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AT&T brainstorms Time Warner-like bandwidth cap

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Like Time Warner Cable and Comcast, AT&T is mulling overage charges for American bandwidth lovers.

"Given the usage trends we're seeing, a form of usage-based pricing for those customers who have abnormally high usage patterns is inevitable," says company spokesman Michael Coe. "Usage based pricing is one way to deal fairly with Internet usage, which is very uneven among broadband users."

He's tossing this statement at all sorts of news-minded folk, including The Associated Press. According to Coe, the top five per cent of the AT&T's DSL customers consume 46 per cent of its traffic, and the top 1 per cent accounts for 21 per cent all bandwidth. Total network consumption, Coe says, is doubling every 18 months.

Earlier this month, Time Warner launched a kind of metered internet trial in the Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas, forcing new customers to choose a monthly bandwidth cap of 5-, 20-, or 40GB. Pricing plans range from $29.95 a month for a 5GB cap and 768kbps download speeds to $54.90 for a 40GB cap at 15mbps, and anyone who exceeds their cap is charged an extra $1 per gigabyte.

Meanwhile, Comcast is considering a 250GB cap for all customers. The company has yet to even test this idea, but it's thinking that if users exceed the cap, they'll be charged an extra $15 for each 10GB beyond the cap.

Well-defined caps may be a good thing for US internet users. Though American ISPs have long put caps on bandwidth usage, they're typically top secret. Of course, it all depends what the caps are - and how the ISP charges when you go over.

Time Warner looks to be charging an arm and a leg in its Beaumont trials. But perhaps AT&T - the largest ISP in the US - will be a bit more reasonable. At the moment, they're still thinking things over. "We're always evaluating our broadband plans and services, but we currently have nothing new to announce regarding our pricing structure," Coe says. ®

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