Time Warner, Comcast weigh gigabyte limits

Time Warner Cable last week began charging new customers in Texas higher rates for faster speeds and greater bandwidth use. Comcast informed certain Pennsylvania and Virginia subs that heavy users would see their traffic slowed or delayed during peak hours.

Both steps were touted as tests to reduce online traffic congestion. But the irony wasn’t lost on some observers:

“Time Warner could end up charging customers more for watching a movie than the service selling the movie,” writes blogger Jeff Jarvis on his Web site, BuzzMachine.com.

TW could even end up with multi-stream revenue if the service selling the movie is Warner Bros. But only until the end of the year, when parent company Time Warner spins off its cable ops, says TWC spokesman Alex Dudley.

TWC offers two plans — one at $29.95 a month, the other for $54.90. The first is at 768 kilobits per second with a 5-gigabyte monthly cap; the second, 50mps and a 40-gig cap.

Streamed content will be counted in the monthly cap, Dudley says. But, um, so will spam. Dudley says if the inbox-clogging emails “become an issue, we’ll probably work it out on a one-on-one basis.”

Then there’s the fact that most Web surfers have no idea how many sites or emails constitute a gigabyte.

TWC and Comcast have been saying that normal users will not see any change or effect. But TWC subscribers exceeding their cap will be charged $1 per gig over limit.

“That 5-gig cap is nothing,” says Art Brodsky, spokesman for consumer-interest group Public Knowledge. “And if you take the higher-priced option, it’s because you want a lot of content, so that 40-gig cap is going to get eaten up very quickly.”

Indeed, one high-def movie can eat up 6 to 8 gigs.

Comcast, meanwhile, is weighing a 250-gig monthly limit.

“At least that targets only the big problem users,” Brodsky says, “But Comcast is still hung up on P2P,” which is notorious for hogging bandwidth.

Dudley responds with a point the entire ISP industry has been echoing: “If consumption continues to increase exponentially as it has, then there are real network problems coming unless investments (for expanded networks) are made. The question is, how will those investments be made? This is not a panacea. We know we’ll hear from our customers. But it’s time for a real-world test.”

Which may hurt ISPs more than it does you. Or vice versa.

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