U.S. communications giant AT&T has announced it will experiment with data transfer limits on its Internet access service plans.

The pilot project, in Reno, Nevada, will be monitored to see if data transfer caps can curb the bad habits of so-called bandwidth hogs. AT&T says a mere 5 per cent of its access customers account for 50 per cent of the total capacity of its system.

AT&T spokesmen Michael Coe says the pilot project will provide information on the typical data transfer levels and download habits of average users, which will help it decide where to set its caps.

For purposes of the test, AT&T will apply a multi-tier plan with higher limits for higher-speed service plans, starting at 20 GB per month and ranging on up to 150 GB per month for ATT’s fastest (10 mbps) consumer Internet service.

During the pilot project, users will be able to monitor their monthly usage via a special AT&T Web site and the company will contact users who unwittingly exceed 80 per cent of their limit. Following a grace period, to let users get used to the caps, AT&T plans to charge (US)$1 per GB of data transferred in excess of their assigned limit.

Other major U.S. Internet Providers, including Comcast and Time Warner, are also testing or are planning to test data caps.

Leading Canadian Internet providers including Rogers, Shaw and Bell/Sympatico already employ data transfer caps on a sliding scale similar to the AT&T plan.

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