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Cable provider mulls byte-size packages

Gone but not forgotten. That’s what Time Warner Cable Inc. and its opponents are saying about the company’s plan to test tiered charges for residential broadband Internet service in Greensboro and three other cities. The New York-based cable-television and Internet-service provider announced the tests in April, then canceled them two weeks later in the face of heavy criticism, including that of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Under the plan for Greensboro, customers would have signed up for different monthly usage levels — 1, 10, 20, 40, 60 or 100 gigabytes of service, with rates ranging from $15 to $75. Under most of the plans, they would pay $1 per gigabyte for exceeding their caps. Customers now pay a flat rate of $20 to $60 a month, depending on speed, for unlimited use.

Time Warner spokeswoman Melissa Buscher says the company proposed the tests — which wouldn’t have begun until later this year — for two reasons. “Internet providers as a whole are seeing about a 50% increase in usage, mainly because of large downloads. We want to prevent service from coming to a complete crawl.” She says unlimited plans also result in light Internet users subsidizing heavier users — those customers who download movies and music and trade photos and video.

Nevertheless, the plan hit a brick wall. Many customers complained that they would have no way of knowing when they were nearing their caps. Eli Abrams, who owns Utopia’s Edge Consulting LLC, a Greensboro-based information-technology business, warned that tiered prices would have stifled high-tech entrepreneurs, many of whom start their businesses in their homes. “For that matter, they would have put everyone at a disadvantage.” He adds that the tiers wouldn’t have solved capacity problems. “You still have to have a network that’s ready for everyone to use.”

Time Warner Cable pulled the plug, Buscher says, because there was too much “misinformation” about the tests. She says a prior test in Beaumont, Texas, showed that only 16% of customers exceeded their caps. “They could have actually saved money because they could see that they, in some cases, had a larger plan than they needed.”

Abrams doesn’t buy it, saying the plan was a way for the company to squeeze more money from subscribers without improving service. He doesn’t believe that customers have heard the last of the tiers.

For that matter, neither does Buscher. She says Time Warner hopes to educate customers about the service and is developing a Web-based gauge that will allow them to monitor usage. “We still believe consumption-based billing is the way to go. We don’t believe the light user who just sends a couple of e-mails a day should have to pay for the heavy user.”

YADKINVILLENonni’s Foodplans to open a commercial bakery by Sept. 1 that will create more than 170 jobs by the end of next year. The company, based in Westchester, Ill., makes biscotti, bagel and pita chips and Melba toast under its own and other labels. It will receive $300,000 in state incentives. The jobs’ average pay is $29,570 a year.

ELKINWestPoint Home will close its local mill this month, putting 134 out of work. The New York textile maker, which also will close plants in Maine and Florida, blamed foreign competition.

MEBANE — Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric cut 100 jobs at its factory here, leaving about 300. The plant makes products to distribute, protect and control electrical power and equipment.

HIGH POINTBanner Pharmacaps was put up for sale by VION, its Dutch parent, which wants to narrow its focus to food. Banner, which has headquarters here, makes gelatin capsules for drug makers. It employs about 550.

WINSTON-SALEMWomble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice trimmed salaries 10% to lower costs. The 530- lawyer firm also laid off an unspecified number of employees.

LINWOODWarvel Products plans to close its plant by the end of the month, idling about 35. The office-furniture maker, a subsidiary of Mooresville-based TRM, blamed tight credit and global competition.