Users Say Comcast Broadband Usage Meters Don't Work, May Result in Hundreds Of Dollars Of Errant Charges
from the show-your-math dept
We’ve noted for years that usage caps on fixed line broadband connections are little more than a major, unnecessary price hike on uncompetitive markets. But while caps certainly are little more than a cash grab, there’s another less talked about problem at play: nobody is making sure ISP usage meters are accurate. That has resulted in a number of instances where an ISP will bill users for consumption when the power is off, and even some instances where ISPs confused MAC addresses and billed the wrong customer for additional monthly consumption.
As you might expect, Comcast is often at the heart of these conversations. This week, they’re making the news once again for overbilling a customer $1500 for phantom bandwidth consumption, then refusing to provide any solid evidence this phantom consumption actually occurred. Like many users before them, the customers discovered a major discrepancy between their own router logs and and ISP’s usage meter. But Comcast being Comcast, the company’s historically-bad customer service usually only makes a bad situation worse:
“So far, despite all the calls we have made, no one is willing to even provide us with one shred of proof this data was consumed, by what method or website(s) it was used on. They just keep telling us to trust them, the data was used. We have asked for investigations of the Internet history to prove this usage, and they say they will do so, but they never do.”
As is so often the case, only once the media was involved was Comcast willing to “help.” In this case, Ars Technica demanded Comcast prove the errant usage was actually happening, but the company not only couldn’t provide any hard data whatsoever — but it tried to claim the terabytes of extra consumption were being caused by an Apple TV unit that apparently became sentient and started downloading screensavers on its own (subsequently disproven). With Comcast charging hundreds of extra dollars and just simply refusing to show its math, Ars gets to the real meat of the problem:
“The months of testing, without any firm conclusions, raise one question with no straightforward answer. If Comcast, the nation’s largest Internet provider, can’t determine what’s pushing its subscribers over their data caps, why should customers be expected to figure it out on their own? On top of that, few customers other than Brad receive such extensive testing. And even that testing would never have happened if his father hadn’t contacted a journalist.
For what it’s worth, Comcast has long stated that it uses a firm by the name of NetForecast to measure its meter accuracy, and that this firm consistently finds that Comcast’s meters are accurate to within 1%. But that’s not the story coming from Comcast’s actual consumers, who get to enjoy the one-two punch of first being charged hundreds of extra dollars for nothing, then having to navigate Comcast’s horrendous and inflexible customer service to fix a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. And as Comcast keeps pushing its caps into new, uncompetitive areas, the volume of complaints will only grow.
There are two subjects that telecom regulators simply refuse to address. One being the misleading and often completely fabricated below-the-line fees ISPs use to jack up the price of broadband after a sale. The other being the punitive, unnecessary and potentially anti-competitive usage cap, not to mention the ISP desire to bill like utilities, but their total unwillingness to actually be regulated as such. As a result, no objective third party is ensuring that logged bandwidth consumption is accurate, a major problem as more and more ISPs look to usage caps to milk uncompetitive markets.