If Comcast Is Going To Enforce Data Caps, It Has To Provide More Accurate Info To Customers

Another day, another story calling into question the validity of the data caps that Comcast has brought to a number of new markets in recent months.

Over at Credit.com, Bob Sullivan has the story of a Georgia family who have been surpassing the 300GB monthly allotment every month since Comcast brought the caps and overage fees to their area. They paid $70 for the first month’s overage fees, $90 for the next. But now they are really wondering just how accurate Comcast’s measuring is.

That’s because they found out on Dec. 7 that they had, according to Comcast, already exhausted their entire 300GB for the month.

“What?? It’s only 7 days into the billing cycle!!!” the customer wrote to Sullivan. “This seems ridiculous since we have only been home TWO of these days!!! We will probably be billed an extra $100 to $140 in overage costs just for this month. I spoke with three different people, including management, and got no help.”

As some people who stopped reading this story after the previous paragraph will inevitably write to me to explain, it’s entirely possible that someone could reach 300GB in just a few days. Full-length HD movies and TV shows quickly consume gigabytes, as does downloading large video games. Video chats can also pig out at the data trough.

That’s not the point. The point is that Comcast is not doing a good job of communicating to customers exactly how it calculates usage.

Remember when you had to pay for long distance phone calls? If your phone bill went up by $150 one month, you could quickly look at your itemized statement and see that one of your kids was calling their pen pal in Tuva three times a week.

And the new era of web-connected home devices, like smart thermostats, lights, and appliances, can often show you exactly when they used the most electricity, natural gas, or other resource.

But not so for Comcast.

“There is no data meter showing the hours of data usage or what was downloaded either, which is suspect,” the customer tells Sullivan. “They only provide the totals of data, but this isn’t helpful or specific.”

Comcast does use a third party to verify the accuracy of its metering system [PDF], but that hasn’t stopped the company from royally screwing up, like when it insisted that a Tennessee customer was using hundreds of gigabytes, even though his home modem was not even connected at the time.

Likewise, a look through the thousands of complaints unearthed by CutCableToday’s FOIA request shows numerous claims of inaccurate metering.

Meter-related complaints from Georgia abound in the FCC filings. One customer from the state says his online accounting from Comcast shows that he’s used 271GB so far in the month, while his router shows that only 147GB had gone back and forth from his home network during the same time period. Again, it’s possible that the router information is incomplete, but Comcast is holding its cards too close to its chest on this one.

Yet another Atlanta customer says that the data caps have doubled his bill by $140 while doubting the accuracy of Comcast’s metrics.

“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,” the customer wrote the FCC on Oct. 8. “There is no means for the consumer to accurately gauge the exact amount of data usage except for the meter provided by Comcast, and after reviewing my usage for the last week, I find it to [be] highly suspect and inaccurate. In a nutshell, this company is robbing its customers and needs to be under higher scrutiny.”

Other customers from Georgia complain about being unable to access their online meters at all. One Atlanta user complained to the FCC that his tracker had been down for 26 days during the previous billing cycle. That’s nothing compared to the claim from another customer in the area who says his meter was down for six months before Comcast finally decided to suspend metering on his account until they figured out the problem.

Sullivan was able to get someone at Comcast to speak to his reader about metering, but that discussion didn’t seem to do very much to quell her concerns.

“We have a better understanding on what could be using up our data each month, but there isn’t anything we can do about it,” she tells Sullivan. “We weren’t able to get a refund on the data charges or regulate our data usage without getting rid of devices. We still don’t have any proof that we are actually using that amount of data, and there isn’t a specific data meter going forward telling us what we are using.”

Comcast maintains that only a small percentage of its customers are currently impacted by these data caps. Unless the company figures out a way to demonstrate that its measurements are accurate — and that customers get more precise information about when and how much data was used during a billing period — this could be a mammoth disaster waiting to happen when Comcast expands the caps to its full roster of more than 20 million customers.