When my friend and co-worker, Louie Mantia, moved to Greensboro, NC in November of 2008, one of his first orders of business was to sign up for Roadrunner high speed internet with Time Warner. A few days later Louie had everything he needed. He could surf to his favorite websites, perform online banking, watch videos, rent movies online, download software updates and even work from home.
What Louie didn’t need however, was cable TV service.
Thanks to the recent rise in entertainment websites like Hulu, online movie rental services like iTunes, Netflix & Amazon and easy to use desktop software like Boxee, many computer users are deciding to forgo traditional TV. This small, but certain fact lies at the root of why Time Warner Cable recently announced it was adding Greensboro to a set of test-bed cities for a planned bandwidth cap and rate hike. Time Warner knows the sand is shifting beneath their feet and they are willing to do anything, including angering entire cities, to help stem the tide.
Local blogger Roch Smith has been out in front of this issue as has the Greensboro News & Record’s own Joe Killian. Both have outlined the potential problems as well as the frustration for typical computer users and word is starting to spread. Unfortunately, my attempts to get local talk radio personalties Brad & Britt to discuss the subject on air met with predictable, if disappointing results.
Bascially, Time Warner’s proposed bandwidth caps of 5, 10, 20 and 40GB per month are preposterous. To help put it in perspective, 5GB of bandwidth a month (the lowest plan) equals just 170Mb a day. Anyone who’s surfed to YouTube or listened to more than a few podcasts knows that 170Mb of bandwidth gets eaten up in the blink of an eye.
Time Warner’s highest proposed plan of 40GB doesn’t even come close to what modern internet goers use in an average month. Simply downloading 2 or 3 HD movies from iTunes will put you over this limit and into paying $1.00 for every additional GB. Over your limit and want to rent an HD movie from Netflix? That’ll cost you an extra $8.00 over and above the price of the movie itself. It’s nothing short of obscene.
Over at Ed Cone’s blog, noted Internet founder Vint Cerf puts forth the idea that bandwidth is constricted at the edges of the net, which could make it difficult for providers to keep up with demand. I’ve heard that this could be one reason companies such as Time Warner feel that rate hikes of 1000% (like the one Time Warner is proposing) are unavoidable. If this were true, digital movie downloads from Time Warner itself would also count against your total bandwidth usage, but they don’t. No, Time Warner’s move is an obvious ploy to keep control of what and how you watch. The cable that brings Time Warner On-Demand movies to your living room TV is the same cable that provides you with your favorite episode of Battlestar Galactica from iTunes. Since TW fears losing more and more television subscribers to free sites such as Hulu, they’ve decided split the difference and soak those of us who have changed our viewing habits from the TV to the computer.
I won’t stand for it, and neither should you.
If you think this cap and rate hike doesn’t effect you because you don’t live in Greensboro, Rochester NY or San Antonio TX, then think again. Once outrage dies down in these markets, Time Warner will begin to spread the same plans to other parts of the country. Other internet providers will adopt similar capping plans and your days of unlimited bandwidth will be numbered. To be clear: I do not support bandwidth caps of any kind. If you want to charge me extra for unlimited access, then do so to a reasonable degree. I don’t mind paying extra for premium services like unlimited bandwidth and faster speeds, but at the prices Time Warner is proposing, my next bill could be $400-800 and that simply is out of the question. That said, Time Warner’s own data proves the rates are just a smoke screen.
In the meantime, if you’re as upset about this as I am, then you should make your voice heard. Contact Time Warner and let them know you won’t stand for limits on your internet surfing. Contact Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple and others and let them know that Time Warner’s proposed rate hikes are about to force you to drop them as paying customers. Then call, write and email your local representatives and have them stand up to corporate greed. Like many places around this country, Greensboro’s unemployment rate is sky high. People are hurting, and yet a large corporation like Time Warner thinks it can impose outlandish rate hikes on average internet users with impunity. Roch Smith promises to have a list of contacts of local reps soon. Keep an eye on his blog for more info.
Lastly, don’t settle for bandwidth caps. Petition for unlimited access. Internet usage is only increasing and caps make absolutely no sense. Do you want to be tied to a bandwidth monitor while you surf? Do you like to be told that you can’t download what you want, when you want it? If not, I suggest you get off your butt and get moving. There’s very little time left.
UPDATE: Roch has posted an excellent bit about who to contact in Greensboro about this matter and how to approach the topic with them. I urge you to head there, check it out and follow up asap.