Blog Post

Austin Bandwidth Hog Claims Time Warner Cut Him Off

Updated: Time Warner Cable (s TWC) may have publicly backed off of metered broadband, but a subscriber in Austin claims his Time Warner broadband service was cut off earlier this week, without warning, because he downloaded 44 gigabytes of data over a one-week period (hat tip A Time Warner Cable spokesman did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Ryan Howard, a 25-year-old computer science major at the University of Texas at Austin, tells us that Time Warner Cable cut off his broadband service this past Tuesday. Howard says that when he got through to Time Warner to ask what had happened to his connection, he was transferred to several people before finally being put through to a rep in the company’s security and abuse division who told him that his use over the prior week had been “excessive.”

According to Howard, the rep informed him that he had downloaded 44 GB of data during that time, and that he needed to cut his usage by one-fourth or even one-third. His service was subsequently reconnected Wednesday evening. He was not given a way to track his usage, nor was he given a firm cap for his top-of-the-line Turbo subscription for which Howard pays $41 a month (he sent me his bill).

Howard says he guesses he downloaded so much because he uses his broadband connection in lieu of subscribing to cable TV, and because he also downloaded (illegal) audiobook copies of the entire “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan, on BitTorrent, which clocked in at about 16 GB. As for the impact of video files, Howard estimates he spends about 20 hours a week watching TV via his web connection on Hulu and most recently though, which streams HD versions of the games to subscribers. Such video streams can add up quickly under GB caps.  When asked how he plans to cut his usage, Howard said, “I guess I’ll stick to downloading legal content.”

Without hearing back from Time Warner about the story, it’s hard to know if Howard’s alleged experience is typical of a high bandwidth user, or a fluke. Time Warner doesn’t have a stated cap (although they do have a general excessive use policy), according to a customer representative I contacted today. When I asked if Time Warner had a cap or how much data I could use, I was told that unless I was “trying to run 16 web servers or recreate Google out of my home,” I could download streaming video and movies and wouldn’t see my service cut off for excessive use.

However, Howard’s experience looks similar to accusations that were leveled at Comcast (s cmcsa) before it went public with its own 250GB-per-month cap back in August that if users exceeded the cap, they were cut off. If Time Warner is moving toward a capped service rather than metered one, it may face less public outrage — depending, of course, on the size of its cap. However, it’s entirely possible Howard’s experience is a public relations blunder resulting from an overzealous employee. Maybe Time Warner will call to let us know.

TWC hasn’t reached out to us, but Stacy Schmitt of Time Warner Cable told the Austin-American Statesman that the actions against Howard were taken as a result of normal security practices.

Schmitt said she’d checked into the case and that it was not related to the tiered billing plan, but was a long-standing practice of Time Warner Cable to monitor accounts and make sure they’re not being infected by a virus or hijacked as a host for malicious use. “We put their (cable) modem in quarantine until we can talk to the customer,” Schmitt said. The policy has been “in place since we launched Road Runner.”

“It’s standard procedure and listed in our Road Runner policy as well that we do monitor for anything that looks unusual to us,” she said.

35 Responses to “Austin Bandwidth Hog Claims Time Warner Cut Him Off”

  1. Bruce

    Cable outlets like Time-Warner and Comcast would rather you watch the TV than skip all their commercial-infested dumbed-down programming on cable by use of internet video.

  2. BlueInTexas

    Wondered if other Austin residential customers were experience perceived throttling of YouTube videos. Vimeo, Hulu, etc, no prob. But simply getting the YouTube frame and initial image takes 5-10 minutes. Confirmed that it wasn’t PC related by testing with multiple computers, but not sure yet if it’s router or modem problems.

    • Most slowness has nothing to do with throttling, and is normally a failing network element or a saturated network segment. Typically high packet loss from saturation.

      find a copy of Matt’s Trace Route (AKA mtr on linux, and similar names on MS Win ports).

      It’s an excellent diagnostic that will show you where the packet loss, or connection drop out is.

      Since it can be left running for long periods, showing just summary data, it’s useful to document high intermittent packet loss in network segments.

