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American ISP flashes phantom bandwidth cap

With 5GB, you get termination - except that you don't

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Yet another American ISP is toying with the idea of a ridiculously low bandwidth cap.

Last month, Frontier Online - a regional carrier serving 24 US states - quietly slipped new language into its terms of service that appeared to cap its roughly half a million broadband customers at a measly 5GB a month. That includes both uploads and downloads.

"Customers must comply with all Frontier network, bandwidth, data storage and usage limitations," reads the new T of S. "Frontier may suspend, terminate or apply additional charges to the Service if such usage exceeds a reasonable amount of usage. A reasonable amount of usage is defined as 5GB combined upload and download consumption during the course of a 30-day billing period."

But after complaints from countless customers and a swashbuckling protest site dubbed Stop The Cap!, Frontier now says that the new words in its terms of service mean absolutely nothing. With a brand new FAQ page dedicated to the 5GB cap, the company's fast talking marketers insist the cap doesn't really exist.

You see, even though the terms of service say that Frontier may terminate you if you exceed 5GB of bandwidth, the FAQ says it will not:

Question: If I hit 5GB will my service be interrupted?

Answer: No. Your service will not be interrupted at 5GB. You will continue to use our High Speed Internet service without disruption.

In an effort to resolve this paradox, we spoke to a company spokeswoman. But she too has a gift for contradiction. "In the past, we had a general statement [in the terms of service] that anyone using an excessive amount of bandwidth could be terminated. Now, we're saying exactly what we think is excessive," the spokeswoman told us. "But at this point, we're not monitoring bandwidth. And we're not kicking people off if they use more than 5GB a month."

Whatever it originally intended with that T of S change, the company is now says it's merely warning customers that a real cap is on the way. Next year, the company tells us, it will actually roll out bandwidth tracking software, and it may introduce a tiered pricing system. "In 2009, we will introduce software that allows us notify the customer of their current usage," that spokeswoman said. "And we'll look at different pricing models that address consumption."

So, the 5GB limit - which isn't really limit - could change? "That's right," she told us.

Let's hope it does. The Reg sees no problem with bandwidth caps - as long as they're reasonable. And a 5GB limit is not. As ISP tilter Robb Topolski points out, you could consume a full 32GB a month with a 56Kbps modem.

Frontier claims its average user consumes just 1.5GB a month. But we find this hard to believe. Indeed, Stop The Cap! has turned up internal company documents proving that actual consumption is significantly higher.

Time Warner Cable is already testing real live caps in the Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas, and other American ISPs - including AT&T and Comcast - are mulling caps as well. ®

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