Time Warner Cable is testing a faster cable modem service tier in three markets in the hopes that a fringe group of power users will upgrade to the higher level of service.
TWC began testing the new, faster tier, dubbed "Road Runner Xtreme," earlier this month in three divisions: Lincoln, Neb.; Western Ohio (Dayton); and Greensboro, N.C.
The Xtreme tier features downstream speeds of up to 3 Mbps and 512 kbps in the upstream. The traditional residential Road Runner service offers download/upload speeds of 2 Mbps/384 kbps.
In concert with the faster tier, Time Warner Cable is also testing a bandwidth consumption model that could rein in so-called "bandwidth hogs." For Xtreme customers, the MSO is imposing a bandwidth consumption cap of 40 Gigabytes per month. The cap is lowered to 15 GB per month for customers of the flagship service.
According to the MSO's trial policy, Road Runner customers who exceed those consumption limits will be subject to additional fees of $10 for every 5 GB above the cap. Time Warner Cable said it would notify customers before charging for "excessive bandwidth usage."
Imposing consumption caps to high-speed data is an emerging trend in the cable industry. Alaska-based GCI has offered speed/consumption tiers for several years, and Cox Communications launched a similar policy in November 2002.
Time Warner Cable is also testing several pricing schemes for Road Runner Xtreme. The MSO is pricing the faster tier at $79.95 per month in Nebraska, $89.95 per month in Western Ohio, and $99.95 per month in Greensboro. The traditional Road Runner residential service runs about $44.95 per month.
Time Warner Cable spokesman Mark Harrad said the MSO also tested different pricing levels when it began testing subscription video-on-demand services, and that the MSO has not yet determined "recommended" pricing guidelines for Road Runner Xtreme if it is introduced to more markets.
For now, Time Warner Cable is offering the new tier to customers who consume more than 15 GB per month — the equivalent to downloading about 3,750 MP3 music files or playing 750 hours of video games on Xbox Live.
Harrad said Xtreme isn't expected to be a hot seller, as only 5 percent of the MSO's customer base is anticipated to be interested in the higher tier.
"But it's an important group, and a group that we want to serve," Harrad said, noting that 12 percent of TWC's cable modem customers consume about 80 percent of the total bandwidth.