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Time Warner Cable is two days away from rolling out metered internet service in the Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas.

In January, Broadband Reports leaked a Time Warner memo that discussed this "consumption based billing" trial, and yesterday, in an interview with the Associated Press, the company finally announced the details.

Beginning this Thursday, company spokesman Alex Dudley tells us, new Beaumont customers will be forced to choose a monthly bandwidth cap: 5-, 20-, or 40GB. Pricing plans will range from $29.95 a month for a 5GB cap and 768kbps download speeds to $54.90 for a 40GB cap at 15mbps. There's also a 10GB cap option, but that's only available alongside phone and TV service.

If customers exceed their bandwidth cap - which covers uploads as well as downloads - they'll be charged an extra $1 per extra gigabyte. "It's just a like a cell phone plan," Dudley says. And they can track their usage via a "gas gauge" on the company's web site.

According to Time Warner, 5 per cent of its customers eat up half the capacity on its network. And the company says the Beaumont trial is an effort to make those 5 per cent pay for their bandwidth love.

That internal memo indicated this trial would determine whether the company rolls out metered service nationwide. But Dudley wouldn't discuss future plans. "Anything is possible," he told us. "But right now, this is just a trial. We're hoping to get some good data and good customer feedback and see what folks think of the plan before we make any other decisions."

In post dial-up America, metered net service is new territory. American ISPs do have bandwidth caps, but typically, they keep them secret. We would argue that well-defined caps are a good thing.

That said, Time Warner's Beaumont caps are on the low side. If you saddle some users with a 5GB monthly cap at 768kbps, you're targeting more than just extreme bandwidth lovers. Comcast is also mulling a bandwidth cap, but it's thinking 250GB. ®

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