Comcast Cap Blunder Highlights How Nobody Is Ensuring Broadband Meters Are Accurate
from the phantom-charges dept
For years now we’ve noted that while broadband ISPs rush toward broadband caps and usage overage fees, nobody is checking to confirm that ISP meters are accurate. The result has been user network hardware that reports usage dramatically different from an ISPs’ meters, or users who are billed for bandwidth usage even when the power is out or the modem is off. Not only have regulators historically failed to see the anti-innovation, anti-competitive impact of usage caps, you’d be hard pressed to find a single official that has even commented on the problem of inaccurate broadband usage meters.
Enter Comcast, which has, of course, been slowly but surely expanding its usage caps into more and more noncompetitive markets. And given that Comcast continues to have among the worst customer service in any U.S. industry, the combined end result is about what you’d expect. Like users who say they’ve been repeatedly over-billed for broadband consumption that never actually occurred:
“Oleg received warnings in September and another in October, the latter while he was overseas for a multiple-week vacation with his wife. When they returned home on November 9th, Comcast?s data meter was ?showing I used 120 gigs of data, like, while I was gone,? he wrote. Customers can check their usage on Comcast?s website.”
…Calls with Comcast customer service agents didn?t clear up the problem. “I called Comcast… and was patronizingly informed that ‘it must be somebody stealing your Wi-Fi,'” he wrote. “Possible, but highly unlikely. I?m a software developer, Linux kernel contributor, and I take my home security very seriously.”
This being Comcast, the user was ignored when he told the ISP he was being billed for 120 GB of usage that supposedly occurred when he was away on vacation. So the user set about trying to document his problem over at YouTube, noting how he spent a few months using only cellular data to try and prove to Comcast their billing system was broken:
Oleg provided us his full name and address so we could check into his situation with Comcast. The company investigated the problem after being contacted by Ars and confirmed that its meter readings were inaccurate. ?We have reached out and resolved this,? a Comcast spokesperson told Ars. ?There was a technical error associated with his account, which we have since corrected.?
“Comcast told Oleg that its system had him confused with another customer, he said. ?It turns out their system had my modem MAC address entered incorrectly, there was an off-by-one typo that was hard to see so they were counting data from some modem who knows where,? Oleg told Ars.
So yeah, you’ve got multiple problems at play all creating a supernova of dysfunction. One, Comcast’s taking advantage of the lack of broadband competition to impose usage caps (the user above says he’d leave, but has no other choices). Two, Comcast is using these usage caps to give its own content a leg up by exempting it from said caps (zero rating). Three, Comcast’s dismal customer service means that even if you can prove you’re being over-billed, you may not be able to get it fixed. Four, nobody in government can be bothered to make sure ISPs are metering accurately.
ISPs are incredibly eager to bill like utilities, but they’ve fought tooth and nail against being regulated as such. And despite all of the ISP hand wringing over net neutrality rules saddling them with draconian “utility regulations,” regulators have by and large avoided truly applying most utility-grade regulations and price controls on ISPs. Should Comcast and other U.S. ISPs keep pushing their luck with usage caps, all of that may eventually need to change.