"The metered Internet has been tried and tested and rejected by the consumers overwhelmingly since the days of AOL."
—-George Ou, information technology consultant


Time-Warner, Others, Seeking to Charge by the Gigabyte for Heavy Users
You pay for extra cell phone minutes, but will you soon be paying more if you go over your Internet allowance?

Time Warner Cable is starting to impose monthly allowances for the amount of data its Internet subscribers in Beaumont, TX, upload and download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, according to the company EVP of Advanced Technology Kevin Leddy.

Metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with Internet usage, which is very uneven among subscribers, says Leddy.

Just 5% of the company's subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines.

"We think it's the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure," Leddy told the Associated Press.

Metered usage is standard overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are looking at ways to control heavy users. Most have download caps, but some keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then suspend, those who go over.

Phone companies are less concerned about congestion and are unlikely to impose metered usage on DSL customers, because their networks are structured differently.

Tiers will range from $29.95 a month for relatively slow service at 768 kilobits per second and a 5-gigabyte monthly cap to $54.90 per month for fast downloads at 15 megabits per second and a 40-gigabyte cap. Those prices cover the Internet portion of subscription bundles that include video or phone services. Both downloads and uploads will count toward the monthly cap.

A gigabyte represents about 3,000 Web pages, or 15,000 e-mails without attachments. A standard downloaded movie, though, can take up 1.5 gigabytes, and a high-definition movie can be 6 to 8 gigabytes.

Time Warner Cable subscribers will be able to check out their data consumption on a "gas gauge" on the company's web page.

The company won't apply the gigabyte surcharges for the first two months. It has 90,000 customers in the trial area, but only new subscribers will be part of the trial.

Billing by the hour was common for dial-up service in the U.S. until AOL introduced an unlimited-usage plan in 1996. Flat-rate, unlimited-usage plans have been credited with encouraging consumer Internet use by making billing easy to understand.

"The metered Internet has been tried and tested and rejected by the consumers overwhelmingly since the days of AOL," information-technology consultant George Ou told the FCC at a hearing on ISP practices in April.

Metered billing could also put a crimp in the plans of services like iTunes that use the Internet to deliver video or Netflix, which just launched a TV set-top box that receives an unlimited stream of Internet video for as little as $8.99 per month.

Comcast, the country's largest cable company, has suggested that it may cap usage at 250 gigabytes per month. Bend Cable Communications in Oregon just instituted an across-the-board 100-gigabyte cap, charging $1.50 per extra gigabyte consumed in a month.