By Chloe Albanesius
Man your PCs. The bandwidth hogs are revolting and Comcast is the
recipient of their virtual torches and pitchforks.
Customers across the country have been contacted by the telecom giant
with a warning to curb excessive bandwidth consumption or risk a
one-year service termination. Comcast, however, is refusing to reveal
how much bandwidth use is allowed, making it impossible for customers
to know if they are in danger of violating Comcast's limit.
The move has driven customers to sign up with other service providers.
"Comcast and I are not on speaking terms," said Frank Carreiro, a West
Jordan, Utah resident who had his Internet service terminated by
Comcast in January.
Carreiro said he received a message from a Comcast Security Assurance
representative in December, who warned him that he was hogging too
much of the company's bandwidth and needed to cut down. When Carreiro
contacted customer service about the call, they had no idea what he
was talking about and suggested it was a prank phone
call. Unconvinced, Carreiro contacted Comcast several more times, but
was again told there was no problem.
A month later, he woke up to a dead Internet connection. Customer
service directed him to the Security Assurance division, which
Carreiro said informed him he would now be without service for one
Carreiro said he told Security Assurance that customer service had
cleared him of any wrongdoing, but Security Assurance reportedly told
him that customer service is not kept abreast of bandwidth issues for
security purposes. Comcast also refused to tell Carreiro how much
bandwidth he would have been allowed to use to avoid service
"It was a very frustrating experience," he said.
Carreiro has since switched to DSL service from Qwest, which became
available in his neighborhood in late February. Again connected to the
Web, he has taken his fight to the blogosphere with an online journal
http://comcastissue.blogspot.com detailing his troubles.
Admitted "Internet junkie" and Chattanooga resident Cameron Smith also
had his service cut off in January for one year. "They said there
wasn't a limit [for downloading] but that I was downloading too much,
about 550 gigs. I backed off to about 450 gigs, but they still
Smith has since switched to DSL service from BellSouth AT&T. "I don't
like it," he said, but it is the only other high-speed option
available in Chattanooga and he refuses to ever return to Comcast
Smith also pondered the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against
Comcast, but has been delayed by funding issues. "If I could afford
it, then I would do it in a heartbeat because it's a bait-and-switch
with their customer service," he said.
As of press time, repeated calls to Comcast were not returned, nor
were messages left for Comcast Security Assurance or e-mails sent to
that department's manager, Jay Opperman.
In a February statement regarding Carreiro's case, Comcast said that
"customers who are notified of excessive usage typically consume more
than 100 times the average national Comcast bandwidth usage" and
apologized for "for any miscommunication that this customer may have
received about this process."
What About the Others?
Several other top U.S. service providers admitted to monitoring
network traffic and contacting bandwidth hogs, though none were aware
of any customers who had actually been denied service.
"We do not disconnect customers," said Mark Harrad, senior vice
president of corporate communications at Time Warner Cable. But the
company does "employ various network-management tools to ensure
excessively high users are not allowed to degrade the online
experience of other customers."
Harrad said that "excessive use varies" depending on whether it is a
peak traffic period, how many "top talkers" are online at the same
time and what is occurring with regular network traffic patterns. "It
is not so much an issue of exceeding a speed limit as a pattern of
behavior over time," he maintained.
At Verizon, "it is in our terms and conditions that you cannot
generate excessive amounts of Internet traffic and you cannot host any
kind of server," said Bobbi Henson, director of media relations.
But Verizon does not have any "set measurements" on how much is too
much, Henson said. "We look at it in the aggregate. We will monitor
[the network] and if we see an issue, we'll try to rebalance the
traffic before pulling a customer's service."
Henson is not aware of any incidents when Verizon has had to notify a
customer about excessive use or cancel their service because of
Cox Communications provides data on its Web site
http://www.cox.com/policy/limitations.asp about how much bandwidth a
user is allowed to use under the company's three service plans.
"Cox does not spend a large amount of time enforcing byte caps,
however, we do communicate with customers when their usage is so
egregious as to impact the performance of the network for others,"
said David Grabert, director of media relations.
Having clear guidelines posted online "makes for fair and clear dialogue
when issues arise," Grabert said.
Across the country, consumers are spending a significant amount of
their time online viewing video content, according to a March report
from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that examined what
users are doing with their bandwidth.
Of the more than 2,000 adults CEA surveyed in late 2006 and early
2007, researchers found that 70 percent were accessing content via
online streams. Of that 70 percent, 49 percent connected to the Web
for news content, 33 percent went online for movie downloads and 28
percent were gaming, the report said.
"Some of these people who are bandwidth hogs are [Comcast's] best
broadband customers," said Adam Thierer, director of the Center for
Digital Media Freedom at D.C. think tank Progress & Freedom
Foundation. By angering this base, "you're just given your
competitors a way to step in" and steal customers.
"What mystifies me is why no one is willing to propose tiered pricing"
for broadband, he said. "Obviously, one potential reason is that it is
wildly unpopular with people. There is something about the
all-you-can-eat, buffet-style pricing that people just love. I think
with broadband, we've just already become accustomed to the idea that
is should be offered at a flat rate."
Comcast sent the following response:
"More than 99.99% of our customers use the residential high-speed
Internet service as intended, which includes downloading and sharing
video, photos and other rich-media. Comcast has a responsibility to
provide these customers with a superior experience, and to address any
excessive or abusive activities usage issues that may adversely impact
"The customers who are notified of excessive use typically and
repeatedly consume exponentially more bandwidth than an average
residential user, which would include, for example, the equivalent of
sending 256,000 photos a month, or sending 13 million e-mails every
month (or 18,000 emails every hour, every day, all month). In these
rare instances, Comcast's policy is to proactively contact the
customer via phone to work with them and address the issue or help
them select a more appropriate commercial-grade Comcast product."
Copyright (c) 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Comcast is well known for this kind of
screwup. In 1999, Judy Sammels told the net about her experiences with
( http://massis.lcs.mit.edu/judy-sammel.html )Comcast in atttempting
to use their internet service. To make a short story long, Ms. Sammels
told us about being accused of 'cable fraud', of getting no answer at
all from 'customer service', all the while another branch of the
company (security) got her indicted for 'cable fraud' based on an
installer's relatively minor mistake. Read it at
http://massis.lcs.mit.edu/judy-sammel.html . Comcast got out of that
mess by giving Judy a bunch of flowers, a box of candy and an apology.
Apparently some people with short memories still think Comcast is a
great outfit. I know in Sammels' case, we could not have thought of a
more arrogant, sloppy bunch than Comcast. And now, this Bait & Switch
is a much more serious thing. PAT]