TWC stomps its feet over metered Internet plans

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Opinion – Time Warner Cable (TWC) is upset. There may be some competition on the horizon for this and other cable companies and as usual, the company had an allergic reaction on that prospect and complained to the FCC that there is no way that the government could sponsor potential competitors to deliver broadband to “underserved” areas. Gee guys, could it be that you need a bit more competition to live up to what you are supposed to provide to American consumers?

Following on the heels of consumer groups forming against TWC’s plans to introduce a consumption-based subscription model of its broadband Internet access, the company filed a document including critical comments in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.  I can’t help but feel that especially TWC acts like a 2-year-old toddler who is trying to figure out the limits of his parents’ patience. When will parents, or, in this case, the government and consumers say it’s enough?

So we already know that cable companies and other broadband providers are beating the Internet-is-running-out-of bandwidth drum, in the hope that we will accept perhaps much less aggressive bandwidth caps than what is proposed today. You just know that this whole public debate about bandwidth caps is a public negotiation about raising Internet access prices, using excessive Internet bandwidth as a justification. I don’t want to mention at this point that Internet access is very pricey in this country anyway, at least when compared to Europe or Asia-Pacific, and that connection speeds are nowhere near what the leading broadband nations are offering. It is a plain fact that most affordable broadband speeds in the U.S. are not enough to enable households to take advantage of new services such as streaming video and allow room for growth into the cloud computing space. Much of the arguments made by companies such as TWC feel like a short-sighted measure to protect them from competitive content services, such as Netflix.  
 
In this new filing, TWC argues that, in the light of the ARRA, the government needs to Refrain from imposing additional nondiscrimination mandates beyond the Commission’s Broadband Policy Statement; enforce existing network interconnection obligations; rely on the Commission’s Form 477 broadband speed categories; apply a straightforward definition of “underserved” that reflects the statute’s text and structure; and avoid subsidizing competition through an overly broad definition of “underserved.”

There is no question that there are “underserved” areas in this country as far as broadband access is concerned. I remember that, five years ago, several municipalities in Suburban Chicago were in a seemingly endless battle with broadband providers to bring DSL and cable Internet to their communities. All providers refused since it did not make any financial sense for them, but were able to “serve” the area when the competitive threat of municipal broadband services was apparent. Could it be that TWC needs a taste of competition to listen to what consumers want?

A good idea to find out what consumers want may be to listen to protests that are currently formed in areas that will be hit first with consumption-based subscription models and websites such as stopthecap.com. And if that does not help, the government needs to step in and promote broadband competition to make sure that the U.S. does not fall further behind in the global broadband race than it already has.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.