Suddenlink ties Internet fee to total data used

KINGMAN - It's a feeling of financial freedom to cut your cable and break away from dependency on cable television programming, but the savings may not be as great as some had hoped.

Cable companies are looking to recapture those lost profits by capping data received through high-speed Internet service.

Internet service providers, or ISPs, such as Suddenlink, AT&T and Comcast are implementing billing changes that limit how much data customers can use. They're essentially throttling bandwidth usage and punishing those who exceed the caps, critics contend.

Suddenlink, the largest ISP in Mohave County, recently placed a "data allowance" on all customers. Accounts aren't billed for excessive usage until the third overage. After that, monthly plans will increase by $10 for every 50 gigabyte installment.

That creates an unexpected financial burden for users such as Ryan Abella, former Daily Miner reporter now employed by Mohave Community College. Abella is pursuing a master's degree online. He typically uses 100 gigabytes for his graduate school assignments.

It also means families won't be able to download unlimited movies from Netflix, and it could hurt businesses in today's economy where bandwidth technology is advancing by leaps and bounds.

Abella is part of the Kingman Development Initiative, which filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and asked the Kingman City Council on Tuesday to look into its franchise agreement with Suddenlink. Only a fraction of users abuse the data cap, he said.

City Attorney Carl Cooper said the best he can do is write a letter to see if anything can be done to mitigate the situation. The franchise agreement allows Suddenlink to lay cable in the city's right of way.

"We get paid proceeds," Cooper said. "It's mostly TV that we have regulations on, but I'm going to look into it."

Jon Winder, also with the Kingman Development Initiative, said Suddenlink did not give notification or prior warning of the billing changes until after customers exceeded the data cap.

Internet providers want to dictate how much data their customers can use, which is like the Department of Motor Vehicles issuing a driver's license and limiting your mileage. They're treating data usage like it's a precious commodity such as oil or water, where the more you use, the less you have left.

That's just utter nonsense, Winder said. Unlimited Internet access is key to economic prosperity in Kingman, he told the Council.

"Cable subscriptions are down. People in my age bracket aren't using cable," Winder said. "Data doesn't cost anything. They're making up for lost profits."

Cable customers have already paid surcharges and fees amounting to billions of dollars for infrastructure costs to deliver Internet service, with fiber-optics designed to provide ample bandwidth for future generations.

Last year, Suddenlink announced it would invest $250 million to upgrade its entire system in an effort to support higher gigabit speed.

Activities that drive data usage include sending and receiving emails, downloading and uploading files, and playing video games. As an example, a monthly data plan for 250GB would allow 12,000 one-page emails to be sent and received; 5,000 medium-resolution pictures to be uploaded or downloaded; 700 MP3 songs to be downloaded; and 325 hours of streaming video.

Suddenlink has applied monthly data plans to residential Internet accounts in most of its service areas to deliver a "quality" Internet experience for customers, the company said in a statement.

"Even with those investments, a relatively few customers use a disproportionate amount of data, which can negatively affect the Internet experience of those who use far less," the company said. "In short, we want to help make sure the vast majority of our customers continue to have a great Internet experience, and that the relatively few who consistently use much more data than normal have a choice: Either use a little less or pay a little more. We believe that's a fair and reasonable approach."