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The Internet Censorship

Comcast Targets Internet "Abusers" 628

An anonymous reader writes "Here's a great Associated Press story on Comcast's invisible caps. The company has been threatening and then cutting off customers who 'abuse' their so-called 'unlimited' service by downloading too much. But Comcast won't reveal what the limits are. DSL Reports has been tracking this for a while, and it's good to see the mainstream press catch on."
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Comcast Targets Internet "Abusers"

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  • by Seek_1 ( 639070 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:20PM (#8129162)
    if( $provider_caps_unlimited_service )
    while( $providers_without_caps.length > 1 )
  • My thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:21PM (#8129166)
    I run a small ISP, and I can put an end to all this speculation regarding the use of the word "unlimited" -- assuming anybody actually cares.

    The reason ISP's use the word "unlimited" in their advertisements is because it sells more accounts than if they don't.

    The fact that they are lying is really not a relevant point. Consumers will flock to the guy that says "unlimited" in his advertisements regardless if it's the truth or not. Consumers don't think that hard about the issue.

    It should be obvious that you can't provide a dedicated "unlimited" 56K connection profitably at the $10-$15/mo market rate, but you will sell a lot more accounts if you say "unlimited".

    This is also true in the web hosting business. I see advertisements for "Unlimited Bandwitdh" web hosting all the time. But we all know that this is neither physically possible nor economically possible. Still people sign up for these lies.

    Guys like me that run businesses that want to be honest about things are punished for our truthfullness. Consumers demand to be lied to. So ISP's are forced to choose between significantly lower sales and being dishonest.

    Now, I'm not saying that there aren't ISPs that try to be honest in their offerings. I could give you a list of honest ones that don't use the word unlimited unless they mean it. All I'm saying is that dialup consumers do not typicaly choose these honest guys when they see an "unlimited" offer for the same price.
    • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 74nova ( 737399 )
      is it really possible to abuse a 56k connection? as i recall, it was barely possible to actually surf the web(yes, im spoiled by my cable at home and lan at work, rarely am i limited by my end), let alone download massive amounts of software, etc.

      is it just a matter of $10-15 is not enough to pay for very much at all?
      • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cmoss ( 14324 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:35PM (#8129322)
        if you figure it costs the ISP about $20/month/incoming line it is difficult to make money off someone who is online every night thoughout peak usage.
        When Dialup ISPs first started the rule of thumb was 20-25 customers per line. Not long after you needed 1 line per 8 customers. I would bet it got worse later.

        The "abuse" is not the upstream bandwidth it is tying up the line.

      • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Informative)

        by phillymjs ( 234426 )
        is it really possible to abuse a 56k connection?

        AT&T WorldNet thought so. A couple months before I left them when Comcast finally rolled out cable internet in my area (circa '97-'98), they slapped a monthly limit on their service because of "heavy usage" by a fair number of people. It was so long ago, I don't really remember the details, but I do know that I went over their limit both of those months and was subject to some hefty additional charges.

        If I had not already been planning to leave WorldNet
    • by rjelks ( 635588 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:29PM (#8129258) Homepage
      I guess that's why so many sites with "unlimited" bandwidth hosting get slashdotted.

    • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AstrumPreliator ( 708436 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:30PM (#8129270)
      Wouldn't this be considered false advertising though? I mean if you say unlimited you can't just go back on it because it isn't economically feasible. If a company told me I had unlimited bandwidth and then sent me a letter that I exceeded my bandwidth limitation I would be pretty irate. I would be especially pissed because not only are they employing false advertising, but even their own AUP that they refer to makes no mention of a bandwidth limitation.
      • The actual argument (I am paraphrasing not advocating here... 8-) that was advanced to kill the "false advertising" claims was that the access was "unlimited with respect to where and what the user could access" not with respect to "how fast" because clearly the access could not be made available at an infinite rate. No matter what the equipment there is a limit with respect to speed and there is a natural assumtion that fairness of use could be set and enforced just like speed limits on a road (etc).

        It i
    • Re:My thoughts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by renehollan ( 138013 ) <rhollan AT clearwire DOT net> on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:30PM (#8129275) Homepage Journal
      Business that say "unlimited" when the service is not unlimited are guilty of fraud.
      • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Informative)

        by nomadic ( 141991 )
        Only if they charge you extra while the contract is still in effect. If they terminate it and offer you a new one based on your download usage, that's not fraud.
      • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

        by forevermore ( 582201 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:59PM (#8129558) Homepage
        Business that say "unlimited" when the service is not unlimited are guilty of fraud.

        Which is probably why "unlimited" internet access means "unlimited time online," not "unlimited bandwidth usage." If you violate their (unspecified) bandwidth usage limits, they feel that they have the right to stop providing you that "unlimited time online." The problem with this is not that they are preventing users from using the advertised "unlimited" but that they are claiming users are in violation of terms that the users can't even find out.

        • by Vaevictis666 ( 680137 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:14PM (#8129717)
          This is exactly true - the Unlimited is Unlimited access time, but the providers would be stupid to correct customers mistakenly thinking that is is Unlimited bandwidth.

          They're not doing false advertising, they're just not correcting misconceptions about it.

