AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

Beaumont, Texas, home to the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant, is less than half the size of Fort Worth and yet more than one service provider is using it as a proving ground for capping Internet usage.

In addition to Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has been putting policies in place to charge extra for conspicuous consumption. AT&T, which is also testing its Internet metering in Reno, Nev., says it started trials in both cities last year for new residential broadband customers. (See Congressman Mad About TWC's Internet Meter .)

The usage limits AT&T allows range from 20 gigabytes for its low-end DSL package, to 150 GB for its top offering. Like Time Warner Cable, AT&T's customers are billed $1 per GB used after they go over the cap.

Time Warner has the three lowest caps -- the easiest for consumers to hit -- when compared directly to AT&T's trial in the same metro area:

Table 1: Internet Usage Caps (Beaumont, Texas)
Service Provider Bandwidth Cap (GBs) Internet Speed (Mbit/s)
AT&T 150 10
AT&T 150 18
AT&T 80 6
AT&T 60 3
Time Warner Cable 40 10
AT&T 40 1.5
AT&T 20 0.768
Time Warner Cable 20 7
Time Warner Cable 10 3
Time Warner Cable 5 0.768
Sources: Time Warner Cable, AT&T, The ghost of Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias.

AT&T says it can't yet provide detailed data on how many of its customers have gone over their allotted bandwidth cap. A spokeswoman says that about half the company's residential broadband traffic comes from only 5 percent of its customers -- and these trials are aimed at curbing those power users (or getting them to upgrade).

Existing AT&T customers in Beaumont and Reno will enter the metered-billing trial if they exceed a 150-gigabyte limit on their monthly bandwidth. After the first time over the cap, they're given a one-month grace period where no additional charges are assessed and AT&T gives them a tool to help them see how much bandwidth they're using. One more time over the cap, though, and the charges start to stick.

These bandwidth caps in the two trial cities do apply to U-verse customers, but only to the broadband Internet portion of U-verse (so you can still watch HDTV all day).

While AT&T points out that 150 GB is a reasonable cap -- you could download 30,000, 5-minute MP3 files, they like to point out -- consumers of over-the-top video content will need to watch their bandwidth meter, especially if they prefer to rent HD videos from a third-party set-top.

A 45-minute HDTV show (The History Channel's The Universe, in fact) downloaded on an Apple TV, takes up 1.32 GB of the consumption cap, and that show is encoded in MPEG-4. So at roughly 1.8 GB per hour of content, there's a lot of download room in a 150 GB cap, assuming that all you do is watch TV all day.

AT&T says it hasn't reached any conclusions yet from its trials, but says the exercise is helping it evaluate usage trends and find a way to provide affordable, high-quality broadband service.

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:07:15 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

largest ball of coax...sounds to me like a cable industry contest in the making...

Michael Harris 12/5/2012 | 4:07:18 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps I wonder which MSO serves Cawker City, Kansas, home to the world's largest ball of twine.

That would be Cunningham Telephone and Cable, of course. ;) http://www.cunninghamtelephone...

The bigger question, is which town has the largest ball of coaxial cable?
Menotomy 12/5/2012 | 4:07:21 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

What I would really like to know is how the MSOs and Telcos came up with their cap number. If it's somewhat arbitrary, or if they thought there was a fair number of HD video, mp3 downloads, etc, then applied a byte value to them.

I think Comcast was one of the first to come out with a cap, yet companies don't seem to be matching their value of 250GB. While Comcast, as you noted, has more of a "penalty box" model, rather than fees, I figure most people would at first at least look at the number only and maybe judge their selection on that. If prices are about the same, would I rather risk being terminated with a higher cap, or possibly end up paying more with a lower cap?

I think some of the lower caps are a little unfair, since streaming video services don't necessarily hog bandwidth, but can stack up to a high byte count. An example is a service I have called MLB.tv (which I recommend) which used to have a 1.2Mb/s tier. Baseball games can last anywhere from 3 to 4 hours, and even longer if there are extra innings. I think if you do some rough math of 25 games per month, each game lasting 3 hours, it comes out to about 40GB per month. They have a new service this year that doesn't really specify speed, but can adjust to how your connection is performing (don't know what the max speed is). In some plans that would put me over the cap without doing any other downloading, even though I'm well within the tier I paid for and not really hogging bandwidth. Of course, I may have butchered the math.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:07:21 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

Last fall, Comcast changed its acceptable use policy and installed a 250GB ceiling (which replaced the former "inivisible" cap). But rather than a metered approach like Rogers, TWC, and ATT are taking, Comcast's cap is to keep what they deem to be "excessive use" in check. They aren't billing extra $$ if subs go over the cap, but subs that do get put in the penalty box and could get kicked off if they keep that behavior up or don't move to a more expensive commercial tier. So it's not really an apples to apples comparison, but it's still fair to bring it up:

More detail here: http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?site=cdn&doc_id=162587

Here's Comcast's current acceptable use policy, which outlines the 250GB cap and the consequences for those who exceed it:


Still, i like your idea...it would make for a good chart to include some other metered approaches and excessive use caps that are in play these days. Would provide for an interesting compare and contrast. Jeff





Menotomy 12/5/2012 | 4:07:21 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

Doesn't Comcast have a 250GB cap for their 8Mbps tier (I don't have a link to my source, but it was a LR article)? Has that changed? I compare this to the caps of 80 and 20 for AT&T and TWC respectively for similar service speeds.

It seems like if that's the case, couldn't Comcast use that as marketing ammo against their competitors? They can have a bigger cap for a similar rate, I can imagine them saying their network is faster and more reliable, or something along those lines.

It would be cool to see Comcast and Rogers cable (or anyone else with a cap) included in the table in the article.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:07:22 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps

I wonder which MSO serves Cawker City, Kansas, home to the world's largest ball of twine. 


DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:07:24 PM
re: AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps fascinating:
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