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[qi:066] I visited Time Warner Cable’s Austin cable plant today in order to learn more about the last mile — or how cable broadband gets from the Internet backbone to your home — and how the limitations of cable play out in the way the company […]

[qi:066] I visited Time Warner Cable’s Austin cable plant today in order to learn more about the last mile — or how cable broadband gets from the Internet backbone to your home — and how the limitations of cable play out in the way the company manages its network. I spoke with Scott Young, senior director of digital systems, about the Austin network, whose users download between 5 and 6 GB per month on average. That’s twice the amount the average Comcast user downloads per month and isn’t representative of the national Time Warner network.

Time Warner Cable is trialing a metered bandwidth offering in Beaumont, Texas, with tiers of service ranging from 5 GB per month through 40 GB per month. When users reach their limit, Time Warner will charge overage fees. In contrast, Comcast caps users at 250 GB per month and after a certain number of overages, kicks users off the network. Young talks about the different caps toward the end of the video, and says Time Warner offers to provide fiber to the home for customers willing to pay the price, should caps or constrained upload speeds become too much of an issue.

At the last mile, cable ISPs have two issues to overcome — the fact that end users share a connection from the node, which means one person overloading the node degrades service for everyone, and a limit on the amount of spectrum available for uploading data. Check out the video for more.

  1. While technically true, it’s also a fair amount of horsepucky.

    Speaking as someone who formerly led the design team for residential networks at a national cable provider, I will tell you that the key problem isn’t management of the local plant. Rather, the problem is extreme mismanagement by the local system technicians and engineers.

    IP is sexy, RF isn’t. Local system staff wants to spend their time bragging about all the IP work they do, which in reality is little to none (IP is usually managed at a national level). The RF plant suffers from the fact that the downstream and upstream are managed separately, with the upstream from the end user flowing through a recombined network.

    When you couple this with the fact that cable companies are granted franchises by a local municipality (town/city/county) that usually is worried about job retention/creation and therefor specifies mandatory retention of incumbent staff even if the franchise is awarded to a new company, and you have a lot of local staff that have no incentive to manage their RF plant properly.

    The sad fact is that most of the cable industries new technology is to compensate for the mismanaged RF plants.

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  2. please invest in a wireless lapel microphone for your guests.

    I couldn’t hear him very well at all at full volume both on my macbook and in the youtube player.

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  3. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Rob, feedback appreciated. I already popped a tripod in my trunk for all future videos and will see if I can add a mic to my setup.

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  4. I, too, am sorry that this video is no longer available.

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  5. [...] Optimum Lightpath Buys N.J. Fiber Provider multichannel.com Time Warner Talks Last Mile & Bandwidth Caps gigaom.com Is There A Hidden Broadband Price War? techdirt.com Australian economy critically [...]

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  6. Dazed and Confused Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    @ Scott:

    Dead on. Incumbent staff kills people. I’ve been following Telecom for a long time and I’ve watched time and time again as the big companies absorb the locals and the same faces still stay there. If you’ve ever had a botched cable install you definitely know where I’m coming from (not to say the installers were former local employees, but, rather, the support infrastructure).

    @Stacy:

    I’m glad someone took the time and the effort to go and talk to Time Warner. I live in a Comcast state (with little competition) and the idea of a 250 GB cap scares me, let alone 5GB to 40GB. My work attachment downloads can sometimes eclipse one gig a piece, and my last WoW update was 1.2GB. How could any reasonably techie person live with 5 gigs?

    /end rant

    Wishing all the best to the Gigaom team!

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  7. “which means one person overloading the node degrades service for everyone”

    What kind of crappy network design is it when your nodes are provisioned such that a single cable modem can overload them? Obviously, this should never happen and it is hyperbole like that which makes everyone skeptical about anything cable cos have to say about network management.

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  8. [...] 08 by admin Cablevision’s Optimum Lightpath Buys N.J. Fiber Provider multichannel.com Time Warner Talks Last Mile & Bandwidth Caps gigaom.com Is There A Hidden Broadband Price War? techdirt.com Australian economy critically [...]

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  9. I agree with Jesse. This is obvious to most network engineers, but these “explanations” are accepted by everyone else.

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  10. I used to work there and this guy lies the concept is good but its not checked and a lot of people have very slow speeds for months

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  11. [...] in the U.S. broadband caps are becoming more prevalent with Comcast disclosing a 250 GB per month cap, all the way down to Frontier Communications [...]

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  12. [...] in the U.S., broadband caps are becoming more prevalent with Comcast disclosing a 250 GB per month cap, all the way down to Frontier Communications [...]

