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The recording and motion-picture industries have hounded broadband providers to police their pipes for file-sharing pirates. These advocacy groups want service providers to monitor and stop the illegal trafficking of files. AT&T has a filtering plan that Slate calls "baffling"; it would scan all emails and downloads for illicit content. But Time Warner Cable has found a much simpler way to deter film and music pirates — make them pay for bandwidth.

The cable provider is preparing to test a new billing scheme in Beaumont, Texas that would charge customers based on actual Internet usage instead of a flat monthly fee. This means BitTorrent downloaders would pay a premium for all those packets they seed across the net. Pirated content is far less appealing when it isn't free.