Tiered Broadband Trials Torment Beaumont

[qi:004] Poor Beaumont. The tiny Texas town gained fame in the technology world when Time Warner Cable said in January that it would use it as a testbed for its tiered broadband trial. Then Hurricane Ike hit in September. And right before Thanksgiving, AT&T told the local paper it would start trialing its own brand of tiered broadband service there. When I ask AT&T (s T) why it would pick on Beaumont, a spokesman told me via email that, “While we are aware of Time Warner’s (s TWC) local trial in Beaumont, our decision was based on Beaumont’s good representation of many of our other markets.”

Perhaps, but it’s also a classic example of why we need competition in the broadband arena. Beaumont is a small market and as such, doesn’t offer a lot of choice when it comes to broadband providers — making it easy for the dominant players to implement anti-consumer initiatives such as overage fees and tiered plans. AT&T will charge its Beaumont customers $1 for every gigabyte over 150 GB per month, while Time Warner Cable has a set of plans that allow users to download between 5 GB and 40 GB per month before facing overage charges. The FCC is attempting to bridge the broadband gap by encouraging new wireless technology, but I’m not sure those networks will be robust enough for the home, which will require fast speeds and the ability to stream video content. That means the digital divide will continue to exist even as companies and the government attempt to eliminate it.