Why Time Warner Cable’s broadband deal isn’t one

Time Warner Cable (s twc) is implementing a new pricing plan in certain areas of Texas that gives customers a break on their broadband bill if they agree to a limited plan. While in theory this is nice, because it lowers the cost of broadband for people who may not be able to pay $60 a month (that’s what TWC charges me), it’s also a pretty lousy deal.

Time Warner Cable will shave $5 off your broadband plan if you agree to keep your data use to 5GB per month. Overages are $1 per gigabyte, and a customer has a three-month grace period to track their usage and figure out if this is the right plan for them. It’s not a deal I would sign up for, knowing how much of my work, entertainment and even my climate control comes over the web, but for the dwindling bit of the population that can’t consume 5 GB a month, this is a way to cut costs. Just make sure when relatives or friends come over they know about your limited broadband — and don’t sign up for that Netflix (s nflx) or Hulu account.

I find the plan somewhat disturbing, given Time Warner Cable’s history attempting to implement tiered pricing back in 2009, but also because Time Warner is creating artificial constraints on people who may then be reluctant to pay more for Internet access. Plus, those giving up on unlimited access aren’t getting very much of a discount — I look at it as like selling your car in exchange for a discount on bus fare. I also think that as we’re encouraging ways to help poor people online via programs such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials program (even though the broadband these programs offer is not my definition of broadband), this helps set a precedent that unlimited or fast broadband is a luxury or an indulgence.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world broadband access is being enshrined as a human right. Something else to think about is that when Time Warner first proposed tiers, it offered its 5GB-per-month plan at $29.95 a month. If I were to sign up for it today using Time Warner’s cheapest introductory plan at $34.95 per month for 12 months, I’d be paying the same rate as I would have under the proposed tiers.

So this entirely optional, and theoretically good, deal to help offset the cost of broadband leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a lousy bargain and it makes fast, unlimited broadband look like something for rich people instead of like something for everyone. At least Time Warner Cable will let people opt out of the plan at their own discretion, if its FAQs are to be believed.