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Why Cable ISP Capping is the New DRM, and Suck

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 166 comments

I, like many people, have been subscribing to Internet connection services since the days of 300 baud modems. Then I upgraded to 14.4k, 36.6k, 56k, DSL, and now cable. Unfortunately, due to where I am living today, I'm stuck on 3 Mbit Verizon DSL service, which is often running at less than 1 Mbit. Thankfully, my service doesn't have a download cap on it--at least not yet anyway.

Much like everyone reading this article, I'm a genuine supporter of advancement in hardware and technology services. Suffice to say, I was happy with the progression of Internet connection services over the years. Recently, however, I would have to say that Internet connection advancement in the U.S. and Canada has been purely an interest of the corporations that provide them and not about serving the consumer--you--and the advancement of technology in America in general.

In late March, I wrote an article on Tom's Hardware explaining why HDCP (high definition content protection) is the bane of movie watchers everywhere. Not only is HDCP an invasive technology that kills the enjoyment of movies for enthusiasts, it does nothing to stop pirates. We all know this to be true.

Don't think for a moment though, that big media doesn't know this--they absolutely do. Now, they have a new plan. Since big media can't directly go after pirates, they've decided to go after to after the group of people who they think can't do a thing about it: anyone using an Internet connection.

You.

Several years ago while at DailyTech, I wrote a series on net neutrality. If you haven't heard, the big issue on net neutrality is about ISPs creating tiers of net connections for both businesses and consumers. Tiers allow companies to effectively charge you more for your downloading habits rather than the speed you're after. Net connection services have always been mainly about speed for the consumer. Want to subscribe to a faster service? Pay more. It was simple and effective. Without net neutrality, ISPs not only charges for speed packages but also for how much you download.

At the time, Verizon and others were very vocal about net neutrality, especially when the U.S. government and FCC were looking into the matter. Verizon and others made it clear that net neutrality was much ado about nothing. They lied.

Time Warner Cable, which provides Internet connectivity for millions is a big opposition to net neutrality. Alright, let's cut the bull: Time Warner Cable, which provides Internet connectivity for millions, wants to screw you.

But TWC isn't the only company out there with an interest in charging customers more for less. Most major ISPs are on the same bandwagon. The big reason for this? Online video and music.

Cable companies have a vested interest in protecting their business, which is providing TV and movie services to their millions of subscribers. The more online movie and music services that pop online, the more threat there is to their bread and butter. The only way cable providers can slow this process down or stop it, is to limit how much you're able to download.

This week, TWC released a new set of tiered connection plans ranging from a ridiculous 1 GB per month plan to something TWC calls the 100 GB "super tier" plan. Super?

"We need a viable model to be able to support the infrastructure of the broadband business," said Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt. Despite what Britt claimed, 2008 was actually a great year for TWC: 10-percent more subscribers, but operating costs didn't go up. So what kind of math did Mr. Britt learn in school? Not the kind of math I learned; but that doesn't matter since Britt had an annual comp of $16.2 million.

Here's some more logical math for your consumption: consider TWC's 40 GB tier. It costs a whopping $54.90 per month. If you only watch 7.25 hours a video per week, via Netflix, your Xbox 360, or any other service, you will be slapped with a bill of $200 at the end of the month. Worried? "Don't worry," says TWC's COO Landel Hobbs.

"Overage charges will be capped at $75 per month. That means that for $150 per month customers could have virtually unlimited usage at Turbo speeds," says Hobbs.

That's an incredible deal if I ever saw one. Right? (sarcasm).

YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and many other online video services are becoming more and more popular. Arguably, Netflix is putting Blockbuster out of business. Hulu, iTunes, and others like it are a major threat as well. Tiered plans however, ensure that you only get to watch a limited number of videos per month as well keep your downloading of videos to a minimum. Why have a really fast net connection to enjoy online media services and downloading when in reality, you can't?

The answer is: so you, your friends, your family, and anyone else you know that has an Internet connection can keep dumping money into traditional cable programming. TWC, AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and others are not for the consumer in any way, shape, or form. Because of their traditional business practice, which is quickly becoming obsolete, cable providers want to make sure you, the consumer, will pay more to keep them afloat.

Download capping is the new DRM.

It ensures several things:

- You will be more hesitant to download movies and music legitimately--even though you've paid to watch/listen.
- You will watch more cable TV (so you can see all those great ads).
- You will accidentally pay more for less.
- Pirates get a whacking.

Big media and ISPs can't effectively eliminate piracy by going after pirates directly or stop online video and music streaming services. So they have a better plan now: go after everyone.

What about gamers?

Don't watch streaming video and just a serious gamer? This will affect you too. If you like downloading demos, or have to update your favorite games with big updates and patches, prepare to have those eat a big chunk of your monthly download allowance. This is something every gamer has essentially been doing for free, but not for much longer. Any gamer here using Steam? Oh boy...

If you purchase say, Call of Duty: World at War off of Steam, it's over 6 GB. If you're paying $29.95 for TWC's 5 GB connection, expect to pay an overage fee for hitting your cap and for the extra gigabyte.

