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AT&T feeds metered internet to American gamblers

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Following in the footsteps of Time Warner Cable, AT&T is exposing a small collection of American guinea pigs to the metered internet.

This month, as it revealed in a recent FCC filing (PDF warning), the country's largest ISP began testing metered broadband in "the Biggest Little City in the World": gambling haven Reno, Nevada.

"AT&T will be providing written notice to customers involved in the trial explaining that their broadband service will be subject to a certain monthly usage tier for the total amount of data they may send and receive, as well as a per gigabyte charge in the event they exceed the usage tier," the filing reads.

Company spokesman Michael Coe tells The Reg that the Reno trial began on Sunday - and that it only applies to new customers. The trial lays down a different "usage tier" - i.e. bandwidth cap - for each of AT&T's five broadband offerings. These range from a 20GB cap on its 768Kbps DSL service ($14.99 a month) to a 150GB cap on its 10Mbps service ($55 a month).

The first time a customer exceeds his cap, AT&T turns the other way. After that, he's forced to pay additional $1 a month for each additional gigabyte. Yes, the telco will provide a software tool for customers interested in keeping an eye on their bandwidth usage. And it will "proactively" notify users when they exceed 80 per cent of their cap.

Later in the year, Coe says, AT&T will roll existing Reno customers into the trial, capping each at 150GB. And the trial "may" be extended to one other market by the end of the year. Like other American ISPs - including Time Warner, Frontier Communications, and Comcast - the big-name telco is intent on choking what the press insists on calling bandwidth hogs.

"A small group of customers are using the majority of bandwidth on our network," Coe says. "In fact, almost 50 percent of total bandwidth is used by just five percent of customers - customers, for example, who are uploading and downloading the equivalent of more than 40,000 YouTube videos or 40 million e-mails a month. This kind of heavy usage has an impact on all of our customers.

"This trial will help us evaluate ways of dealing with surging usage trends while continuing to meet customer needs for a high quality broadband experience at an affordable price."

In June, Time Warner Cable launched a meter net trial in the Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas. Its pricing plans ranged from $29.95 a month for a 5GB cap and 768kbps download speeds to $54.90 for a 40GB cap at 15mbps.

Meanwhile, Comcast has installed a 250GB cap for all its users. But you don't pay extra if you exceed the cap. You run the risk of termination. Of course, Comcast has always threatened users with termination if they exceeded bandwidth thresholds. But in the past, those thresholds were a company a secret. ®

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