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Time Warner Cable Metered Billing Will Return
With a much glossier coat of public relations paint...
by Karl Bode 11:26AM Friday Apr 17 2009
While yesterday's decision by Time Warner Cable to back off their extremely unpopular metered billing trial in four markets was a huge consumer victory, the phrasing of the company's announcement makes it clear that the debate is far from over. Buried quietly in their statement is the suggestion that the trial will continue in the Beaumont, Texas market -- and that the plan will resurface with a glossier coat of public relations paint.

It's highly unlikely that Time Warner Cable will ever scrap their lust for per-byte billing, as the lure of monetizing HD Internet video delivery is simply too great. Given companies like AT&T (who is testing metered billing in two markets) are also interested in "educating" consumers on this front, expect a cross-carrier collaboration to form aimed at convincing users that without billing by the byte the Internet will collapse, and your pets will run away.

While Time Warner Cable's proposal of caps as low as 1GB with overages as high as $2 per gigabyte was bad, worse was the company's public statements from COO Landel Hobbs and CEO Glenn Britt. Over charging consumers for bandwidth in the middle of a recession is one thing, but millionaire executives assuming their customers weren't bright enough to discern the truth (or read a 10-K earnings statement) was something else entirely.

Britt and Hobbs spent two weeks scaring people with tales of Internet brownouts, arguing that a flat-rate business model they've made a fortune off of was not profitable, and proclaiming that customers really wanted metered billing despite unprecedented, Internet-wide public backlash. When the execs finally did back off the plan, they heaped the blame on their customers -- arguing that they were simply confused and needed "education."

Even some cable industry insiders were dumbfounded by Time Warner Cable's poor handling of the announcements. One insider at a major carrier tells me they were amazed to see Time Warner Cable issue three extended statement positions in roughly the span of a week. Another felt sympathy for the carrier's public relations employees on Twitter, who spent the last two weeks taking repeated abuse for comments made by Landel and Hobbs.

What happens next isn't entirely clear, but Time Warner Cable will issue all of their customers bandwidth meters in order to collect a broad amount of data to use in future "customer eduction" efforts. It will likely be several months -- and countless Time Warner Cable headquarter meetings -- before we get to see Time Warner Cable's next move. Whatever that move is, expect it to be accompanied with a far more ambitious and sophisticated public relations campaign, with oodles of selective data arguing that per-byte billing is necessary -- for the good of all mankind.

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