You can do something about TWC and others. A for-consumer organization called FreePress has an online petition, which is 500,000 strong at the moment, aims to convince Congress to put a stop to net capping schemes (scams?). Sign up here and make a stand.

Glenn Britt, Landel Hobbs, or anyone at TWC who still cares about the consumer, I invite you to e-mail me at tuannguyen at bestofmedia.com. I'll be delighted to talk about how to bring your business into the 21st century.

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Top Comments
  • 37 Hide
    svenolsen , April 11, 2009 11:14 PM
    southozWelcome to what the majority of the rest of the world has always had. I think Mr. Nguyen needed to get his own quota up as saying a bandwidth cap is the new DRM is just ridiculous. People will not change what the download they will just have to develop less frivolous habits and utilize scheduled downloading to make the most of off peak bandwidth. Just bend over and prepare yourselves for an up link quota and a national filter so the ISP's can make more money from the consumer at no additional expense and your Government can dictate what you have access to. I want the 5 minutes of my life back it took to read this dribble.


    you clearly have no clue of wtf you're talking about. you're clearly working for a cable company (with one post and signed up today just shortly after this article went up), or you're a sheep who clearly would never speak up or make a difference in anything.

    If you wanna bend over and take whatever time warner and other isps shove up your ass, good for you.
  • 33 Hide
    Jindaman , April 11, 2009 10:59 PM
    This screws people that use sites like direct2drive I had to even download 2gb of patch's after downloading a 9gb game file
  • 30 Hide
    Anonymous , April 11, 2009 10:51 PM
    Seeing as Britt has an annual salary of $16.2 million it sure sounds like it's time that the government went after him and do an investigations into the finances of Time Warner Cable and other cable companies.

    Maybe they'll end up like Adelphia Cable.

    In this time of economic downturn, there is no excuse for any CEO to be making that kind of salary at the expense of the consumer.
Other Comments
  • 30 Hide
    Anonymous , April 11, 2009 10:51 PM
    Seeing as Britt has an annual salary of $16.2 million it sure sounds like it's time that the government went after him and do an investigations into the finances of Time Warner Cable and other cable companies.

    Maybe they'll end up like Adelphia Cable.

    In this time of economic downturn, there is no excuse for any CEO to be making that kind of salary at the expense of the consumer.
  • 33 Hide
    Jindaman , April 11, 2009 10:59 PM
    This screws people that use sites like direct2drive I had to even download 2gb of patch's after downloading a 9gb game file
  • 5 Hide
    tayb , April 11, 2009 11:13 PM
    customisbetterI 100% agree. But this is not news, it is a Blog. That is another thing that the internet has to learn. The difference between opinionated complaining and factual news.No offense, just saying.


    You are right. I didn't learn anything from this article... (sarcasm)
  • 37 Hide
    svenolsen , April 11, 2009 11:14 PM
    southozWelcome to what the majority of the rest of the world has always had. I think Mr. Nguyen needed to get his own quota up as saying a bandwidth cap is the new DRM is just ridiculous. People will not change what the download they will just have to develop less frivolous habits and utilize scheduled downloading to make the most of off peak bandwidth. Just bend over and prepare yourselves for an up link quota and a national filter so the ISP's can make more money from the consumer at no additional expense and your Government can dictate what you have access to. I want the 5 minutes of my life back it took to read this dribble.


    you clearly have no clue of wtf you're talking about. you're clearly working for a cable company (with one post and signed up today just shortly after this article went up), or you're a sheep who clearly would never speak up or make a difference in anything.

    If you wanna bend over and take whatever time warner and other isps shove up your ass, good for you.
  • 4 Hide
    Raid3r , April 11, 2009 11:15 PM
    Well, Honestly I don't think more regulation is going to solve this..its a band-aid and will just be transported to a different environment. No, we have to cut these people off.

    If you don't have an alternative then say goodbye to the net...this is what happens when things go unchecked for to long. I don't think its being extreme its the only real thing to do. I for one will do it unless something scuttles here.
  • 6 Hide
    amrsss , April 11, 2009 11:27 PM
    Power to the People!
    Capping is bad and reminds me of modem times where you paid for what you used, i hope that those times will never come back, on the other hand Australia never left ages of modem due to capping their broadband :|
  • 19 Hide
    cletus_slackjawd , April 11, 2009 11:32 PM
    Temp solution for Time Warner Cable customers. Pitch in with the neighbor to your left and right, get the (super-tier) and then setup WPA2 wireless Draft N, share the key. Now you have reduced your costs and share the bandwidth. Either that or get satellite internet. This is a clear cut case where our government needs to step in. Does time-warner have exclusive contract with the government for service in you areas? Sue the city for anti-trust violations.
  • 2 Hide
    jaoreill , April 11, 2009 11:43 PM
    boo on caps
  • 4 Hide
    SirCrono , April 11, 2009 11:52 PM
    Letting feelings aside for a minute, I think it's fairly obvious to charge a consumer based on how much of something he actually uses (been to a gas station lately), but from a consumer standpoint it just sucks to get a new restriction imposed all of the sudden, maybe it wouldn't hurt as much if it was something reasonable, like Comcast's 250 GB cap, but 5 GB or 30 GB is just ridiculous, specially at those price points.

    tl;dr: It makes sense to charge you based on your usage patterns, but time-warner is charging way too much for what it's offering.
  • 14 Hide
    TheDraac , April 12, 2009 12:03 AM
    Think about it... If someone put the kibosh on this crazy, useful means of communicating and sending and receiving information we like to call the internet... We could have saved amongst other things...