      Typical packet loss for a functioning network with over subscription should be in the 0.1% to a few percent as an exception over a several day period. Consistent packet loss of a few percent or more a sign of line problems, or severe congestion, for local hops, like what most P2P applications create.

      Packet loss in the several percent range past the local distribution, is from saturated routers in the back haul or long haul network.

      You can also use linux ping in logging mode to document time of day related losses once mtr allows you to isolate where the problem is. In Linux land that is:

      ping -i 15 target.router | while read i; do echo `date` $i; done

    • Oh … and if the packet loss is inside your ISP, be sure to share with them your packet loss log data, and ask what they can do to fix it.

      If you are a P2P user, you may be creating inside your home network. Set P2P clients to use a single session, and set the bandwidth back to 10% to 25% of your internet connection.

      That will reduce the congestion problems you see, and your neighbours see from you. Talk with others to do the same thing. P2P can be left running for days to download lots of data at relatively low speeds. The shame, is that the authors of most P2P systems don’t care about your neighbours internet performance, they are just interested in looking like their product is blazing fast, and making sure there are lots of blazing fast server connections.

      This is something like a group of idiots terrorizing a peaceful towns park with a bunch of ATV’s, scaring the kids and families just trying to have a nice quite sunday picnic. Sure the ATV owners might be paying the same taxes, but that doesn’t give them the right to run everyone else off that pay the same taxes. This is the same as few P2P users, demanding it’s their right to saturate a local ISP network, and running off all the customers that are really paying the majority of the costs.

  3. Stacey,

    I’d love it if you could pose this question to Time Warner.

    “Does Time Warner consider a customer’s use to be excessive if he or she downloads one season’s worth of “Lost” in HD quality from the iTunes Store?”

    By the way, I should note that you can hit 44GB in one weekend just by download an entire TV season in HD quality. Not only is each HD-quality TV episode about 1.5GB in size, iTunes offer you the option to automatically download a Standard Definition quality movie to sync to your iPod or iPhone. The SD version is about 500MB in size per episode. So a 23-episode is actually 2GB per episode.

    Again, does Time Warner consider normal and common iTunes usage against their network policy?

    If yes, I think Time Warner needs to explain itself and frankly, I think the FCC would be interested in why Time Warner gets to determine that iTunes usage is illegal.

    If no, I think Time Warner needs to explain how an iTunes customer can enjoy movies and TV shows without constantly worrying that they’re going to be identified as a bandwidth hog and have their service cut off. If iTunes customers don’t have to worry, then TWC needs to explain how they are differentiating between any iTunes download and any other kind of download.

    • I do not believe “Time Warner consider normal and common iTunes usage against their network policy”, nor am I aware of any ISP that does.

      What is stated in the acceptable use policy for nearly ISP, are restrictions against applications that impact other customers negatively. For many over subscribed systems, the primary applications that cause problems are first party shooter games that flood the network with very small high rate UDP packets that easily exceed the packet per second routing limits of the network, and peer to peer application running multiple clients and servers designed to saturate the buffers of the network to gain a download/upload performance advantage over normal users sharing the network.

    • If you want to run peer to peer, without severely impacting other customers for your ISP, set the number of upload and download clients to one, and restrict the speed of those servers to one half your nominal bandwidth.

      If you are civic minded, as the ISP what the over subscription ratio is for their network, and set the peer to peer speed at one half your nominal bandwidth divided by the over subscription ratio your network was designed to. That should be pretty close to your fair share, without causing packet loss that destroys the internet experience for your friends and neighbours sharing your local ISP’s network.

      Have a talk with greedy users about fair share, specifically stating it’s not fair for one user paying $30/mo to expect to make 29 other users paying the same $30/mo to experience shitty service at best, with high packet loss and high latiency/lag.

      The internet, and the portion of the internet that your ISP provides, is something like a public park. it’s not fair for idoit’s to use a local family,kids park design for families to picknic, as an ATV race course. People that need sustained high rate services, should purchase a service plan specifically designed for that use, that has little or no over subscription.

