Broadband metering: A misguided struggle for bandwidth control

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecomAfter rumors percolated on consumer advocacy site Stop the Cap, AT&T (NYSE: T) finally made it official on Wednesday that they will formally end its DSL metering trial in its Beaufort, Texas and Reno, Nev. markets. But before customers can start cheering, it appears that while AT&T has shut the trial down, it's not exactly done.

AT&T spokeswoman Dawn Benton said in an AP article that it's "reviewing data from the trial, and this feedback will guide us as we evaluate our next steps."

Okay AT&T, what kind of feedback are you looking for? If they're looking for customer feedback, they'll likely get an earful from users saying they don't want to be penalized if they happen to go over their respective allocations one month. Shouldn't that be enough to tell them that it might just be better to shelve meters altogether?

However, Ma Bell apparently decided to turn off the metered trial because the costs for customer support and necessary hardware to run the meter were too great. A post in Broadband DSL Reports quoted an unnamed source that said "metered billing wouldn't even break even over a five year span."

Under the initial metered plan, users of the service provider's low-tier DSL service had a 20 gigabyte limit, with higher speed offerings scaling up to 150 gigabytes a month. Users that went over those limits would have to pay.

Regardless of the economic and operational reasons, AT&T should have just taken a lesson from Time Warner Cable's metered broadband efforts.  

Time Warner Cable's (NYSE: TWC) metered trials raised not only the hackles of customers, but also Congressional leaders. Like AT&T, the operator finally decided to pull the plug on conducting broadband metering in new markets, but kept its metered billing trial in Beaumont, Texas going.

Controlling bandwidth usage by service providers has become the talk of the broadband industry and a cornerstone of the new FCC's ongoing net neutrality and broadband reclassification measures.

Outside of their own metering trials, service providers like AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon appear to want to develop common network management practices for the broadband industry. In a rather unprecedented move, AT&T, TWC and other industry titans such as Intel came together to form the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG or TAG). Coming only a week before the FCC's broadband reclassification move yesterday, BITAG's goal focuses on how network management could affect a user's Internet experience.  

Metering bandwidth is not just a wireline broadband issue, however. My colleagues at FierceWireless have been following news that AT&T will start metering smart phone data usage.

While I understand that wireline broadband and even wireless operators need to stop bandwidth hogs, those users represent only a small portion of the overall broadband population.

If broadband service providers want to track usage patterns, fine. But instead of penalizing heavy usage, take the usage data they collect and use it to develop new service packages that fit the diversity of usage patterns.--Sean