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Customer, FCC complaints signal huge problems with Comcast’s data cap meter

Over the past few months, Comcast has begun enforcing data caps in certain test markets, while simultaneously offering customers in some of these areas the option to buy “actually unlimited” data for a $ 50 fee. New data from several sources suggests that the company’s own usage metering is fundamentally flawed, and may be tracking usage based on incorrect information.

CutCableToday filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC, asking for data on Comcast-specific complaints registered with the government organization in the past few months. The site has published roughly 2,000 of those complaints to-date. Many of those 2,000-odd complaints have similar-sounding issues, despite being situated in different geographic areas. (Note: We avoided entries with identical wording to eliminate obvious astroturfing). Samples below:

Richmond Hill, GA: As of writing this they currently place us at 271GB of 300GB (according to their online meter) used for the month of September. However, our FreeBSD router tracks the total data used (outgoing or incoming) on WAN and only reports a total of ~147.054GB (139.93GB DL / 7.12GB UL)

Cumming, GA: On 9/30 around 9:00 PM EDT I checked my Xfinity data usage meter. I had 268GB of 300GB left, so I decided to start a 22GB download to get it in before the meter reset for October. I finished my download and went to bed only to find the next day my October meter said I had used 22GB already. [Comcast claims it uses Universal Time for metering, but does not disclose this anywhere on its website.]

Atlanta, GA: Last month Comcast added an additional $ 140 to my bill, which is double the total for my entire bundled package for an overage they claim is upwards of 1000GB, which is frankly grossly outrageous and bordering on ridiculous. This month I have minimized my internet usage out of fear and discovered that in the first week of the month, according to Comcast, I have already used my allotted bank of 300GB.

Many authors complained that the online Comcast data meter either didn’t work properly or grossly overcounted their usage. A number of people noted that they started off each month with 1-2GB of usage recorded on their accounts, even in cases where they used either very little or no Internet the previous day. When complainants know enough to identify themselves as running a FreeBSD router, it’s highly unlikely that they don’t understand how to monitor net usage. Many people also expressed frustration that Comcast’s tools only give you a flat amount of data, with no per-application monitoring of services like Netflix.

comcast-timerwarner-map

The country is carved up neatly between companies, with only rare overlaps.

There’s also the experience of one Comcast customer who found himself being assigned someone else’s net usage due to a mistake in Comcast’s tracking system. The company refused to believe he’d found a problem until he completely disconnected his cable modem and used a cellular modem for a week, according to Ars Technica. During that week, Comcast billed him for 6GB of service.

It’s not us — it’s you

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts dismissed consumer anger over his company’s practices by claiming that the entire problem is caused by the high license fees charged by content providers. According to Roberts:

“Well, your people didn’t show up on time” and therefore let’s fix that and will that actually change the score and suddenly we’re the best company in America? Google’s free. Facebook is free. We charge, and we collect for every piece of content rights. Every movie star. Every athlete. Every possible piece of content we pay.

We’re up to well in excess of $ 13 [billion] to $ 14 billion a year at this one company to procure that content on behalf of the consumer, and it’s grown on average as an industry about 8% to 12% a year compounded for a decade. If you drop a channel, you’re incredibly unpopular, and if you pass along a rate increase, you’re incredibly unpopular.”

There are two problems with this argument. The first is that Comcast already makes an extremely healthy profit — $ 14.9 billion in operating income, on revenue of $ 69 billion. Granted, it’s a slippery slope to argue how much profit is “enough,” but there’s no evidence Comcast is scraping the bottom of its own barrel to extend killer deals to customers.

The second problem with Comcast’s argument is we already know it doesn’t cost the company anything to provide more wireline bandwidth. Company executives have confirmed that the decision to charge overage fees at the 300GB limit is nothing but an attempt to wring more money out of the same group of people. Thanks to anti-municipal broadband laws, Comcast, Time Warner, and other carriers have carved up fiefdoms for themselves where competition is either rare or nonexistent.

There are solutions to this problem

One of the complaints raised by many people, repeatedly, is that the only way for them to track Internet usage is through a buggy and possibly defective tool provided by the company trying to bill them for additional usage. Unfortunately, there’s no physical equivalent to an electricity meter that you can mount within your house — but there are routers that provide network metering capabilities, and third-party firmware updates for routers that don’t include this functionality on their own.

If you have Comcast services ,and you’re concerned about your own usage, don’t just rely on the company’s provided tools. Use your own router to monitor how much bandwidth you’re using, and if you see a discrepancy that can’t be explained by time zones or delayed updates, speak up. A gap of 3-4GB can be plausibly explained. Differences of 50GB or more should be challenged and escalated.

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