Spectrum Customers Stuck With Thousands In Home Security Gear They Can't Use

from the walled-gardens dept

For the better part of the decade, ISPs like Comcast and Spectrum have been desperately trying to carve out a niche in the home security and automation space. But despite their best efforts those projects haven't gone particularly well, to the point where big ISPs try to hide how many subscribers have signed up for such service in earnings reports. Historically, users already feel they pay their cable TV and broadband provider too much money, and only a few folks feel it's worth paying them even more for home security and automation products they can find elsewhere, usually for less.

Customers received a good reminder last week of why it's not worth buying home security and automation services and products from their ISP. Charter Spectrum, the nation's second biggest cable provider, has announced it's shuttering its home security services as of February:

"At Spectrum, we continually evaluate our products to ensure we are bringing you superior, consistent and reliable service. We perform regular reviews of our services and as a result, effective February 5, 2020, we will no longer be providing or supporting Spectrum Home Security service."

The problem: customers spent thousands of dollars on much of this Spectrum-branded gear, and while the hardware they received supports smart home standards like Zigbee, they're built in such a way as to be locked to Charter's (soon to be nonexistent) systems, rendering them useless. Needless to say users aren't thrilled to learn they now own thousands of dollars in useless hardware, something that wouldn't have happened had they bought off the shelf gear:

"All these devices are Zigbee based, made by a major player in the Zigbee devices game. Under normal circumstances, you would be able to take all your stuff and move it over to your own home automation solution (Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Hubitat to name a few). But nope, not Spectrum’s devices. Early on they were firmware coded to prevent them from being seen and usable within the normal universe of Zigbee devices. With a couple of exceptions Spectrum’s Zigbee devices will only see the Spectrum Zigbee universe. So essentially after Feb. 5, 2020 your house full of Zigbee devices will be useless."

Spectrum users are quick to point out this could have all been avoided with a little elbow grease by Spectrum, but the company couldn't be bothered:

"The criminal part in this is that with literally a 10 minute fix and firmware to those devices BEFORE they shutter their service would open them to the universe of compatible Zigbee devices but you can take to the bank that Spectrum isn’t going to do it, otherwise they would have mentioned it with the announcement. All those hundreds of dollars (thousands in some cases) down the drain… how does that make you feel?"

The cable industry's relentless desire to keep you locked in their proprietary walled gardens are also on full display when it comes to their cable box monopoly, and it's one of countless reasons why these companies enjoy some of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in America. And while Spectrum has struck a deal with Abode to give these customers a discount on new security systems, that's cold comfort for those who shelled out thousands of dollars for hardware they can no longer use.

Filed Under: home security, iot, ownership, support
Companies: spectrum


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 6:47am

    Release the lawyers!

    Sounds like a potential class action lawsuit to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 6:54am

    It's not just Comcast. Plenty of other "Internet of broken things" vendors are building their own walled gardens, where their device depends on their server which goes away the moment the line is discontinued. Iris by Lowes is just one of many examples...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 7:27am

      Re: others

      ... ever bought an expensive cell phone that was locked in to a single carrier?
      or an expensive android phone where software updates ceased after 1-2 years?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 23 Dec 2019 @ 8:15am

        Re: Re: others

        That Android phone still works, it's just not as secure anymore. In this case, people's equipment will no longer work simply because the company quit supporting it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Sok Puppette, 23 Dec 2019 @ 8:21am

        Re: Re: others

        ... ever bought an expensive cell phone that was locked in to a single carrier?

        No. That is, not unless I was absolutely sure I could unlock it without the carrier's help or permission. I've never been wrong about that.

        Neither should anybody else.

        or an expensive android phone where software updates ceased after 1-2 years?

        No, because I've never bought one I couldn't load a custom ROM on.

        I have been fucked in 3 to 5 years because of proprietary binary blobs, though. That shit should be illegal.

        In fact, it should be illegal to distribute any software without source code. That includes firmware and other software bundled with hardware. It should also be illegal to distribute hardware without full register descriptions, and all other information necessary to write a driver supporting all of its features. And if you have any other "internal" documentation, go ahead and throw that in too.

        No exceptions, and fuck your "trade secrets".

