Usage-Based Internet Billing: It's All About the Benjamins

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Orlando -- Cable and telco broadband providers have spun their moves to cap monthly data usage -- and impose surcharges -- as smoothing out demand and ensuring there’s enough capacity for all subscribers.

While that’s true to some extent, usage-based billing is mainly about extracting more money, according to Kenneth Roulier, chief technology officer of Amdocs’ broadband, cable and satellite division.

“If I have a product that has great demand, I should be able to get more money out of it," said Roulier, who spoke with me here at Cable-Tec Expo.

There’s a customer-acceptance issue, of course, because any time you introduce a fee for something that had been available for no extra charge you’re going to annoy people. The message is mixed, Roulier noted. (Look at the backlash the airlines took when they started charging baggage fees.)

“The operators are saying, Let me tell you all the great things you can do with your high-speed data and all the devices you can use with it -- but oh, by the way, you’re capped,” Roulier said.

Comcast, for one, is testing 300 GB caps in various markets (charging $10 for every 50 GB above that). AT&T U-verse has had a 250 GB limit with overage charges since mid-2011.

MSOs are acting rationally in trying to better monetize their DOCSIS services, given that cable is clearly the leader in terms of network access infrastructure capacity, he said.

"Is there a fundamental right to unlimited data?" Roulier asked rhetorically, joking, "I don't think that's in the Constitution."

Meanwhile, Roulier believes broadband operators will definitely move to time-of-day differentiation for usage to even out spikes in demand during primetime hours. For example, a cable operator may offer a package with unlimited data usage during the day (say 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) but have a usage cap during evening hours.

Such time-of-day capabilities are available in Amdocs' billing platform, Roulier said, but bandwidth-management systems are not fully capable of implementing that.

He predicted that 4G wireless data service providers will adopt time-of-day usage policies sooner: "They're more capacity-constrained than cable," Roulier said.

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