On Thursday, Time Warner Cable will begin testing a metered Internet service in Texas that charges users based on their usage, a plan that could spread to other Time Warner areas soon. Time Warner Internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas are part of the company’s trial run that aims to address the small 5% of users who unfairly hoard up to half of Internet capacity.
The disproportionate usage taxes the infrastructure of the cable lines used to bring the Internet to houses, and with the metered billing service Time Warner hopes to fund the necessary changes to improve the infrastructure.
"We think it's the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure," said Time Warner Cable's executive vice president of advanced technology Kevin Leddy.
The billing plans will range from $29.95 to 54.90 per month, depending on a customer’s anticipated usage.
For $29.95 a customer will get slower Internet speed (768 kilobytes/second) and a 5 gigabyte limit, amounting to about 349,525 emails without attachments or 1,383 downloaded songs.
The $54.90 plan comes with faster Internet speed (15 megabits/second) and a 40 gigabyte limit—about 124 hours of standard-definition videos or over 11,000 songs.
Although the trial does not drastically affect most Internet users (one gigabyte equals 3,000 Web pages), many are concerned that metered usage will affect viewing and downloading videos.
A standard-definition movie can consume up to 1.5 gigabytes, with high-definition pushing the number up to 6 or 8 gigabytes. Critics of the plan see this as a sure-fire way to repel potential customers, considering the steady increase in online digital media from vendors such as Amazon, Apple’s iTunes, and Netflix.
Though similar billing plans are common overseas, Time Warner’s trial changes what customers are used to and it goes against the current of Web 2.0.