Time Warner shelves metered Internet plans – for now

Opinion – The pressure on Time Warner Cable may have been too great, in the end: The company today announced that it would halt plans to run trials of consumption based billing for broadband access. Well, at least until there is “further consultation” with its customers and until they feel guilty enough about the bandwidth they use. So don’t’ hold your breath that all plans on metered Internet billing are shelved.  

Consumer groups and politicians may celebrate today’s announcement as a small victory, but it may actually be the opposite. In a statement published on TWC’s website, CEO Glenn Britt was quoted saying:

“It is clear from the public response over the last two weeks that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about our plans to roll out additional tests on consumption based billing.  As a result, we will not proceed with implementation of additional tests until further consultation with our customers and other interested parties, ensuring that community needs are being met.  While we continue to believe that consumption based billing may be the best pricing plan for consumers, we want to do everything we can to inform our customers of our plans and have the benefit of their views as part of our testing process.”

Reading this statement carefully, there is nothing in there to get excited about. To me, it looks like a clever strategic move that indicates that TWC is backtracking, but it is really just a statement that is calming the storm while clearly expressing that metered Internet billing will still come in one way or the other. But now, there may be much more public acceptance for a slightly less aggressive form of consumption-based billing than what we have read about in the past few weeks. And that less aggressive form may be perceived as a victory by the public, while TWC will score and achieve its goal of metered Internet billing anyway – in a price range that would have never been possible without the initial discussion about these plans.

TWC customers should expect to see some tools in the future to let them know how much bandwidth they are using. The company announced “that it is working to make measurement tools available as quickly as possible. These tools will help customers understand how much bandwidth they consume and aid in the dialog going forward.” We wonder why consumers should care how much bandwidth they are using. If you sink $50 or more in your broadband Internet access every month, should it matter? These questions may simplify the whole topic, but from a consumer’s point of view, cable Internet access is everything but cheap and bandwidth limitations sound fishy to me, especially when bandwidth-intensive applications such as Netflix video streaming end up competing with content services offered by these cable companies.

There is no doubt that TWC will want you to care about your bandwidth usage. You will get plenty of information to make you feel bad about the videos you may have downloaded. You may get advice how to limit your bandwidth usage and you will get advice how to upgrade your service to something that would be a better fit for your lifestyle.    
The best way for TWC and other providers such as Comcast to justify their extra fees would be upgraded services that can keep up with leading broadband nations around the world. With the current services and pricing plans it is simply too difficult to feel bad for cable companies and their claimed bandwidth issues. Britt said that TWC is looking “forward to continuing to work with Senator Schumer, our customers and all of the other interested parties as the process moves forward, to ensure that informed decisions are made about the best way to continue to provide our customers with the level of service that they expect and deserve from Time Warner Cable.”  

I absolutely agree that this last sentence makes a lot of sense. Let’s hope that TWC and others will follow through.