Going Medieval: Time-Warner Begins Metered Bandwidth Testing

This Thursday, new cable Internet customers in Beaumont, Texas will no longer have unmetered Internet bandwidth – they’re guinea pigs in a new pricing scheme being pushed by Time-Warner that will give users between 5 and 40 gigabytes in total monthly data usage (uploads and downloads combined). Data usage over that amount will be billed at $1 per gigabyte. Competitor Comcast is also considering metered bandwidth.

The goal is to limit average data usage, allowing Time-Warner to get more customers into their existing fiber infrastructure. Since there is little or no competition for Internet connectivity, they don’t have to worry so much about losing customers.

The entire model lies in stark contrast to the competitive markets set up in South Korea and elsewhere, and it’s going to hurt innovation in the U.S. Many new startups, particularly those focused on video and online gaming, rely on their customers having access to high bandwidth, all you can eat connections.

Cable companies have regional monopolies and are able to extract excess profits from these monopolies. Innovation and the health of the ecosystem is dependent on a competitive marketplace. If one part of the market falls behind (and we’re already behind in broadband penetration and average data speeds), it becomes very difficult for the ecosystem to remain competitive.

I’m almost never in favor of government intervention of markets, but monopolies are an exception. We need to encourage data usage by consumers, not the opposite. The cable companies are standing in the way of economic growth and innovation. We can’t afford a decade or more of screwing around before trying to fix this. Let’s start now.