2009 in Review: Biggest Geek Uprising

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Don't piss off the geeks. They've got their Twitters and they know how to use them.

We found that out back in April, when Time Warner Cable (TWC) announced that Austin would be one of four cities in the nation to get "consumption-based billing." The proposal was to cap the standard broadband Internet plan and then charge extra for usage over the cap.

The proposal was portrayed as an issue of fairness -- a way to manage excessive or abusive users. In reality, it was a shot directly at emerging online video usage.

Standard definition video requires about 1GB/hour bandwidth. That means there will be about 1 gigabyte of data transferred for every hour you watch video. So a 20GB cap means you have sufficient bandwidth to watch about 20 hours of video.

If you reach your usage cap and try to stream a movie across your Internet connection, TWC is going to assess a surcharge. You’d pay about $2 for a typical movie. [...] High-definition video is worse. It uses about 2GB-4GB/hour, so that surcharge could jump as high as $8 for a single high-def movie.

The geeks were irate. The issue became the talk of the town, and was covered nationally. By the end of April, TWC announced that the plan would be suspended while they conduct a "customer education process." (shudder)

Consumption-based billing has not returned -- yet. Online video remains a serious threat to cable video, so none of us believe that we've heard the last on this issue.