from the pay-more-for-less,-you're-welcome dept
According to a new CenturyLink "excessive usage policy (pdf) being circulated by the company, customers in early trial markets will soon face monthly usage caps of 300 GB for connections 7 Mbps or slower, and 600 GB monthly caps on connections 7 Mbps or higher. Exceed that usage allotment and you'll face overage fees of $10 per each additional 50 GB, up to a monthly maximum of $50 per month. The trial is starting in Yakima, Washington and is expected to expand into other CenturyLink territories later this year.
As data has increasingly shown usage caps to be little more than a cash grab (and not really an effective way to manage congestion should it even exist anyway), many ISPs have stopped giving any justification whatsoever for their rush to cap customers. CenturyLink's PR department, however, does some yeoman's work in its new FAQ, first proclaiming that they're just nobly trying to improve customers' "internet experience":
"Data usage limits encourage reasonable use of your CenturyLink High Speed Internet service so that all customers can receive the optimal Internet experience they have purchased with their service plan."Yes, charging your customers more money for the same (or less) service sounds like a lovely experience indeed, on par with a day of camping or swimming in the lake! Note that there are people who do consume an "excessive" amount of bandwidth, but traditionally those users can simply be pushed toward business-class tiers. No, these restrictions aren't about determining what's reasonable in terms of bandwidth consumption, they're about saddling all broadband customers with usage restrictions to protect legacy TV revenues from the rise of Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services.
After the story first broke this week CenturyLink took this narrative a bit further, issuing a press statement to all news outlets claiming that charging more money for the same service is an act of consumer empowerment:
"CenturyLink is conducting usage-based billing trials in Yakima, WA, to allow customers to control their Internet usage. This gives our customers proactive management of their usage and ensures they are being billed fairly. Very few customers will see any change in what they pay for Internet service, as customers will only be billed an additional amount if they exceed the Internet usage limit for the High-Speed Internet plan they purchased. CenturyLink will analyze the data from this trial to determine next steps and make decisions regarding further rollout of usage-based billing."As we've noted with Comcast's caps, large ISPs like to suggest these price hikes are a "trial" where customer input matters. This lets them argue to regulators that they're not aggressively penalizing users in captive markets, they're just engaged in "creative price experimentation." It also gives consumers the false impression that their feedback matters, when ISPs know perfectly well that consumers loathe being charged more money under what's a highly punitive and often confusing new billing system.
As for usage caps and overage fees giving consumers "proactive management of their usage" while ensuring "they are being billed fairly," keep in mind that unlike traditional utilities, no regulator checks the accuracy of ISP meters. That has historically resulted in ISPs billing consumers for phantom usage, or even charging them for consumption when the power is out or the modem was off. ISPs want to bill like utilities, but the faintest mention of them being regulated as such results in no limit of histrionics and hand wringing from the sector.
Meanwhile, CenturyLink knows full well that customers can't do a damn thing about this glorified rate hike, because they either have no other broadband option -- or their alternate option (usually Comcast) is imposing usage restrictions as well. Behold the competitive glory of a broken broadband market few in government -- and even fewer in the telecom sector -- are actually interested in fixing.