      If you have an over subscribed service plan, that you can not get your fair share from, because it’s slow and has high packet loss, then you need to call your ISP, complain about the slowness, and demand that they upgrade the network to meet the expected service levels, or take action against those users that are stealing your fair share by running disruptive applications like P2P and high rate streaming UDP services that do not share well (like first party shooter games, and some streaming video services).

      When you are shopping for games and media delivery services, be responsible, and look for those that flow control well, and use TCP connections, rather than high rate non-flow controlled UDP connections.

  4. For those of you (Brett Glass, A.B. Dada) who think 44GB of data is a lot, you obviously need to reconsider your position. Here’s a common scenario that could allow you to hit that easily, without pirating or downloading video on torrents.

    Download an entire season of any TV show in HD quality from iTunes (you can do that with a single click of a button, don’t you know). That 23 episodes or so at 1.5GB each. That basically puts you up at 31-32 gigabytes of data. Then decide you want to download some Adobe trial software. That’s another few gigabytes. And hey, looks like a new movie just came out on, which you can now download in HD. Another gig or two.

    Totally legitimate uses and ones endorsed by the entertainment industry and software publishers. Plus it’s usage that is quite common (please don’t use the arguments, “Well, I don’t download video…” or “Can’t you just limit yourself to one episode a day.”) , yet Time Warner determines you are a “bandwidth hog” and cuts you off without any kind of warning.

    Don’t even pretend that this is about legitimate use because the tendency of people like A.B. Dada to classify everything “excessive” as illegal shows why TWC is mostly interested in squashing HD-quality content via download services like iTunes and Amazon so as to keep customers chained to cable video feed.

    • At least for our coop, it’s all about total bandwidth (both speed and volume), and all about sharing bandwidth fairly. That means that users do not use more than “their fair share” defined by nominal bandwidth divided by published over subscription ratio as an unlimited use threshold. Bandwidth drawn above the fair share unlimited threshold is metered, with a specific quota purchased with the members rate plan.

      Certain things are restricted, because they do not share the bandwidth. That includes applications that start up dozens of full bandwidth clients or servers, which can be used as long as they are restricted to single session. High rate UDP streaming can be used below fair share threshold, when used above the fair share threshold instances need to be brief, so that the use does not use more minutes in an hour than their fair share defined by the over subscription ratio.

      Our over subscription ratio is published at 15:1 and our nominal bandwidth share is 768kbps. This translates into an unlimited fair share of about 64kbps, and full bandwidth use of 4 minutes per hour, possibly averaged over a small number of hours.

      Since this a cooperative, and we each own our service, we operate it the way it provides the best service levels for all the membership. The use model changes as the membership needs change.

      Since a for-profit ISP typically has the same expectations from it’s customers, there are good reasons for them to publish their over subscription ratios and set usage expectations in a similar way.

    • Brett Glass

      Yes, an entire season of a TV show, in HD, IS a lot. Quite a lot. Sorry, but there is no “bandwidth fairy.” Bandwidth costs money, and individual downloading is incredibly inefficient and expensive compared to any broadcast medium.

      if users want to have $30/month or $40/month broadband, they won’t be able to engage in that sort of massive downloading. The bandwidth costs too much at wholesale, let alone retail.

  5. Brett Glass

    I see a number of postings from someone named “John” that appear to have been deleted or censored. Please let them through! Lively debate on these topics is much needed. And given the consistent anti-ISP bias we’ve seen on this blog, it’s very refreshing to see a spirited voice on the other side.

    • Chancey Mathews

      Hey Brett,

      We have a filter that shortens long URLs so they don’t break the page layout. There is a bug in the filter that caused some comments with long URLs to show up blank. This affected comments across GigaOM. We’ve removed the filter and all the comments should return shortly. If you continue to see problems, feel free to contact me directly at [email protected].


      Chancey Mathews — Webmaster, The GigaOM Network

  6. Good riddance.

    Unlimited internet doesn’t mean unlimited data. It means unlimited connect time. Back in the day of dial-up, we used to pay per minute to the phone company, plus we paid per hour to the provider (think X.25 networks or Compuserve or whoever).

