So our Internet in the US isn't great but it may be about to get a whole lot worse. Time Warner Cable, the 3rd largest Internet provider in the US, has been testing capping bandwidth in Beaumont, Texas and recently announced that they plan to put these restrictions in place here in Austin and San Antonio, and a few other cities as well. It is only a matter of time before these caps are rolled out to all Time Warner Cable customers around the country. What does a bandwidth cap mean? If you have their highest priced plan (like me), you would be capped at about 40 gigabytes of bandwidth per month. That sounds like a lot, but with streaming video it's really not all that much these days. That's about 4 hours of HD video per month. And that's for people like me with the highest priced Internet package. If you have a lower priced package, say $30US per month, the cap will be a paltry 5 gigabytes per month. And what happens if you exceed your cap? According to the Time Warner Cable representative I spoke with, you'll pay $1 for every gigabyte you use over the cap. Comcast, the second largest Internet provider in the US, already has a bandwidth cap in place but at least it's 250 gigabytes per month. You can read about it in the New York Times. I don't like the idea of a cap at all but 5 to 40 gigabytes is ridiculous.
So why is Time Warner Cable doing this? If their costs are going up due to an increase in bandwidth usage, a small increase in the rates would perhaps be justified. But that doesn't make sense. I believe the answer is that people are spending more and more time on the Internet and less and less time watching TV. Time Warner Cable,as well as Comcast, makes a lot of their money from TV. By capping bandwidth they are effectively blocking competition from on-line services like Hulu, YouTube and iTunes. They don't want you watching a movie or TV show on the Internet when you could be watching TV and increasing what they can charge for commercial time. If you're watching Hulu or downloading shows from iTunes, perhaps you'll cut back on your cable TV plan.
How can they do this? How can a company the size of Time Warner Cable be less competitive than much smaller companies in much smaller countries like Japan, France and Korea that provide better service for less money? They can do it because in many markets they have little or no competition. They are not announcing that this change will affect all of the cities they serve. I would be willing to bet my cable modem that they are only doing this where they are reasonably certain most customers are not going to switch to a competitor. In Austin, Time Warner Cable might say there is competition from AT&T and Grande Communications. The problem is that there are many places in Austin that are not serviced by these two companies. In places where there is no competition, Time Warner Cable effectively has a monopoly and they are abusing that power to block your access to their competitors. The time to act is now.
If you are a customer of Time Warner Cable in any city, please write to your state Attorney General and ask them to take action regarding Time Warner Cable's anti-competitive practices. If you don't know who your state Attorney General is, here's a list of them with contact information:
There is power in numbers. Call or email your state Attorney General and ask them to investigate Time Warner Cable's attempts to block your access to their competitors. If you're not sure exactly what to say, I'll make it easy for you. Here's what I wrote in my email to them. You can just copy this message:
Subject: Stop Time Warner Cable's anti-competitive practices
I'm writing to you because I have heard that Time Warner Cable is planning to put internet bandwidth caps on customers. Regardless of what they call it, this is effectively an attempt to block competition from sites such as Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and other on-line services by forcing users to limit their usage of these sites with arbitrary bandwidth caps. They are abusing what is effectively their monopoly status with regards to high-speed Internet access.
As a citizen of
You can also call or write to Time Warner Cable and complain about this. I wrote to my local Time Warner Cable office and told them that if these bandwidth caps are put in place, I will switch my cable TV and Internet service at the first opportunity.
Also, please forward a link to this blog post to anyone you know that might be a Time Warner Cable customer.
Make sure your voice is heard. You really can make a difference.