          • While IANAL, in most jurisdictions, the party who draws a contract is held to the worst possible interpretation of it, so if "unlimited" is unclear as to "time online" or "bandwidth usage", the interpretation that best serves the interest of the counterparty is taken.

            The reason for this is that, as the party drawing the contract, they can word it in the best possible way for themselves. That they did not, when they had the chance, is, as we used to say as kids, "tough nookies".

            This is why you have your

          • Reminds me of what some senator said not so long ago with respect to the state of health care in the U.S. -- everyone (including the poorest of the poor) has access to health care in the same way that everyone has access to the new Cadillac sitting in a showroom.

            If it's all about access, then I'm sure when I go out for the evening tommorrow I'll be accessing hundreds of available women.
    • Upstream serivce is about $50 per megabyte in the US right now if you buy at least 10mbit/sec. As long as less than one out of 20 users are doing that, then it should be profitable and if your doing 20:1 to 40:1 oversubscription like most ADSL providers, theres going to be plenty of money in it.
    • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      >It should be obvious that you can't provide a dedicated "unlimited" 56K connection profitably at the $10-$15/mo market rate, but you will sell a lot more accounts if you say "unlimited".

      Nah. Bulk ports are available in quantity for sub $5 per month. Netzero's paid account at $9.95 monthly really is unlimited - nail it up, go nuts, they make up for it on the millions of customers. I wouldn't be unsurprised if other big dialup providers were the same nowdays...
    • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iCEBaLM ( 34905 ) <> on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:35PM (#8129318)
      Guys like me that run businesses that want to be honest about things are punished for our truthfullness. Consumers demand to be lied to.

      No, consumers actually *want* unlimited access and actually *believe* that's what they're getting. They don't want to worry about how much they download a month, if they get an unlimited account, that's it, they don't worry. It removes yet another potential stressful bill from ones life.

      Companies who advertise unlimited access when it really is not are guity of false advertising and fraud.
      • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Informative)

        "Companies who advertise unlimited access when it really is not are guity of false advertising and fraud."

        Correct, unfortunately in this instance it ISN'T false advertising. I should know, I'm in the ad industry. This is merely them using creative wording which as others have explained before means "unlimited time online/access", not "unlimited bandwidth". Now, I agree this is misleading, legally, its ok. Now.....what I would like to see is them make it more clear as to what the unlimited means......bu

      • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ironica ( 124657 )

        Guys like me that run businesses that want to be honest about things are punished for our truthfullness. Consumers demand to be lied to.

        No, consumers actually *want* unlimited access and actually *believe* that's what they're getting. They don't want to worry about how much they download a month, if they get an unlimited account, that's it, they don't worry. It removes yet another potential stressful bill from ones life.

        You're both right.

        First of all, many ISP customers don't know what they want. Adver

    • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:36PM (#8129332) Journal
      AnonyCow sez: "Consumers demand to be lied to."


      SOME consumers ALLOW themselves to be lied to. The rest of us should not have to expect it just because of them. I demand honesty from those I deal with. If someone's lying to me, they're lying, and the fact that they gtet away with it with some idiots is no reason to excuse it.
    • Re:My thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 )

      The reason ISP's use the word "unlimited" in their advertisements is because it sells more accounts than if they don't.

      What a great advertising technique! I'll have to start using it for my own product and service sales! We'll need a good name for it, though. How about "fraud"? Yes, that sounds about right.

      Consumers demand to be lied to.

      Ummmm, no. Consumer seek out good deals and trust that they aren't being lied to. If someone advertises "Unlimited Internet, $10.00 per month" I'm going to assum

    • Re:My thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `eromsnidm'> on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:53PM (#8129512) Homepage Journal

      The reason ISP's use the word "unlimited" in their advertisements is because it sells more accounts than if they don't.

      I don't doubt that that is true. However, you go on to justify it by saying that "the consumers are demanding to be lied to", and that they must be lied to because it's not possible to provide what they were promised.

      Ok. I want you to dig a T1 to my house, so I can really have the bandwidth that I want. In turn, I promise to pay you $1,000/month. Deal? Sign here, please.

      Oh, what? Of course I'm not going to pay you $1,000/month. Where on Earth did you think I could come up with that amount of money? I was just lying to you to get you to do what I wanted; the alternative was to not lie to you, and not get what I wanted, which is not acceptable. You should have known this, so it's really your fault for having believed me. Instead, I'll pay you whatever is left out of my check each month after rent, pizza and beer. And I like a lot of beer.

      Frankly, it's pretty unbelievable that you think this is acceptable--I predict that you won't stay in business long. And that the first time someone tries the same argument on you, you'll cry to a judge. Finally, it's noted that you posted as an AC. Chicken. A little afraid of what your customers would do to you if they knew your real policy?
    • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:24PM (#8129816) Journal

      Guys like me that run businesses that want to be honest about things are punished for our truthfullness. Consumers demand to be lied to. So ISP's are forced to choose between significantly lower sales and being dishonest.

      Actually, I think the problem here really is that you are not BRUTUALLY honest. If you are serious about wanting to run an honest business, why don't you go all out? In your advertisements you should point out the blatant lies of your competitors. Point out that there is no such thing as 'unlimited' internet access right in your ads! Then go further and suggest that if your competitors don't respect the intelligence of the average joe before they get the money, how could you possibly trust them to respect the customer AFTER they already have the money?

