AT&T; tests policy limiting data use

Semuels is a Times staff writer.

AT&T; Inc. customers who obsessively play World of Warcraft while downloading dozens of movies: Your days of online impunity may be numbered.

AT&T; has joined the ranks of telecommunications companies that are exploring the idea of limiting the amount of bandwidth that subscribers can use each month.

The company began this month to apply such limits, testing the policy first in Reno. Subscribers to AT&T;'s slowest Internet service there will be limited to downloading 20 gigabytes of data per month. Those who subscribe to the fastest plan will be able to download as much as 150 gigabytes per month.

Anyone who goes over the limit will pay $1 per extra gigabyte of data downloaded.


Time Warner Cable Inc. and FairPoint Communications Inc. also are testing limits. Comcast Corp. already started capping Internet use in October and said it would suspend the service of customers who exceeded the company’s 250-gigabytes-a-month limit after repeated warnings.

“Some type of usage-based model, for those customers who have abnormally high usage patterns, seems inevitable,” AT&T; spokesman John Britton said. “A small group of customers are using the majority of bandwidth on our network.”

Half of AT&T;'s total bandwidth is used by 5% of customers, Britton said.

Most customers don’t come close to needing 250 gigabytes a month, but that may change as companies offer faster service that makes it easier for customers to download movies, music and other files.


Netflix Inc. is encouraging users to download movies through its website, for example, rather than waiting for discs to arrive in the mail.

Downloading a full-length standard movie requires about 2 gigabytes, according to Comcast.

The website says that a 5-gigabyte cap limits customers to watching 500 minutes of YouTube videos per month or downloading 1,000 songs from iTunes, but once you do either of those things, you won’t have enough bandwidth remaining to read your e-mail.