Internet Fees By the Gigabyte?

Dennis Faas's picture

Get ready to pay for Internet usage by the gigabyte rather than the flat monthly access fee you're accustomed to. At least, that could be the outcome if a new pricing test by Time Warner's RoadRunner broadband service is deemed as worthy. The company is the fifth-largest Internet service provider in the U.S., however, its initial test will be constrained to subscribers in Beaumont, Texas. (Sources: ISP Planet and

In their new price scheme, a user's monthly fees would depend on how much bandwidth they used during the month. A spokesperson for Time Warner has explained that the change is a result of the increased bandwidth use of some applications -- particularly peer-to-peer (P2P) applications and networks -- that can impact overall network performance. P2P includes usage like instant messaging, downloading (from sites like Napster, BitTorrent), VoIP, and shared gaming sites. The new emphasis on downloading videos and music from sites like Apple's iTunes and will only make matters worse.

Concern over uneven bandwidth usage is not entirely new. In Canada, Internet service providers like Bell Canada and Rogers already utilize usage-based pricing. But until recently, most U.S. Internet service providers focused their attention on limiting or "throttling" high bandwidth activities using certain network management techniques to minimize how much bandwidth is used by a given user. This, however, has come under scrutiny as a result of a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission against Comcast, the second largest Internet service provider in the U.S. The petition advanced by of California, argues that throttling not only damages providers of P2P services but is also anti-competitive in that it unfairly restricts suppliers that may offer services competitive to those of the Internet service provider. This month, the FCC is soliciting comments from the public on whether the practice of throttling meets "the Commission's exception for reasonable network management." (Source:

Usage-based pricing might be the only reasonable answer to the service provider's concerns. But, frankly, it does seem a little too convenient to be coming to the forefront on the eve, as it were, of major new initiatives by the likes of iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, and others to introduce video downloading on a large scale. The RoadRunner test is the beginning of the end. If it's tolerated by Time Warner consumers, and/or if the petition is successful, we can all expect to be paying by the gigabyte soon.

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