        And if locking something down so that it will only load signed software is legal at all, there need to be some extremely heavy, legally binding regulations on the conditions under which it is allowed. THat definitely has to include the ability to update software that's gone out of support. In most cases, it should probably also include the ability for the owner of any hardware to take total control of all the software that runs on it.

        People should be tolerating this kind of abuse any longer. Not only are we suffering from wasteful obsolescence, and not only are enormous resources constantly wasted by intentionally crippled functionality and intentionally hindered interoperability, but there are massive unfixable security problems in all the shit software and abandonware that's being shoveled out.

        Meanwhile, we should be poisoning the market for this crap by mocking anybody who opts in without being absolutely forced. In the specific case of home control, there were perfectly good open alternatives that these idiots could have used instead.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: others

        "ever bought an expensive ..."

        The point?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 5:51pm

          Re: Re: Re: others

          "ever bought an expensive ..."

          ... Joey, did ya ever hang around a gymnasium?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2019 @ 10:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: others

            Wait a minute. I know you. You're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers.

            I think you're the greatest, but my dad says you don't work hard enough on defense.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 23 Dec 2019 @ 6:57am

    What do you want to bet that if somebody hacked the firmware to make the Spectrum gear useable again, Spectrum would run to court to stop them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 23 Dec 2019 @ 7:08am

    Typical

    Isn't this just typical of cable companies... they raised my internet bill another dollar per month last month. We always say they "nickel and dime" their customers, but given inflation, maybe we should start saying they "Washington and Lincoln" their customers instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 23 Dec 2019 @ 7:22am

    And what's more...

    ..$5.00 bet that Spectrum copyrighted the firmware update they used to brick the security devices.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Dec 2019 @ 6:04am

      Re: And what's more...

      ... it's automatically copyrighted? Unless maybe it's a one-line change with no creativity, or they don't bother doing anything else to the firmware and just turn a server off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 8:00am

    The only thing I pay Comcast for is my High-Speed Internet. If I had a real second option, I'd flee them.

    I get most of my TV from the Antenna and I have Netflix. There's 3-4 DVR solution for use with an Antenna. I have all my Movies on my NAS. I have too much TV to watch as it is. All the TV channel streaming services have jacked up rates sky-high. $35 didn't last long and then they shot up to $55+. I don't need all those channels. If you can't watch them, you don't miss them.

    Getting anything else from these Cable Company's is just foolish. If you want Home Phone, don't get it from the cable company. I've been using an OOMA Box for my Home Phone. I have 2 phone numbers linked to it from 2 different towns. 1 phone number from where I used to live, and one where my Dad who used to live and had his phone service transferred to my OOMA box. 2 phones with each linked to 1 account and different ring tones and mailboxes. The OOMA Box moves with me. Really doesn't matter who I have as an ISP and it's much cheaper.

    Getting Home Security from them also seems just as dumb. These days you can get a system yourself and install it yourself. If you want Home Monitoring, you can pay for that. It's all wireless these days. My Retired Dad is Home most of the time and so that is my Home Security. Between that and my Security Cameras around my house in plain view, hopefully the criminals move onto an easier location.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 12:37pm

      Re: Re:

      Same. My internet alone is like $80, $70 if I take basic cable. So It's cheaper for me to take their stupid basic cable, and toss the equipment in the closet never to be used, than it would be without it. I'm betting they are using that as a way to pad their advertising dollars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2019 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      If you have good service with an antenna that is. I live in a area where I can get one channel (three if you count the sub-channels) and so I use Playstation Vue to get TV. It sucks when I lose internet I lose TV too, but it's cheaper than paying more for cable and I get unlimited cloud DVR for free.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ed, 23 Dec 2019 @ 1:56pm

    And while Spectrum has struck a deal with Abode to give these customers a discount on new security systems, that's cold comfort

    So they sold the customer database to a third party? That isn’t so much cold comfort as rubbing salt in their wounds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Dec 2019 @ 11:29am

    It's not a "10 minute fix" at all to update the firmware on home security and automation devices, and especially not on the network equipment that lets them communicate. Every Zigbee device on their network would have to be updated, including thermostats, sensors, control panels, and wireless switching. Most people just aren't knowledgeable enough to do that by themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2020 @ 10:59am

    1zqjgj'"(){}:/1zqjgj;9

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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