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US bandwidth gets new caps

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More Americans will soon be fitted with bandwidth caps.

Yesterday, Time Warner trumpeted plans to expand its "consumption based billing" brainstorm beyond the tiny Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas and into a few other unnamed cities. And just hours later, fellow cableco Charter Communications confirmed it will soon put caps on users across the country.

Since June, Time Warner Cable has forced Beaumont customers to choose from one of four monthly caps: 5, 10, 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 if you exceed your cap, you're charged an extra $1 per gigabyte.

Time Warner announced the expansion of this "trial" during yesterday's quarterly earnings call, but it did not specify which cities would be affected.

Meanwhile, Charter has told Broadband Reports that it will soon update its Acceptable Use Policy to include "residential bandwidth consumption thresholds" - aka caps. Users whose service runs at speeds of 15Mbps or slower will be capped at 100GB a month, and those at 15 to 25Mbps will be capped at 250GB.

But the company will not cap users on its new new $140 60Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 service. Charter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

America's largest cableco, Comcast, now caps all its users at 250GB. And in November, AT&T rolled out a metered internet "trial" in Reno, Nevada. Pricing plans range from $14.99 for a 20GB cap on its 768Kbps DSL service to $55 a month for a 150GB cap on its 10Mbps service.

In one sense, all this cappage is a good thing. American ISPs have always had caps. They just didn't tell you what they were.

Nonetheless, the net neuts aren't happy. "With Congress poised to spend billions getting Americans connected to a better, faster Internet, we're concerned that caps discourage Internet adoption and stifle economic growth. In general, we're wary of any roadblock to the development of applications and services that drive experimentation and innovation online. We need to be expanding our digital economy, not shrinking it," reads a statement from net watchdog Free Press.

Echoing Comcast's repeated claims, Charter says that "More than 99 per cent of current Charter Internet customers use less bandwidth than [its new cap] allows and therefore will not need to change their surfing habits in any manner." And that may be true.

But those AT&T and Time Warner caps are considerably smaller - especially Time Warner's. A 5GB cap monthly cap at 768Mbps and $1 for each additional GB? That far from network management. That's a revenue play. ®

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