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Friday, June 13, 2008

Time Warner, Comcast to Test Web-Usage Plans

Time Warner & Comcast Need to Rethink Network As Internet Traffic Increases And Slows Things Down

Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. will Thursday each begin tests of ways to manage Web traffic on their Internet networks, a contentious issue that has drawn scrutiny from regulators and consumer groups.

Comcast said it will test limiting bandwidth available to heavy Internet users at times of network congestion. The cable operator will test the approach in the Chambersburg, Pa., and Warrenton, Va., markets Thursday. Tests will also soon be under way in Colorado Springs, Co.

Time Warner Cable will try a different approach. The cable operator said it plans to start metering new subscribers -- charging them $1 a gigabyte for Internet usage above a monthly allowance -- beginning Thursday in Beaumont, Texas.

"We realize this will require a cultural shift away from the all-you-can-eat model consumers have grown used to and we want to see what our customers' response will be," said Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley.

The growth of video and music file sharing has created problems for Internet service providers but particularly cable companies, whose Internet networks are shared among users at the neighborhood level. That means users consuming lots of bandwidth can slow the network performance for those living nearby.

Comcast had said it would experiment with ways to cope with surging Internet traffic on its network. The company had admitted to slowing certain types of bandwidth-heavy applications such as peer to peer file sharing technologies. But advocates of so called net neutrality, who say service providers should not prioritize one type of Internet traffic over another, argue Comcast's approach unfairly targets certain applications and will ultimately hinder consumer choice. By curbing the amount of bandwidth available to heavy users rather than throttling particular applications, the company may deflect some criticism.

Congress is considering legislation that would rein in a carrier's ability to throttle traffic on its network, and the Federal Communications Commission is also investigating the issue.

Time Warner says about 5% of the company's subscribers account for half of local bandwidth use. Mr. Dudley said metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with the explosive growth of Internet traffic, and the huge amounts of bandwidth consumed by a minority of customers. "We want to find the most equitable way to deal with this issue," said Mr. Dudley.

By: Vishesh Kumar
The Wall Street Journal; June 04, 2008