Time Warner Expands Metered Broadband Rollout

[qi:004] Updated: It was only a matter of time before Time Warner Cable (s TWC) expanded its efforts to bring tiered broadband out of the tiny town of Beaumont, Texas. According to BusinessWeek, Time Warner is expanding its trials to San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Rochester, N.Y.; and Greensboro, N.C. Data collection in Austin, San Antonio and Rochester will begin in April with metered billing to begin this summer, the business weekly reports. Greensboro apparently will get its wallet raided a bit sooner.

Update: Time Warner finally got back to me to clarify a few points. First, the important stuff: They will create a “super tier” that offers up to 100 GB before overage charges apply, but they haven’t yet decided how much it will cost. Also, Time Warner will monitor downloads starting in April but the actual metered billing in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, will begin in September. Three months before they plan to charge folks under the tiered plans, they will notify customers, offer them a meter and let them see how the metered billing will affect them. Read the official statement.

Time Warner is joining other ISPs in trying to squeeze more money from their broadband pipes, generally in the name of needing to upgrade the network or to stop bandwidth hogs.  But in truth, caps and tiered plans are about limiting competition (especially from online video), and squeezing customers, because a lack of competition means they can. Here’s the money quote from the BW article:

“We need a viable model to be able to support the infrastructure of the broadband business,” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt says in an interview. “We made a mistake early on by not defining our business based on the consumption dimension.”

As an Austin Time Warner Cable customer, I’m completely in the dark about these plans, but maybe I’ll have a notification email in my inbox tomorrow. A customer support person didn’t know about tiered broadband plans, but thought they might be cutting off people who are dubbed excessive users in Waco, Texas, about 45 minutes away. Calls to the Time Warner PR folk have not been returned.

In an earlier interview, a local Time Warner Cable engineer noted that the average Austin TWC customer downloads 6 GB per month. Given that Time Warner’s tiers range from 5 GB per month at $29.95 on the low end to 40 GB per month for $54.90 at its peak, with 10 GB and 20 GB tiers falling somewhere in between, it sounds like the average Austin resident will have to pay around $40 a month for 7 Mbps down. Plus $1 per GB in overage fees. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to it.

Keep in mind that these are not even ultrafast DOCSIS 3.0 services customers of other cable companies will be paying for. This is basic cable broadband, which amounts to highway robbery when compared to paying $62.95 per month for 22 Mbps of downstream speed and up to 5 Mbps up from Comcast (s CMCSA) (with a 250 GB per month cap). But given that the communications market is so uncompetitive, that’s not an option I have. It’s AT&T (s T) DSL or trying to manage under a cap.

Should Time Warner deign to give this subscriber any further information, I’ll share it with you guys. Meanwhile, consider Austin innovation to be on the verge of being stifled. AT&T (s T) is the other major player in this market, and it’s working on its own tiers.