      You're in an uncomfortable position right now: you're in the half-way point. In tennis it is called "no man's land" -- the area between the baseline and the net. You haven't committed to one course of action or another and end up getting stranded in a position worse than either option. You need to decide whether you are going to be brutally honest or a deceiver like everyone else. Don't try to play a happy medium. You're not going to be very happy if you do that for very long.

      Just make damn sure that everything you say in your ads is the truth otherwise their lawyers are going to come down on you like a ton of bricks. Be truthful and what are they going to do: sue you for telling the truth? If they take you to court you can countersue and make some dough.


    • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

      by grolschie ( 610666 )
      I see advertisements for "Unlimited Bandwitdh" web hosting all the time. But we all know that this is neither physically possible nor economically possible. Still people sign up for these lies.

      "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is." - Bill Clinton

  • DVD Newsgroup usage (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eyah....TIMMY ( 642050 ) * on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:21PM (#8129169)
    Cox heeded the criticism and soon after started being crystal clear in information circulated to subscribers: limits were set at "30GB of downloads per month, with a maximum of 2GB per day. Uploads are limited to 7.5GB per month, with a maximum of 1GB per day."
    Um, 2 dvds from alt.binaries.dvdr per day, x 30 days is about 300 GB/month. Good thing I'm not with Cox!
    • 300GB a month? Nobody downloads that much. Have a look at what any news provider charges for that much data. No provider is going to deal with that much of a hog.

      I agree the whole "unlimited" but really its limited thing pisses me off. They should just be honest and state the limits up front. But 30GB per month is pretty reasonable.

      Lastly, and I usually hate when people say this sort of thing, anyone bumping into that limit EVERY month is a warez monkey (not that I even disapprove or care about that). At
    • by RajivSLK ( 398494 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:14PM (#8129724)
      A couple of years ago I got a DSL line from a local company. I felt good about giving my business to a local company rather than the regional telephone company.

      A few months go by and I receive an invoice for ~$80. Apparently, they had modified there agreement to redefine unlimited to mean 6GB/month and were charging $10/GB overages.

      I didn't say anything to them. I called the BBB and the CRTC (Canadian equivalent of the FTC) and when I had a couple of hours free I filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment stating that I didn't owe them any money, court costs and treble damages for breach of contract. My damages were the cost of having a replacement service installed and business interruptions.

      They ended up paying me $250 plus court costs as a settlement. Although, I still wish I hadn't settled.
    • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:29PM (#8129870) Journal

      Um, 2 dvds from alt.binaries.dvdr per day, x 30 days is about 300 GB/month. Good thing I'm not with Cox!

      I've been known to download video files from time to time but 2 DVDs per day is way, way too much. Unless you are also watching 2 of those DVDs each day, you must be building up one hell of a stockpile to films to watch.

      30 GB/month is pretty generous for a home account. Anything more than that and you really should be on a business account.

      2 DVDs a day is abuse. Did you even stop to think about what downloading like that must do for the other poor saps who have to share a local connection with you? I, for one, am glad that Cox puts limits on how much people download. I don't want my cable connection to turn to shit just because some jackass wants to download 2 DVDs a day!


  • by tttonyyy ( 726776 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:22PM (#8129173) Homepage Journal
    100 gigabytes a month? I get that from just reloading the /. homepage regularly, dammit!
  • by RLiegh ( 247921 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:22PM (#8129174) Homepage Journal
    When they come to you and say "you have been abusing your 'unlimited' download quota"? Do you ask them to define what 'unlimited' means? Or do you simply pack up and get another ISP?

    I have that issue with my (dialup) isp, that the isp itself has an unlimited policy, but they forwarded me a nastygram that *they* recieved from their upstream provider during a month where I was downloading iso's heavily.

    So, having other things higher on my to-do list, I let it go; but I'd like slashdots' opinion on how you handle it when "unlimited" means "unlimited up to a certain point"?
  • First, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by certsoft ( 442059 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:24PM (#8129194) Homepage
    They should do something about all those spammers using their service. Seems like about 20% of the spams I run through SpamCop resolve back to Comcast as the email source.
    • Re:First, (Score:3, Informative)

      by bash_jeremy ( 703211 )
      That makes perfect sense. They are one of the largest (if not largest) broadband provider in the US. Therefore, a lot of spam is likely to come from them.
    • Hijacked Proxies (Score:5, Informative)

      by Akai ( 11434 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:44PM (#8129408) Homepage Journal
      Keep in mind what you're seeing is most likely hijacked PCs or open proxies.

      Computer hijackers have learned that 24/8, 12/8, and other cable-modem IP ranges are primed for abuse, so they forward spam through them like there's no tomorrow.

      Whem a spam is send through an open proxy, the proxy, not the originator's IP is shown. This is different than using an open relay to send spam, which does leave a trail.

      This is why providers to the unwashed masses of consumers who just want their pr0n and cheese should enforce some kind of interception of outgoing traffic destined for 25/tcp, at least to track stats, since there are very easy thresholds to set to raise flags (messages per minute for example) and have staffers check them out.

