Policy + charging

NCTA, Free Press Bicker Over Metering

10:50 AM -- The rhetoric flew fast and furious yesterday as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and Free Press traded barbs over Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s plan to expand trials of a controversial metered broadband billing model. (See TWC Dons Larger Consumption Caps, AT&T, TWC Fit Beaumont for Caps, and Burning Down the House .)

In a blog posted Wednesday, NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow chalked up Free Press's petition drive calling for a congressional investigation into TWC's plans as a "publicity stunt."

"While it is certainly appropriate for all of us and anyone interested in the deployment and use of broadband technology to monitor the results of these and similar experiments, we should recognize the Free Press petition drive as the publicity stunt it so obviously is," McSlarrow noted, later pointing out that Free Press has previously suggested to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that consumption-based billing could serve as an appropriate pricing model.

In a rapidly generated response, Free Press policy director Ben Scott acknowledged that his organization did indeed tell the Commission that metering would be a superior practice, "but only when compared to outright illegal blocking of Internet content and applications."

Free Press, as readers will recall, was a key player against Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s earlier policy of throttling peer-to-peer (P2P) applications. Comcast has since migrated everything over to a new "protocol agnostic" congestion management platform. (See Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure and Comcast Goes 'Protocol Agnostic' Everywhere .)

Back on the cable side of the court, McSlarrow also pointed out that TWC's activities with metered broadband are still in the early trial phases, so it's too early to draw any final conclusions or for Free Press to draw up a petition that seeks congressional action. Following the initial pilot in Beaumont, Texas, TWC plans to expand consumption-based billing trials later this year to systems serving Rochester, N.Y.; Greensboro, N.C.; and San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

Time Warner Cable, McSlarrow noted, has "engaged in an open conversation with their customers and other interested parties about how they are thinking through their plans, and I would expect that only after gathering input would they announce more specific plans for what, where and how such tests would be conducted."

Free Press responded that the petition isn't premature. "Asking Congress for an inquiry is simply raising some red flags about a plan that has many troubling questions surrounding it," the organization said.

In fact, one congressman, Eric Massa (D-NY), has already come out against TWC's metering test plans, and intends to draft legislation that aims to, at least in his view, "prevent job killing broadband Internet downloading caps." (See Congressman Mad About TWC's Internet Meter .)

And that's not all. Reports indicate that at least two protests against TWC's trials are slated for Thursday afternoon and Saturday in Rochester.

Despite all the vitriol and political threats, Time Warner Cable is evidently sticking to its guns, and has announced no plans to stop or otherwise curtail its metered broadband trials.

But Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR), a DSL service provider, apparently has taken note of the consumer and political pressure being applied to TWC. According to the Associated Press, Frontier has scuttled a plan to deploy metered Internet tiers in Rochester that would charge $1 to $2 for every gigabyte consumed above a fixed, monthly 5 GByte consumption cap.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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