty small gesture.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year. If it’s something you care about, I’d suggest dropping Time Warner Cable if you’re a subscriber (and telling your friends and family to do the same) and supporting any local legislation aimed at preventing this sort of thing.

Marc Charbonneau is a mobile software engineer in Portland, OR. Want to reply to this article? Get in touch on Twitter @mbcharbonneau.