    • They should do something about all those spammers using their service. Seems like about 20% of the spams I run through SpamCop resolve back to Comcast as the email source.

      That's why most Internet users call them "Spamcast" and don't accept any email from their IPs. But it's good to see that Spamcast *has* an anti-abuse policy, it just doesn't get enforced to combat spam originating from their netblocks.

      Maybe some mass-downloads of pr0n, w4r3z and m0v|3z through open proxies would finally make Spamcast s

  • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:24PM (#8129195) Journal
    We accept there is no service-level agreement, we accept that we're lower on the food-chain than companies who pay a lot more for their bandwidth, but when a company makes a secret, arbitrary decision to cap you, it gets a bit hard to accept.

    If it were advertised that you get 512/128, xx GB/month, with a charge of $Y for every 10GB over that, everyone would know where they were. This unfortunately will not happen while there is no regulation of how companies advertise their service. If company A says the above, and company B *does* the same, but doesn't say they do, then B will get more customers - all of whom will be pissed off when B caps them...

    Regulation is the way to go.

    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:33PM (#8129301)
      Regulation already exists. It's called "Truth in Advertising." It simply needs to be effectively applied.

    • I agree. Rather than let the court system take care of "misleading advertising" claims, we should establish laws to enable people to take companies to court to take care of "misleading advertising" claims.

      Or, of course, we could set up extra-judicial systems for determining what networking companies can say in advertising, taking into account ease of understanding by a non-technical population, accuracy, completeness of information, and notifications of exemption[1]. Look how much car dealership advertisi

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:25PM (#8129204)
    We have talked about this numerous times on Slashdot before (at least twice). I have posted that what really sucks about it is:

    a) they took over from AT&T, raised prices, forced you to get CATV or pay even higher rates (42.95/45.95 with CATV or 60.95 or 63.95 without)

    b) have little to no competition in the broadband market, especially at the speeds they offer (now 3mbs in most, if not all, areas)

    c) now are able to control their userbase with "invisible" DOWNLOAD caps (not speed caps as some people are confused with) based on a "local average" whatever that is...

    So, they get a bunch of customers becomming one of the largest ISPs and probably *the* largest broadband ISP. They don't like the fact that some users are actually USING their bandwith so they decide to make up near-random numbers so that they can cut you off when they want... Best of all, they can cut you off at any time because you don't have a "contract" with them that you can retaliate against. They can disconnect your service at any time for any reason leaving you with little options for broadband (nevermind reasonably priced connections).
  • by jhoger ( 519683 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:26PM (#8129220) Homepage
    I already ditched cable... late last year. With all the viruses Adelphia began dropping ping packets. That was the last straw. They also had a policy against VPNs and hosting services of any kind, and enforced the service block by not allowing inbound port 80 packets.

    I pay more for DSL but I can do whatever I want with it. Speakeasy just rocks.
  • I'm with Comcast (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buck_wild ( 447801 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:26PM (#8129221)
    They used to be AT&T until mid 2003. I've never had any issues with them, and I've been downloading lots of files, all of the time.

    I work from home, and download large (several gigs apiece) drawings and presentations on a daily basis. One of my jobs is to proof them, and then send them on to the appropriate folks. So I would upload the same amount of data, just about.

    I'm not sure how I would know that Comcast has issues with me, other than getting a letter. My service is extremely reliable, and I've never had a download or upload fail...

    • Re:I'm with Comcast (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rjelks ( 635588 )
      From what I understand, the cap is based on your habits compared to the others in your node. If your neighbors don't have cable or just use it for email and casual browsing, you kinda stand out. If you get an abuse warning letter, I'd encourage your neighbors to download more pr0n.
  • Ummm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skiron ( 735617 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:27PM (#8129227) Homepage
    Nothing to do with obscure ISP bandwidth usage, but HOW is Joe Bloggs winders user know what their bandwidth usage is? In all honesty, 90% of people haven't a clue what that means - that's why they still execute attachments in outlook without a second thought. Nick
  • by rjelks ( 635588 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:27PM (#8129230) Homepage
    In the dslreports [] forums this has been a hot topic for a couple of months. If you want and interesting read, along with a lot of rants, check out this thread []. I don't think I've seen such a long one before and it's the second one on the subject.
  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:30PM (#8129268) Homepage Journal
    They claimed unlimited internet, now they claim that it was the always-on connection, not the number of bits. OK, now is that really so hard for them to state in the first place? They should be clear about the number of bits per day / week / month they'll haul on an account too and give users tools to keep track of that.
  • by Neppy ( 673459 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:31PM (#8129283)
    The article says that some of the abusers who are getting these warnings/disconnections are moving upwards of 1 terrabyte of data/month. Thats more than "downloading a lot" and it seems to me that if someone is moving that much data they should probably look into something other than basic broadband service. 1 terrabyte/mo is about 414 kilobyte/sec which is a pretty insane rate to be downloading stuff. Clearly these guys are running servers and whatnot which is not what the residential accounts are for - I have zero sympathy for someone who uses more than 400k/sec of data and then gets disconected from a residential account.
    • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:59PM (#8130096) Homepage Journal

      1TB/month would be about 3Mbps for the entire month (in other words fully saturated). That seems unlikely, but I suppose if someone was sufficiently determined it could happen.