    When DSL came along, it offered unlimited connect time for no additional cost: no per-minute charges, no per-hour charges. It was a great thing.

    Like anything people use, there must be a cost or it will be abused: think of freeways and traffic. If the cost isn’t high enough to reduce demand slightly below maximum, it will be abused: think of government-run tollways.

    One-size-fits-all never works in a market, except in a commodity good that is ridiculously cheap to create or maintain (think mittens).

    On the other hand, the morons who write about this stuff day-in and day-out (and I mean practically everyone in the industry) is no friend to capitalism. Capitalism promotes the free ability for parties to transact. BOTH parties in a transaction must profit from said transaction or it fails. The person buying an item gets the item, which is worth more than the dollars they give up. The person selling the item gets the dollars, which are worth more than the item they’re giving up. BOTH PARTIES PROFIT.

    In the case of broadband, the number #1 person to blame is now TWC or AT&T or Comcast, it is the voters of your communities. They selected politicians who gave monopoly/duopoly status to the megacorporations.

    You deserve this. You asked for it. You’re getting it good and hard, just as you should. I’d prefer to see MUCH more expensive broadband options. I’d pay $300 a month for huge throughput and priority onto the backbone. Why? I paid $800 a month for a T1 not that long ago (one at home, one at work). I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because my employees need it. At home? I don’t sit and waste bits because there’s no purpose in most of the free stuff out there. Most free stuff online costs me more in time than buying a hard copy. I value my time, so I don’t waste it downloading 44GB per week of who-knows-what.

  7. Mrktmind

    @Brett – Please educate yourself before commenting to articles such as these. There is no such thing as a bandwidth hog – it is a term made up by the ISP’s. TWC and Comcast could upgrade to DOCSIS 3 (which is what is being used in Japan to provide their ultra-fast 160mbps bandwidth) for less than $100 per home including the new modem and there would be zero bandwidth issues. By comparison Verizon is spending $875 per home to install FIOS (fiber to the home). The reason they haven’t and won’t make the upgrade is that they do not want people getting their video over the net – they want to force them to use their cable TV service.

    • let’s do the math … $100 times the number of customers they have … in the $B’s, so who is going to pay for it?

      let’s also do the math … 160mbps times the number of customers they have … humm, surprise, there isn’t any backbone that can provide that bandwidth out of a major metro area.

      so … please educate yourself. This is a down economy, where commercial credit is tight, and you want somebody to step up and finance how much???

      Maybe Obama and our clueless congress will??? …. nope, they hate big businesses … maybe the customers will?? … nope, theyu hate big businesses …. who’s left?

      • Let’s see… I pay them $49.95 per month. Everyone else who would be using the new level of service (including me) iis paying about $50 per month. So, I’m guessing that ultimately, I would pay the $100 to hook me up.

        And they can do it the same way they rolled out their current high-speed offering, by phasing it in slowly. They don’t have to offer 160mbps immediately – they could offer 15mbps, 20mbps, and increase their offering as they increase their capability. There is no immediate need to supply 160mbps when everyone is accustomed to 1/10th or less of that.

      • at $100 per customer, if they can increase revenue — or decrease costs — by, $5 per month, say, then it’s an investment that pays for itself in 20 months. thereafter, it’s gravy.

        since cable is typically a (regulated) monopoly, most customers will stick around for more than 20 months. suppose that the technology investment lasts 5 years before the next upgrade cycle obsoletes it. while credit might be tight these days, if you could invest money with an almost guaranteed yield of almost 14% (effective continuous yield over the 5 year period), wouldn’t you? i think my bank’s yield is 0.something right now.

        so, maybe the $5 that i pulled out of thin air is off; or the 5 year tech lifetime number is wrong too. however, this is the kind of reasoning that a reasonably well educated person would use to figure out the investment angle.

        as for backbone bandwidth, if a lot of applications are similar to
        – p2p sharing (perhaps not, with questionable legality?)
        – greatly improved on-demand video offerings
        then backbone bandwidth is not an issue, since most traffic is local. for that matter, services like hulu will easily be able to place a caching server or twelve in closer network proximity to customers, rather than stream over the backbone. while that takes time to implement, so does network upgrades, and i doubt that this concern is well placed.

