Free Press Asks Congress for Metered Broadband Inquiry

headerlogo_freepressThe Free Press, a nonprofit dedicated to media reform, today sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to investigate the costs of providing broadband and the effect that metered broadband may have on the U.S. economy, in particular U.S. competitiveness. The letter points to the recent metered broadband trials engaged in by Time Warner Cable (s TWC) and AT&T (s T) (although others are talking about them as well), arguing that the bandwidth caps are “arbitrarily low” while the cost of exceeding those caps is “arbitrarily high.”

The two justifications ISPs use for metered broadband are that bandwidth costs are rising so ISPs need to a way to recoup them, and that tiers are a way to control bandwidth hogs. Given that so far, providers have been tight-lipped about their bandwidth bills, and that most investigations reveal that the costs of providing service are trending down, the Free Press is also calling on Congress to ask ISPs how much bandwidth really costs them.

The need to get Congress involved in the debate may have come as somewhat of a surprise to the Free Press, since in August it issued a report claiming that metered broadband was unlikely and contrary to ISPs’ long-term interests. Derek Turner, research director at the Free Press, said in an interview with me that while he still believes metering not to be economically rational for these companies, the recession may be forcing them to take short-term gains against their long-term interests. He also said that since two New York Congressmen are paying attention to metered broadband and there’s a new administration to educate, it’s a good time to bring the issue up before Congress.

The letter is fairly bold, calling not only for a look at metered broadband, but the costs of wireless broadband and overage fees, too. Turner said including the wireless market is appropriate given that wireless providers are trying to offer up their service as an alternative to wired broadband in the National Broadband Plan without having to play by the same rules as wired broadband providers.