      On the other hand, at 100GB per month, they're only using 10% of their capacity, but apparently that's the threshold of 'abuse'.

      Of course, the real problem is that they give their customers no way to know what they've actually used, and won't tell them what constitutes 'abuse'. I don't think many would guess that a mere 10% utilization would constitute abuse.

  • by Idealius ( 688975 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:34PM (#8129305) Journal
    I got Comcast cable and specifically asked the cable guy hooking it up what the bandwidth limit for each month was (being educated from a previous slashdot article :) He kinda blew it off with some answer to a question I didn't ask. I asked him a little later after he hooked it up and he told me that the only people that have ever given him a straight answer on that were the people at Avaya.

    Sooooo, I'm not sure if that applies nation-wide or if that's just local -- but either way -- find out who ACTUALLY provides the bandwidth to Comcast and then ask THEM what the limit is...

    Hope this helps.
  • Cablevision (OPTONLINE) Does the same thing. While OOL has great speed... They have the same "secret" cap policy, even though they advertise UNLIMITED access. Its lame. Cable in any form is over priced.
  • by mod_parent_down ( 692943 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:35PM (#8129316)
    They tacked on an extra $12 to my cable internet bill this past month, so I called them up and fired them immediately, and then ordered DSL instead. It's slower, but I just can't stand a company that thinks they can lie about what they provide, and then gouge you for believing it.

    C'mon, 60 bucks for an internet-only subscription?! You're out of your mind.

  • by double-oh three ( 688874 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:35PM (#8129317)
    I did manage to get the info about what constitutes a breakage of the caps policy when I called their tech support line...

    After a quick call to their tech support line, the guy said that the following would flag you as excessive for a residential downloader. 8 gbytes downloads over 20 hours and/or downloading enough to cause problems for other people in the service area. He also said that it shouldn't raise a flag if it's something like 3 gbytes/day for a month. Also, they mostly instituted these policies as a way to make sure that no one person was hogging enough of the pipe to make other cable users connections slow.
  • by msimm ( 580077 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:39PM (#8129359) Homepage
    Seems like a possible FTC issue. Heres the FAQ with some info for businesses: truth-in-advertising rules [].

    According to the FTC's Deception Policy Statement, an ad is deceptive if it contains a statement -
    or omits information - that:
    * is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and

    * is "material" - that is, important to a consumer's decision to buy or use the product.
    Emphasis mine. Sounds like Comcasts legal team broke into the nitrous oxide again. ;-)
  • by JediDan ( 214076 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:39PM (#8129366)
    A lot of dialup providers have always sold 'unlimited' dialup with the footnote that unlimited equates to a maximum of 12 hours a day and maximum connection time of 2-4 hours in a session.

    I suggest charging a minimum fee for the connection itself and start charging more for the service used.

    The phone companies (as much as we love/hate them) have a pretty good system worked out for $20/mo you get a local phone line that includes emergency access and whatnot.

    ISP's could probably swing a connection for $20/mo with (oh I don't know) 50-75 gb of transfer. Best to make it symetrical traffic too. Then, when someones goes over it, charge them per gb of traffic.

    This addresses a few problems:
    * People complaining highspeed is too expensive
    * ISP's taking a hit because not many people sign up
    * People/ISP's happy with a balance of traffic vs billing
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:43PM (#8129400)
    from NYC to LA for $.37.

    People who send first class mail from NYC to LA are not "abusing the system."

    The system takes such matters into account when it sets the postage price.

    The phone company acts in similar ways when it sets its price for unlimited local calling. Some people talk more, some never seem to stop talking.

    One can send certain kinds of mail at lower than first class rates if one wishes. Just as one can obtain limited calling at additional fees per call. You may assess your own usage and determine which might be the better deal for you, thus those whose usage is expected to be high naturally pay a premium for the premium service and such service can be expected to attract such users.

    The populace understands this system and when they see "unlimited" assume this is the sort of averaged pricing structure they are dealing with, and they have every right to do so.

    The ISPs know full well what the public thinks they are getting when they advertise their service as "unlimited," thus, if that is not actually what they intend to deliver they are, in the technical language that applies to such legal matters, "Lying Bastards" and should be treated as such.

    • by xant ( 99438 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:07PM (#8129647) Homepage
      I would have modded you insightful if I didn't want to respond so badly.

      The problem that ISPs are now dealing with is that their calculations which made the "unlimited" label economically feasible in the late 90's are now way off. P2P has exploded; so has the net's general usefulness and the net-savviness of the average user; so has Internet publishing of every kind. That "unlimited" word started appearing before google became a verb, before blogging became popular, before people needed the term "file sharing".

      The middle of the bandwidth bellcurve has moved up dramatically in those few years, and the company has to take into account the new median bandwidth usage, but they haven't. Ethical ways to do this would be:
      1) Put pressure on upstream bandwidth infrastructure to lower their prices
      2) Raise prices to consumers taking into account the new usage rates
      3) Stop advertising unlimited service and charge the same rates

      They of course chose (4), continue to do business the way we always have, and bill unsuspecting customers.

