Gaming websites have been abuzz since Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second-largest cable company behind Comcast, started to expand its testing of a new, tiered pricing structure that could result in higher cable bills for gamers and other high-bandwidth Internet users.
Over at Gamers With Jobs, Lara Crigger did an excellent job spelling out exactly how Time Warner’s new price plan would cost her more money. It’s easy to see how a great number of owners of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, both of which have robust libraries of downloadable games and video, would match or exceed Crigger’s monthly bandwidth use.
With the top tier of bandwidth set at 100 gigabytes, you can imagine how heavy users of the Xbox 360’s streaming Netflix service, folks who view Hulu on their PlayStation 3 and people who download movies, games and TV shows with their console or computer could shoot past that mark. And that’s barely taking into consideration all the free game demos, telephone calls made via Skype or the bandwidth you’ll burn playing “Street Fighter IV” online with your former college roommate until the sun comes up.
The cynical consumer would argue that companies like Time Warner and Comcast will jack up their Internet rates and adopt tiered pricing as more consumers decide we no longer want to pay $90 for hundreds of digital cable channels when we can choose to buy the handful of programs we want from providers such as Xbox Live, MLB.com, the PlayStation Network or iTunes. Regardless of whether that’s true, most cable companies and Internet service providers have their customers in a bind, as there’s often no competing service to switch to once that first mammoth bill arrives and provokes outrage.
In a somewhat encouraging development, Time Warner did indicate a willingness to listen to its consumers at the end of the week, when it announced that, unlike cell phone companies who sock it to the parents of teenagers who send 5,000 texts in a month, the company wouldn’t charge anyone who exceeds their monthly bandwidth allotment more than $150 a month. That’s pretty steep, but it’s a relief to know there aren’t any unexpected $500 cable bills in Time Warner customers’ future.
Comcast hasn’t yet rolled out anything similar. If the company does, I’ll surely post about it here. Hopefully if this trend catches on, it’ll spur some innovation and investment in the U.S. high-speed Internet market. U.S. broadband is nowhere near as robust and gamer-friendly as what they have in South Korea, where “StarCraft” is the national sport. If I’m going to be paying more money, I’d like a higher level of service and more competition for my dollar.