On June 3rd, 2008, two United States Internet service providers (ISPs) announced they would begin tests to slow web access for their most active customers and charge them for extra speed. Comcast and Time Warner Cable, two of the largest ISPs in North America, both made separate announcements of their plans. The actions come in the wake of an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), over whether Comcast had restricted some customers from sharing videos, music, and similar files. The FCC investigation led to a US Congress debate over whether and how much control ISPs should have over the flow of customer data.
Public interest groups complained in November 2007 to the FCC that Comcast had specifically targeted customers using applications that made use of the BitTorrent system, a popular form of file sharing. Free Press, an advocacy group that pushes for better oversight of cable operators such as Comcast, stated that Comcast practices were discriminatory towards users of the legal technology. “The cable companies see a hammer hovering above their heads and are scrambling to find ways to reduce the appearance of wrongdoing,” said Ben Scott, head of the group.
According to Roger Entner, a senior vice president from Nielsen IAG, that as little as 5 percent of all Internet users may consume as much as 50 percent of all the bandwidth on the Internet. “This is the politically correct version of doing what Comcast had been doing before, though it takes the occasional [peer-to-peer] user off the hook,” Entner said. Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, said, “This says we won’t be looking at what type of traffic that there is, even though we still need to manage the network.”
Comcast’s tests are expected to begin in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and w:Warrenton, Virginia.
While Comcast will attempt to throttle the speed of all its high-volume users, Time Warner Cable intends to use a different method. They will meter and bill clients, charging more money for faster speeds and larger amounts of transmitted data, functioning more like a traditional public utility, such as an electric company or cell phone service. Their metered billing test will begin on June 5 in Beaumont, Texas for newly enrolled customers. “Instead of raising prices across the board, consumers who are excessive users would pay,” said Alex Dudley, a Time Warner Cable spokesman. “It is clearly the fairest way to fund the investment that is going to be required to support that use.”
An Associated Press report that Time Warner Cable will bill customers between $29.95 to $54.90USD per month has been confirmed by the cable operator, with clients charged an extra $1 for each gigabyte (GB) by which they exceed their purchased plan. Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group in Washington D.C., has expressed concerns about the Time Warner Cable plan. Time Warner Cable’s most expensive offering, $54.90, comes with 15 megabits of data transfer speed and a 40 gigabyte limit on total data transfer.
“An HD (high-definition) movie is 8GB or so, three movies is more than half your allowance for a month, and heaven knows what else you might want to watch,” Brodsky says. “This is not a relieving congestion scheme as much as it is a rationing scheme. All it does is protect an inadequate infrastructure from the cable company.”