      They'll get their comeuppance for this.
  • I am worried (Score:4, Insightful)

    by superpulpsicle ( 533373 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:50PM (#8129473)
    When I play online games, the bandwidth is just plain insane. I did an estimate once with some network monitoring tool and it came to some 1 to 3 gigs worth of transfer over a 12 hr period.

    If comcast said I can't play games, I am better off discontinuing the service. Why else would I need that much bandwidth.
  • by KC7GR ( 473279 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:51PM (#8129478) Homepage Journal
    Comcast has a HUGE problem right now with hundreds (if not more) of virus-compromised systems, run by the clue-deprived who have not the slightest inkling about the most basic Internet security.

    These machines have long since been compromised, and turned into spammer 'zombies.' The problem has gotten bad enough that I've blocked access to our mail systems from ANY system with a domain name ending in ',' not to mention huge swaths of Comcast-controlled IP space.

    If this 'crackdown' that Comcast is doing helps to get rid of a bunch of these spammer 'zombies,' great! It'll be that much less to worry about.

    Granted, if Comcast's so-called "Abuse Desk" even gave a crap about the massive amounts of bit pollution their network is pouring out, they wouldn't have any problems with "abusers" to begin with.

    Keep the peace(es).

    • by firewood ( 41230 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:29PM (#8129864)
      Comcast has a HUGE problem right now with hundreds (if not more) of virus-compromised systems, run by the clue-deprived who have not the slightest inkling about the most basic Internet security.

      These machines have long since been compromised, and turned into spammer 'zombies.'

      Is there an easy way for an ISP to prove if a PC has been compromised in one of the more common ways, and it working as a zombie relay?

      If so there is a great opportunity here to help solve the govenment budget crisis. Amend the various "attractive nuisance" laws to allow the city or state to cite people for running a compromised system (similar to a traffic ticket). ISP's might be glad to turn in these customers to reduce the load on thier networks. Smart customers (the kind who fasten their seatbelt for a short trip to the corner landromat) will have firewalls and/or virus scanners installed, so this will mostly be a tax on stupidity. Anyone councilman/representative who trys to fight the passing of a law like this can be labeled as a spam supporter.

  • Doing the math... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Handpaper ( 566373 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:54PM (#8129518)
    So some customers 'consume more than a terabyte of data each month'?
    In order to do this, the customer would have to max out a 3Mb/s connection, 24/7, for the entire month. Since the cable companies are only now 'doubling their top download speeds to 3 megabits, how is this possible?
    Now my connection is ADSL, 512/256. I run BitTorrent downloads 24/7 on an old headless box. Theoretically, I could pull down 165GB/mo. I know I don't because i haven't started buying shares in Maxtor, Hitachi or Western Digital yet.

  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nizo ( 81281 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @07:56PM (#8129540) Homepage Journal
    I just looked at the Comcast site, and no where do I even see the word "unlimited". I do however see "always connected" type phrases. Where does Comcast promise unlimited downloads (Not to be confused with "unlimited connect time")?
  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:11PM (#8129700) Journal
    ... if it's available in your area. I have two DSL providers, DCAnet [] and, of course, Speakeasy []. I love them both - they're always great to work with and are very responsive to my needs. I have two lines, a Covad and a Verizon, through DCA and one Covad line through Speakeasy. I've never once had a problem with either, and I've had these lines for a combined total of 5 line-years.

    I routinely exceed what comcast calls a "reasonable" limit (30GB/month down and 7.5GB/month up, wasn't it?). Not only do I exceed that, I blow it away - never heard a peep out of either of them...

    I have a theory about why Comcast is trying to choke off their Internet users. They recently had to double the downrate to compete with DSL, thinking that offering twice the downstream would make the extra expense worth it... However, they're also trying to ramp up their On-Demand movie service, which is far more profitable to them. So, it makes sense to try to reserve as much of their shared bandwidth as possible for movies rather than for Internet users. I would not be surprised in the least if they lowered those caps at some point, as there is a finite amount of information a single shared cable can carry...

    Just a thought..
  • by macemoneta ( 154740 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:16PM (#8129742) Homepage
    The article should point out that not all cable providers are as bad as Comcast.

    Cablevision's Optimum Online service, which I use in NJ, is outstanding. They do NOT cap their service (8Mb down, 1Mb up). While I consider myself to be a heavy user, I have NEVER had a problem with my usage (unchanged over the last 4 years).

    One way that cable providers can make customers happy, and reduce their costs, is to make newsgroups available (and educate their customers about them). This is an alternative, safer way for customers to get the media files they would otherwise go to P2P applications for. Since the news server is "on net" the ISP does not have to pay anyone else for the bandwidth.

    Comcast's actions aren't just customer hostile, they show a lack of business acumen and technical skill. If I were in their area, I'd opt for any other provider (even multiple dialip lines if it came to that).
  • I am a comcast customer. I got an abuse letter. After I called around for a while, I got someone at Comcast to tell me that the limit (for me) was 90GB/mo. He said that if I use less than 90GB/mo then I would not be terminated. So, I installed MRTG and I watch my average downstream, if it gets too high then I slim back. According to my calculations if I peaked out at all times I should be able to do 550GB/mo, so I just run around 20% or lower, and I figure that's good enough.

