Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Giving In to the Dark Side: Bandwidth-Capping, Part I

Time Warner Cable (TWC from hereon) has never exactly been a stellar internet service provider, but they haven’t been particularly bad, either – at least, not until recently. TWC has been experimenting with bandwidth caps in Beaumont, Texas, and has decided to roll out these caps in other markets. Not even Beaumont, sad little town that it is, really deserves such restrictions, and certainly not the markets that TWC plans to pull the switch on. San Antonio, my home town when not in college, is among those being drastically limited. If you aren’t aware, here are the plans that TWC currently offers:

Roadrunner Lite: 768 Kbps down, 128 Kbps up, unlimited usage, $24.99/month

Roadrunner Basic: 3.0 Mbps down, 256 Kbps up, unlimited usage, $34.99/month

Roadrunner Standard: 7 Mbps down, 512 Kbps up, unlimited usage, $39.99/month

Roadrunner Turbo: 15 Mbps down, 2 Mpbs up, unlimited usage, $49.98/month

…and here are the changes that will be implemented:

Roadrunner Lite: 768 Kbps down, 128 Kbps up, capped to 10 Gigs, $24.99/month

Roadrunner Basic: 3.0 Mbps down, 256 Kpbs up, capped to 20 Gigs, $34.99/month

Roadrunner Standard: 7 Mbps down, 512 Kbps up, capped to 40 Gigs, $39.99/month

Roadrunner Turbo: 15 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up, capped to 60 Gigs, $49.98/month

In case you didn’t notice the change that’s the same speed and price, only with a crazy-low limit on how bandwidth you can use per month. If, say, you want to upgrade from the Windows 7 beta to the release candidate, that’s probably a few gigs of information (haven’t checked the exact amount). If you want to download a high-definition movie from iTunes, that’s 3.5 gigabytes. The bottom tier, which is $30/month for 10 gigabytes, runs out pretty quickly if you’re doing anything at all other than email and limited web page viewing.

At the moment, the TWC Roadrunner website has a nice little comparison chart, showing which level of service is good for certain online activities. They would have you believe, among other things, that you need a 15 Mbps connection to do any online gaming, have more than one person using the connection at a time, download movies, etc. Such a claim is already misleading, but will become even more so once bandwidth caps are in place (albeit misleading in the completely opposite direction).

While the mentioned activities are certainly easier with their fastest connection, they are all currently possible with the 7 Mbps or even 3 Mbps connections. I say currently, because once the caps go into place, it won’t be practical to attempt anything more than the most limited amount of any bandwidth-intensive activity. Forget about any p2p software, or downloading movies, or gaming online – particularly if you plan on downloading the game instead of buying a hard copy. Their bandwidth caps are inadequate for any but the least capable or ignorant of internet users. In short, your grandparents could probably get by with their service, but anyone else can forget about it. You like YouTube? Hulu? Last.fm? Online gaming? Do yourself a favor and forget about Time Warner.

At this point, I feel obligated to point out that the backlash against Time Warner’s actions has already prompted them to make some changes to their proposed service – bandwidth caps were increased to their current levels from 5, 10, 20, and 40 gigabytes per month. In addition, they’ve added two tiers that bookend the current four. One is set for 768 Kbps for $15/month capped to 2 gigabytes of usage, the other at 15 Mbps for $75/month at 100 gigabytes of usage. They’ve also pointed out, rather audaciously, that if one desires unlimited internet access, they should order the highest tier and not worry about their usage; overage fees are $1 per gig, up to $75. In case you’re not one for math, TWC is suggesting you hand over $150 per month for the privilege of having the same unlimited access that all their customers currently enjoy.

You know what bothers me the most about these caps? Time Warner claims that without them, their network would begin to suffer from brownouts and service outages. They believe that most of their customers will benefit from this, that it will give them enough economic breathing room to maintain the quality of their service. In fact, their revenues are already through the roof when comparing 2008 profit margins to those of the 2007 fiscal year. Wired posted an article on the subject including a nice little graph which perfectly illustrates this point; I’ve reposted it here:

In short, their revenues are up, and operating costs are down. Unless Time Warner’s executives have used that revenue to give themselves a nice, fat raise, I’ve got no idea where they’re using the money, or why it isn’t going into upgrading their network.

I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that even their revised plan isn’t good enough. It’s the lesser of two evils, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still evil. Heck, it makes Comcast’s 250 gig/month bandwidth cap sound like a gift from God, and that was something that the entire internet community was screaming bloody murder over last year. Anyway, whether or not you’re a customer of Time Warner, let them know what a bad idea it is. Send an email expressing your opinion to realideas@twcable.com; I did. Whoever is came up with this idea might not ever see it, but somebody will, and the more people that get in their faces, the better.

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April 14, 2009 - Posted by | Politics, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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