      • TWC hasn’t even paid for their current infrastructure yet. Reporting around $17B in existing long term debt on their balance sheet. The $100/per subscriber number for the new infrastructure doesn’t include labor or infrastructure upgrades to support 160gbps upgrades at the subscriber. The total number is likely to be several times that.

        Google “time warner packet loss” here ( ) which means they do not have enough local bandwidth andbackhaul infrastructure to handle their existing customer bandwidth. It has been noted that in many areas, they have severe packet loss with their existing infrastructure. Does’t make anysense to hand the P2P bandwidth hogs a bigger pipe to saturate the upstream even worse, and impact other customers even worse.

        Oversubscription on upstream is typically between 10:1 to 500:1, so there isn’t enough bandwidth to give the current installed base access at current speeds that isn’t oversubscribed. AsI noted in a earlier article on this same subject, look at how little actual backbone bandwidth there is here ( ). I suggested Stacy really needs to research this, and write a fair and balanced piece on why unlimited bandwidth at a low flat rate isn’t a good idea today. That piece should outline infrastructure upgrades discussed or planned in the next 5-10 years that will improve this problem.

        Start with Gigabits/sec available at the IXP’s for the major metro areas, divide it by two (what comes in, has to go out), and then divide that by the number of homes and businesses in the metro area (rough fair share per drop for internet bandwidth). As a ball park, 80gbps divided by 2 divided by 3 million is 1.3kbps per household drop. That is five to six orders of magnitude away from having the bandwidth for 160mbps per subscriber without oversubscription.

        IXP’s in Japan are built out for 248gbps, while the exchange points in the USA are built out for a small fraction of that. Japan is relatively small, with very dense cities and not much long haul fibre required. The USA is relatively huge, with orders of magnitude more long haul fibre required. You can go short distances on fibre at very high speeds. Long distances require cutting the speed to maintain the same power per bit. Faster is more expensive for long hauls.

        Demanding more unlimited local bandwidth so you can run your P2P server, or try to watch HD movies in realtime, doesn’t mean that bandwidth exists for very many people to outside the metro area.

        Sure, some of this can be handled by CDN’s located in the metro area, but not every ISP has a CDN inside their network. CDN’s do not help with P2P.

        Sure, there is some additional bandwidth that goes around all the IXP’s, inside major backbone networks. And there are some private peering locations. Niether of these make up the several orders of magnitude we are short in backhaul bandwidth to provide unlimited flaterate customer bandwidth to support P2P as a universal solution.

        If you are aware of any IXP bandwidth differences in the wiki IXP list, please update them.

    • Brett Glass

      @Mrktmind: I am an ISP myself, and there absolutely is such a thing as a bandwidth hog. The only reason one would deny their existence is that one is attempting to demonize ISPs.

  8. The Walrus

    At a rate of 44GB for a week, he still would be well within the cap Comcast has implemented. With teenagers in the house, 44GBs is not that much. Think about it, movies from Netflix, HD movies, streaming video, YouTube, Myspace, iTunes, even my TW phone service runs through my modem. Time Warner is greedy and now angry over the public and political outrage from their previous stunt of attempting to cap at 40GBs for a month and a dollar per GB after the 40. Now they say they are not going to upgrade as promised. I encourage everyone to search for alternatives to TW. They are a public relations nightmare. The service has always been substandard and overpriced. I do not need to be a pirate to use more than 40GBs in a month. I will be dropping TW in June. Regardless of the metered billing or not. They want to use the next few months to “Educate” the public. and try the same metered billing plan again. Hopefully by then legislation can be passed to prevent this extortion. At least open the floodgates to competition in the Austin area and see how they react.

  9. Howard said, “I guess I’ll stick to downloading legal content.”

    Good idea, as nearly every terms of service prohibits illegal conduct on the net. The ISP is not required to warn, but certainly can, disconnect those that step over the line here, especially when it’s affecting other customers (which can be avoided by limiting the number of P2P clients and throttle speed).