    Comcast is, however, full of shit. They claim that they only send people abuse letters when someone in their neighborhood complains. First of all, each DOCSIS cable modem gets its own set of frequencies to download on. Your downstream bandwidth is not shared. Let me say that again; downstream bandwidth is not shared. So downloading cannot degrade anyone's performance unless they are oversubscribing. Upstream bandwidth is shared, there is only a total of 11Mbps upstream for everyone on your segment. However, I know from experience (working in a DOCSIS Cable Modem QA/Dev lab for Cisco in Santa Cruz) that there are line cards which increase the number of upstream channels. For example, Cisco's MC16 line card has one downstream interface (which goes into an up converter to be converted into the proper frequencies) and six upstream; the frequencies for upstream can be split off in six groups and fed into those six interfaces.

    I have never had a time when I could not pull down a solid 1.8Mbps (my current cap) over my link. If somehow my downloading was degrading service for others, then my performance would suffer as well. This is not happening, and has never happened. Therefore, I conclude that someone called in with a problem that Comcast either couldn't figure out how to resolve, or doesn't want to pay to resolve (bad coax between the user and the little green box on the corner, say) and Comcast just used it as more ammunition for their witch hunt against those who use the most bandwidth. The truth, I suspect, is that they simply don't want to pay for that bandwidth. I respect that, but I don't like being lied to, which is clearly what's going on here.

    • "downstream bandwidth is not shared"

      Well, actually, it IS shared. If you think of it in terms of the total available spectrum of the coax distribution system. There are only so many channels that fit within the confines of the frequency response of the cable. So, cable is indeed finite, and it would not surprise me if they oversold their cables... especially since they have Digital Cable and On-Demand on top of it all...

      I was working on a DOCSIS to MMDS transciever at one place, and I know that at that ti
  • by blate ( 532322 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @08:29PM (#8129860)
    I've said it before and I'll say it again -- if you're going to limit my bitrate usage, fine, just tell me what the limit is and give me way of monitoring my usage.

    Apart from meeting this requirement, as far as I'm concerned, if they're selling me 3.5Mb/s downstream bandwidth, then I have every right to use every last bit of it 24/7/365, if I want to. Granted, I don't, because I don't need or want to. But, "unlimited" aside, if you sell me a service with certain specifications, I expect you to meet those specifications and not penalize me for using your service up to the limits.

    Comcast (who happens to be my ISP as well), is being sleazy and overly secretive in this matter. They need to fess up to the fact that their networks are oversubscribed and underprovisioned and that, while you and your neighbors can probably get XMb/s burst rates, they can't really sell each of you that much sustained bitrate.

    Frankly, I wish they'd scrap some of the crappy cable channels and use the excess bandwidth for better internet service.

    Or, they could surcharge you for net transfers over a certain threshold -- as long as they specify the threshold and give you an accurate way to monitor your usage.
  • by DDumitru ( 692803 ) <> on Thursday January 29, 2004 @10:03PM (#8130635) Homepage
    All internet accounts are limited:

    Dial UP 28K up 53.6K down 295Meg/day up 564meg/day down

    DSL 128K up 384K down 1.3Gig/day up 4Gig/day down

    Cable 256K up 3M down 2.7Gig/day up 31gig/day down

    So using the Cox numbers (Cox is who I have and I want to compliment them on giving out honest numbers), this is:

    Upload: 67 hours of max uploads/month or 9% duty cycle
    Download: 39 hours of max downloads/month or 5% duty cycle

    So they are working against about a 5 to 10% duty cycle. If you are using the service for "interactive" usage and not "automated" usage, then the limits are "way out there". If you want to run bittorent or kazaa, then you are hosed, but these are not "interactive" usage.

    For non-server usage this is a lot. Lets say you listen to internet radio at 48K/sec. Even at 24 hours/day, this is only 14Gig or less than 50% of the usage limit.
  • by puzzled ( 12525 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @10:09PM (#8130669) Journal
    This isn't the second time this has been covered, its about the tenth in the last two years.

    I'm not going to repeat my explanation of IP bandwidth costs *AGAIN* - just go read my journal - it is one of the first posts.

    The attitude on here just amazes me - I pay $85/mo for two public IPs, 256k of upstream that I can use like a wholesale pipe (ie 24x7 101% utilized) and I have 3 meg of downstream. If I were younger and more flexible I'd be turning backflips in celebration of this.

    When you buy a T1 worth of IP in a the form of a T1 you spend $200+ just for the local loop and the bandwidth itself costs $800 from a quality carrier all the way down to $400 from a third tier. Lets break down my 'expensive' broadband connection.

    Half the cost is inflow, half is outflow.

    256k/1.544 = 1.6 - $1000 * .16 = $160/mo divide that by half - $80/mo cost for my outflow bandwidth

    3meg/1.5meg = 2 - $1000 * 2 = $2,000/mo divide that by half - $1,000 mo cost for my inflow bandwidth.

    Now, can anyone tell me how Cox Cable makes money selling me $1,160 worth of service for $85? Its simple - they have a whole lot of business class customers like me who use the network in a bursty fashion. The technical term here is aggregation.

    The typical slashdot responder who coyly dodges specifying that he has a god given right to steal music and video owned (right or wrong) by someone else, and jumps into arguments about false advertising, facist ISPs, and the like.

