August 27, 2008
Internet Providers’ Move Toward Usage Caps Raises Questions
NEW YORK - Three months ago, Guy Distaffen switched Internet providers, lured from his cable company to his phone company by a year of free service on a two-year contract. But soon the company quietly updated its policies to say it would limit his Internet activity each month.
"We felt that we were suckered," said Mr. Distaffen, who lives in the small village of Silver Springs in upstate New York.
The phone company, Frontier Com-mu-nications Corp., is one of several Internet service providers that are moving to curb the growth of traffic on their networks, or at least make the subscribers who download the most pay more.
This could have consequences not just for consumers - who would have to learn to watch how much data their Internet use entails - but also for companies that hope to make the Internet a conduit for movies and other content that comes in huge files.
Cable companies have been at the forefront of imposing and talking about usage caps, because their lines are shared between households. Frontier's announcement is noteworthy because it is a phone company - and it is matching a seemingly low ceiling set by a main cable rival: just 5 gigabytes per month, the equivalent of about 3 DVD-quality movies.
"We go through that in a week," Mr. Distaffen said. "If they start enforcing the caps we're going to have to change service."
But since his other option for wired broadband is Time Warner Cable Inc., switching providers isn't necessarily going to get Mr. Distaffen away from a bandwidth cap. The cable company is trying out a 5-gigabyte traffic cap for new users in Beaumont, Texas. Every gigabyte above that costs $1. More expensive plans have higher caps - at $54.90 per month, the allowance is 40 gigabytes. Depending on the results of the trial, Time Warner Cable might apply the same pricing structure elsewhere. Comcast Corp. has floated the idea of a 250-gigabyte monthly cap.
"This isn't really an issue that's just going to be about Frontier," said Philip Dampier, a Rochester-based technology writer who is campaigning to get Frontier to back off its plans. "Virtually every broadband provider has been suddenly discovering that there's this so-called 'bandwidth crisis' going on in the United States."
Originally published by Associated Press.
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