Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Time Warner Liars Again

Unfortunately, this posting is not an April Fools joke.

I heard on the radio (WOAI in San Antonio) a news story indicating that Time Warner/RoadRunner will be implementing so-called "consumption-based billing" for RoadRunner Internet service in the Austin and San Antonio regions this summer (they have already done so in the Beaumont, TX region last year). This means that the cost of RoadRunner Internet service will be based not only on the speed of the connection (as is done now), but also on the quantity of data transfered in a billing period. The news story indicates that they are doing this because they "'made a mistake' in allowing all customers broadband services at a set price, regardless of the amount of material they download."

Why am I calling them liars? Because I spoke with a manager in Time Warner's Austin office just a few months ago during the TiVo/CableCard debacle and that person told me, flat-out, that this kind of billing arrangement would never happen in this region. I think it's snowing in hell right now.

So here's what makes this whole policy rank in my blatant stupidity category. The news services are reporting what they hear from TW, essentially, and they keep talking about bandwidth. Quantity of data is not bandwidth. Bandwidth is related to the speed of the connection, which TW has been slowly offering in increasing amounts over the past several years (in some cases at a premium price). They sold people this bandwidth under the pretext of being able to download movies and music, do online gaming, and view streaming video. All of these actions require significant amounts of data transfer (quantity of data) . With the combination of computers increasing in speed, more and more multimedia-based web sites, and TW increasing the available bandwidth per subscriber, of course they (TW) are going to start to experience problems with overselling their available network bandwidth. THEY created the problem. Now they want to start making each individual personally responsible for the quantity of data they transfer. Most individuals have no idea what that number is, how it is computed, and how to reduce that number. Even if they did know (I do), it is practically impossible with software manufacturers (Microsoft among them) providing large software updates and distribution over the Internet and the increasing number of multimedia-oriented web sites.

"Consumption-based" billing is a scam, it is stupid, and Time Warner knows it.

It is bad enough that wireless broadband carriers have implemented this consumption-based metering/billing. Everyone I know who has had to deal with it has complained about how it affects them. While (according to the news story) only 14% of Beaumont RoadRunner customers experienced additional costs for increased data transfer, what doesn't show-up is how many people have left Time Warner's service as a result of the new policy, and it doesn't show the amount of frustration experienced by customers. Wireless broadband customers (who typically have their bandwidth severely cut as soon as they exceed a particular data transfer cap) complain constantly about their service being almost completely crippled if they need to download a large software update or if they watch an Internet-delivered movie (good grief, that's what they're telling us their service is good for).

So here's the proper fix -- Time Warner pay attention please:
  1. Increase your "backbone" bandwidth -- that is, do not over-sell your available bandwidth to the extent that your customers, using the service as they will do, will exceed your available capacity.
  2. If #1 is unreasonable (and it may be, you may already have a lot of available bandwidth) then it will become necessary to reduce the effective speed of lower-tier (lower speed) Internet service and/or increase the cost of upper-tier (higher speed) Internet connections. This is truly how you meter and control oversubscription problems. If I have a lower-speed connection, then it will become impossible for me to transfer data in such a large quantity at a higher speed that I consume the available bandwidth of your backbone connection.
If you are truly making it difficult for people to use the Internet to view online video because you're afraid of losing cable TV customers, then please, just fscking GROW UP! Seriously. This is the kind of stupid temper-tantrum tactics that the phone company used when the cable companies (and Vonage) started encroaching on the telcos' bread-and-butter services. Why not set an example and show that you know how to truly solve the business problem instead of pissing off your customers? I bet if you made cable TV service more affordable (read: appropriately priced) and stop putting barriers in the way of customers every chance you got, then the Internet video delivery mechanism would not be a problem for your business. YOU created this problem. Stop making US responsible for it.

I submitted a customer service e-mail to RoadRunner asking about some of this. I will happily show their response as an addendum to this posting as soon as I receive it.

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1 comment:

JC said...

Ugh, I can't imagine being billed like that for internet service. Although my company pays for it, it would still be gouging - I do web demos using WebEx for hours at a time, several times a week. I'm a bandwidth hog if ever there was one, but I do pay for faster service, and don't do things like streaming recreational movies (not that there's anything wrong with that).

These people are the same who would have an all-you-can-eat buffet, then shoot the hairy eyeball at hungry people who want to linger and graze all day. It's all you can eat! Get over it!