Comcast: You're Paying More For The Ability To Reach The Download Cap Faster

Comcast, it seems, has a serious problem. They’re selling “Unlimited Access,” but again and again their customers tell us that they’re being threatened with “termination” for using too much bandwidth. How much is too much? Comcast won’t say. According to their Acceptable Use Policy, “too much” is defined as “where bandwidth consumption is not characteristic of a typical residential user of the Service as determined by the company in its sole discretion.” Reader Peter is one such atypical customer. He wants to cooperate with Comcast, but he can’t get a straight answer as to how much downloading he’s allowed to do. He can’t even get an estimate. Since he pays for the highest tier of access from Comcast, he figures that he should be able to download more than a “typical” user. Not true, says the Comcast “Abuse” department. Since his internet is “faster” he’s simply paying more for the ability to reach the bandwidth limit sooner.

Here’s Peter’s story:

Today, May 12th, Comcast called me at work to inform me that for the month of April I had excessive bandwidth usage and that if it showed up again in the May audit, I would have my service terminated. I was told I was in the “Top 1/10th of 1% of all Comcast users and that I was having a direct negative impact on 99.9% of Comcast’s 14 million nationwide customers”. I’m aware that I am a bandwidth intensive account holder. I am a nerd as are all of my roommates. Slingboxes, Xbox Marketplaces, WoW updates, Age of Conan install downloads, iTunes, Amazon Unboxes and torrents add up quick. I was not out to dispute the claim.

However, when I asked what I was supposed to cut my usage to, I was told “We don’t have a number for that.” When asked if I would receive any manner of compensation for the fact that I pay for their highest tier of access, but am limited on that access, I was told no. Stephen informed me that I was talking about speed and he was talking about quantity. When I asked if 99.9% of Comcast customers paid the higher rates that I did, he said, “I don’t have that number.” When I asked if he could send me my usage report, he said “No.” When I asked if he could show me proof that my paid usage was having a negative impact on the entire nationwide Comcast user base, he said, “No, that is proprietary information.” I asked if I was merely supposed to take these accusations on faith and assume that Comcast was not exploiting me, a higher paying customer, he responded with, “Why would Comcast want to exploit you?”

That was cute.

After roughly 15 minutes of trying to get some quantifiable answer as to what was non-excessive use, I was repeatedly met with the refrain, “Sir, this is all detailed in our online FAQ.” I said my goodbyes and returned to work. Once home I pulled up the FAQ, which is listed under the non-descriptive heading of “Hot”. There are 11 questions in the FAQ, 6 of which simply have no answers whatsoever.

I called their Abuse department back and spoke with a different man, Bill. I wanted to establish that I was not informed of this complaint filed against me until the middle of May, that I had secured my Wireless Network, that I had set up a net limiter and that I was actively trying to cut down my usage, but as far as I know I could already have exceeded “Fair Use” for the month of May. He informed me that I should have one month from the date of threat of disconnection to cut my usage of paid services, which was a slight relief. I proceeded to volley off him the same questions as before and received equally evasive answers. He said he had no quantifiable number to give me because it, “is proportional to all Comcast bandwidth for a month and is thus a moving target.” I proceeded to point out the inconsistency in their FAQ, which Bill proceeded to counter with the claim that information is there. I insisted it was not and he promised me he would escalate the issue. I’ll check later if there are any changes to it.

I once again brought up the issue of my higher priced service and was told, “I am talking about speed, he is talking about distance.” I could reach the same usage with their basic service as I could with their premium. His comparison was a “Ferrari to a Sentra” – They both reach the same destination, just at different times.

Now here is the twist. I called my local Comcast office to downgrade to the lower tier. I was met with a very nice woman who had no problem processing my request. When asked for a reason, I detailed all the above and she was flat out shocked. She said, “I have never heard of that before.” She went on to agree that my deal for Comcast was for “Unlimited Access”, or so we both thought, and that she was going to bring the issue up with marketing.

So, there you have it. Comcast’s own sales employees are under the impression that the services they are selling to consumers are unlimited. The Abuse department has a polar (and far more aggressive) stance, but refuses to commit to any quantification of it as well as a refusal to let you see any relevant documentation to your own paid usage.


(Photo: u2acro )

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