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  13. And so it begins a 250gb cap can’t wait to see this number get smaller and smaller over the years, that’s like having unlimited minutes on your cell phone and your cell phone provider telling you that they are going to charge you the same amount but now you’ll only have 250 minutes of talk time…and here is just another way the U.S. dollar is losing its value, at least on the consumers side

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  14. [...] But it’s all coming under threat, thanks to the backward-looking policies of companies like Time Warner Cable, Comcast and AT&T, all of which want to put a meter on bandwidth — and with it, [...]

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  15. [...] In an earlier interview with a local Time Warner Cable engineer, he noted that the average Austin TWC customer downloads 6 GB per month. Given that Time Warner’s tiers range from 5 GB per month at $29.95 on the low end to 40 GB per month for $54.90 at its peak, with 10 GB and 20 GB tiers falling somewhere in between, it sounds like the average Austin resident will have to pay around $40 a month for 7 Mbps down. Plus $1 per GB in overage fees. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to it. [...]

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  16. Somebody needs to get real here … bandwidth just ain’t free. They might as well outlaw metered electric service as well … it makes just as much sense. After all coal is free, natural gas is free, wind is free, and solar is free … they are just in the ground or air, and available everywhere.

    We have been running a small internet cooperative with several T1’s that cost $450/mo …. over subscribed to bring the members share of the costs down to something affordable. Any law that say’s we have to allow bandwidth hogs to saturate our network back to slower than dialup is just socialist crap.

    When you oversubscribe your network to get customer costs down to market, each customers “fair share” is that over subscription fraction … in our case we over subscribe a T1 30:1 … each share is 50-64kbps … more or less. Any jerk that fires up a P2P server with 100 connections, sends all the other customer available bandwidth down into dialup speeds …. and bye bye customers.

    When the government goes back into building and providing the internet backbone and local last mile service, then we can have “free internet” after paying for it with our increased taxes.

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  17. John-

    There is something to be said about treating internet access as a public good. After all, various levels of government have subsidized the development of internet access in numerous ways. In fact, countries like Japan and Korea have vastly superior internet access, at a better price, because their governments invested a lot of cash into the infrastructure and took ownership interest back.

    The companies in those nations can compete on an equal footing, because they all have to pay the government the same amount for use of the networks. In our country, we subsidize, but still allow the corporations to “own” the network, and set their own terms (or none at all) for sharing with competitors.

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    1. Dennis,

      I’m aware of that, but that isn’t the only problem. Most of those companies own the entire telecom infrastructure, and built it from the ground up in the last 20 years.

      Both the last mile problems (local loop) and national backbone problems, make it a much more difficult problem in the US. Our network is largely 30-60 years old, and replacing it today with fiber and high bandwidth cable, is much more expensive, than consumers or tax payers are likely to step up to today.

      See the longer discussion about this in the base article here: http://gigaom.com/2009/04/16/time-warner-cable-backs-off-metered-broadband-trials-in-rochester/#comments

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  18. [...] TWC reports that their users in the Austin, TX area averaged 5-6 gig a month.  A benefit of metered service is that if a user falls into this category, there is no reason for them to be spending $50-$75 a month for unlimited access.  This is similar to a cell phone plan, in that if you don’t talk 3,000 minutes a month, purchasing the 3,000 minute or unlimited plan would be a major waste of money when you could get a lower plan for far cheaper.  TWC was proposing lower-priced tiers combined with higher fees for heavy users. A relatively basic plan would have offered 5 GB a month for $29, and a more robust tier would have offered 15 GB a month for $40, all the way up to unlimited plans for $150. [...]

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  19. [...] Time Warner Cable Austin: ‘Users download between 5-6GB per month on average.’ — Scott Young, senior director of digital systems  10/2008 [...]

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  20. [...] TWC reports that their users in the Austin, TX area averaged 5-6 gig a month. A benefit of metered service is that if a user falls into this category, there is no reason for them to be spending $50-$75 a month for unlimited access. This is similar to a cell phone plan, in that if you don’t talk 3,000 minutes a month, purchasing the 3,000 minute or unlimited plan would be a major waste of money when you could get a lower plan for far cheaper. TWC was proposing lower-priced tiers combined with higher fees for heavy users. A relatively basic plan would have offered 5 GB a month for $29, and a more robust tier would have offered 15 GB a month for $40, all the way up to unlimited plans for $150. [...]

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  21. [...] But for the network provider, that love of streaming or even watching 3-D sports via a pay-TV channel on Comcast or Verizon comes at a price. Comcast delivered its 3-D Masters stream using the equivalent of one HD channel, which requires about 18.75 Mbps. Most cable providers can fit two HD channels, each into a limited number of slots — a constraint dictated by the spectrum each cable plant has (see here for a video on how a cable plant works). [...]

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