Austin Bandwidth Hog Claims Time Warner Cut Him Off

Updated: Time Warner Cable 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 Stopthecap.org). 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 MLB.com, 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 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.

Update:
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.

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