    The Post Office.... Who needs to pay bills online or communicate instantly, to people even on the other side of the world. We need more stamps !!!!

    Blockbuster.... Who wants instant download movies and shows?? I personally like driving 10 miles to the video store or 20 to the next nearest. At least netflix delivery service still helps the post office, right? And chit, gas is cheep right now.

    My personal time... Heck, if I'm not connected to the internet, guess I really don't need to download any updates or buy anti-virus programs.

    I remember back when we were all hooked on AOL... boy those bills were pricey. Then came along a local ISP with unlimited usage... Hmmm, almost overnight people were on ICQ instead... Time Warner lost tons with people canceling their AOL accounts.

    So, we really don't need any innovations like the internet. Like the ad for netzero says.... America can save billions every year... if we get this new and cheap thing called dial-up, for just 9.95... WHOO HOO. Where do I sign up... I mean, mail my check to.

    I hear Time Warner is testing out this new service... It's called the pony express... Now that's progress.
  • 15 Hide
    rbarone69 , April 12, 2009 12:17 AM
    Most people are not computer literate enough to understand how to secure their wireless networks against unwanted users. How is Time Warner going to backup claims that the subscribed actually went over their limit?

  • 12 Hide
    matt_b , April 12, 2009 12:27 AM
    This whole bandwidth cap ultimately handicaps one major realm - the progression of the internet. It is something waiting to happen (and needs to) but is instead being shot in the leg by these buffoons so they can protect their profit margins instead of progressing themselves. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that this is a mutual, industry-understanding amongst company CEO's. Internet traffic and what it can do is the road to the future with all of the untapped capabilities/possibilities it brings, and all this is is a road block/detour!
  • 8 Hide
    wira020 , April 12, 2009 12:36 AM
    In my country, Malaysia, each ISP haf their own cap ranging from 2Gb monthly to unlimited for premium fee... mine is 5gb monthly... try google Maxis Broadband... read their terms and policy... i think they say it as Fair Usage Policy.... there's not much choice here... but they dont however charge more after the reaching the cap limit... they THROTTLE the speed down... which is useless in my opinion... since the pre-cap speed is alreasy turtle speed... 3.6mbps feels just a little bit better than dial up 56.6K... in addition.. this Fair Usage Policy is not mentioned in their ads... only a few words about it in a section thats very distant from their prominent feature... i also heard when some1 in that IP address reach cap... they throttle down the IP not the user... hope some oversea company come and take away our suffering.. amen...
  • 12 Hide
    Supertrek32 , April 12, 2009 12:44 AM
    I can't really add anything but say that I 100% agree... Well said, Mr. Nguyen.
  • 6 Hide
    NuclearShadow , April 12, 2009 1:11 AM
    Well I am glad that you are on our side and I think its safe to say that those companies you listed especially Time Warner Cable won't be advertising on Tom's anytime soon.

    If we allow this sort of behavior to happen they will only push and push until we finally push back. We already lousy and over priced internet service here in America we simply cannot allow it to get any worse for the consumer.
  • 24 Hide
    stromm , April 12, 2009 1:21 AM
    I've been a TW customer for my whole life. As a kid, my parents subscribed to CUBE (back in the 70's). Personally, I've had Roadrunner since about '95 when there were only about 30 of us. Back then, I paid $24.95 for unlimited, unrestricted cable modem Internet. Every day I saw speeds of 10mb receive, 2mb send. Over the years my fee has gone up and the speeds and service have gone down. I now pay $65.00 for Turbo at 12mb/768kb. Prior to last October, my service was rated at 6mb/512kb.

    Now, TW wants to charge me another fee for using the capability I already pay for. Worse, they've altered their own websites and services such that simply accessing their services means a significant increase in my "usage". In other words, they've intentionally put more multimedia crap on their pages and webmail services knowing full well that they were going to end up charging me for that extra data even though I don't want it.

    Sadly, I have no control over ALL the data I will be charged for. The nature of the Internet means that there is a constant stream of data hitting my cable modem. Viruses, broadcast packets (of which TW is a source), etc. are all part of that. Someone could flood my connection with data thereby causing my usage to exceed my plan.

    Where is the technical info on what I will be charged for and what I will not be charged for? What measures is TW going to take to protect me against unrequested data? Do they even have the capability to do so? Will I be able to set a limit such that when I hit the cap, my service shuts down so I don't end up with overages?

    Being a network engineer, I have serious doubts that TW will even be able to itemize my charges. If they are going to hold me accountable, PROVE my usage as mine and not "noise".

    The government needs to force TW to define this change with specific terms of service and include protections for customers.
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