AT&T Tests Internet Usage Cap in Reno

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AT&T, blaming a few bandwidth hogs for clogging its high-speed Internet network, is launching a trial in Reno, Nev., that would impose new fees on customers for exceeding monthly usage caps.

AT&T officials disclosed the plan, which was vague in some key respects, during an Oct. 31 meeting with an aide to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, agency records show.

AT&T officials said the trial was a response to “a small minority of our broadband Internet access customers consum[ing] a disproportionately large amount of the total bandwidth available to all the customers on a network” — practically the same words Comcast used to justify management of BitTorrent traffic and a 3-2 FCC majority found unacceptable in August.

Later, AT&T released a statement with some key details.

The company’s Reno trial began Nov. 1, with monthly usage caps ranging from 20 Gigabytes to 150 GB per month, depending on the tier of service purchased. After a one-time grace period, customers who exceed their quota will charged $1 for each GB over the limit.

“This trial will help us evaluate ways of dealing with surging usage trends while continuing to meet customer needs for a high-quality broadband experience at an affordable price,” AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said.

Consumers will have access to an AT&T-supplied “usage-metering tool” that will display that month’s bandwidth consumption on a running basis. AT&T said it will send a written notice to a customer when 80% of the monthly quota has been used, along with a reminder that additional charges apply for exceeding the cap.

“The trial may be extended to one other market by the end of the year,” Balmoris said.

AT&T said its goal is to address the fact that a minority of consumers are using a majority of its bandwidth.

“In fact, almost 50% of total bandwidth is used by just 5% of customers — customers, for example, who are uploading and downloading the equivalent of more than 40,000 YouTube videos or 40 million e-mails a month. This kind of heavy usage has an impact on all of our customers,” Balmoris said.

New and existing customers that don’t want to participate may cancel their service “without an early termination penalty, AT&T told the FCC.