    I think given the horrible way all of you are being treated that the solution should be obvious - pool your funds, pick the most vocal opponent of these policies, and let him spend your hard earned money on building a 'proper' broadband ISP. ... the silence is deafening ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 29, 2004 @10:18PM (#8130729)
    I've done some work for Comcast, and have seen first hand how the company operates. It's absolutely mind blowing that they manage to make money at all, considering the pack of morons that run the the place, at least at the IT level.

    For example, until a ~18 months ago, their entire network was publically exposed. I mean, their ENTIRE CORPORATE NETWORK. Servers, desktops, printers, etc., everything, on the internet, publically accessable. When I suggested that this was bad, I was given a look like just pissed on someone's face.

    They brought in Accenture to do their broadband network, after the AtHome collapse (amusing in itself) which may account for it's not being entirely fucked up.

    Oh, a little tip to get reductions in the price of your cable bill: call and complain. Just call, bitch at someone, and they'll usually give you a $25 credit to placate you. I personally know someone who does this EVERY MONTH. They can't track who's called, or when, or how many times they've given credits to people (software problems). That and, if you just get cable internet, you get free cable TV to boot - they can't block the TV and still provide the broadband.

    I'm a (small) stockholder in this company (had ATT stock before the merger), but I encourage people to take as much money from these schmucks as you can. They deserve it, and maybe it'll prompt the massive firings of staff they need to fix the company.
  • by jellybear ( 96058 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @11:23PM (#8131227)
    Okay okay, I'll admit that it's true SOME users may be using too much bandwidth and that it may possibly be justified to limit their use. However, despite the persuasive arguments presented here by people who have had experience running ISP's, it's also important for us not to lose sight of the other side of the argument, namely, that by having the right to arbitrarily pick out certain users as "abusers", ISP's may themselves abuse their power in order to fatten up their wallets at the same time as reducing quality of service.

    ISP's are targetting users who are significantly above the average. Of course, however, the average is made up of highs and lows. ISP's are now trying to cut away the highs. If they succeed, then the middle becomes the new high, just waiting for the next onslaught. From the perspective of money-grubbing, backwards-looking ISP's the problem is the power user who wants too much bandwidth. In the big picture, however, the REAL problem is the low bandwidth user, who refuses to use their fair share and encourages ISP's to pursue these regressive policies.

    Just try to picture what would happen if everyone became so paranoid and timid that they drastically reduced their bandwidth usage: the AVERAGE goes down, and then people who were previously average end up above average. The ISP's wallet gets fattened by the cost reductions, but their appetite just goes up. The executives feel the need to continue their "growth" to satisfy the owners. The next round of victims gets targetted by the ISP. Revenue growth ends up being sought through the ultimately destructive strategy of a gradual reduction of "costs" which are in fact hardware investments, without which the next generation of bandwidth and applications could never arrive.

    Therefore, if AT ALL possible, always try to use AT LEAST as much bandwidth as the average user, if not slightly more. They can't terminate 50% of users, or even 40% of users. In fact, you could probably be in the top 10% without getting complaints. Let's be conservative though, and choose to use only enough bandwidth to be in the 75% (i.e. top 25%) Imagine if everyone did this. If everyone tried to do this, the average bandwidth usage would gradually increase, making it harder for the ISP to extort and terrorize power users. If the upward drift happens gradually, technology would hopefully keep up, and we would gradually get faster and faster bandwidth. Isn't that what progress should be?

    If, instead, people reacted by cutting down on bandwidth and uploads, then the average might DECREASE. Then, the ISP could boot off the biggest users, reduce their infrastructure investment, hoping instead to make money off of the low-power users. After the pool of clueless low-power users is fully tapped, and with no infrastructure investment, the only further avenue for squeezing out more profits would be to reduce expenses even further by setting off another round of kicking off intensive users. With each successive wave of account terminations, the average usage would decrease, thereby decreasing the expense per revenue stream. There is a clear financial incentive for this scenario, which would ultimately lead to stagnation.


    It may sound like I'm joking, but I'm dead serious.

    If you are using less than the average bandwidth, you are actually doing everyone a huge disfavour. Instead, you should be everyone a huge favour (including the industry, and hardware makers) by using MORE bandwidth. Share some torrents. Seed some even. Let it run for a few days a month. Try to be at least in the 60% percentile in terms bandwidth use.

    In the long run, everyone will benefit.

    Encourage technological progress! Use more bandwidth! (That is, you're not already in the top 5%. If you are already in the top 5%, then maybe cut down a bit, or just be careful and hold steady. Some day, if everyone else is as altruistic as you are (i.e. download and upload as much stuff)
  • Fuzzy math. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pb ( 1020 ) on Thursday January 29, 2004 @11:38PM (#8131317)
    "some abusers, he said, consume more than a terabyte of data each month"

    "Comcast and several other cable firms are doubling their top download speeds to 3 megabits per second"

    From google []: (1 terabyte) / (3 (megabits per second)) = 1.0632985 months

    Therefore, before they raised their caps, it would take you over two months to download one terabyte. Afterwards, it would *still* take you more than a month.

    ...something smells fishy here...

    • Comcast cable customers have no hard limit on their download speed. I was getting over 3 megabits since it was AT&T's network.
      The bandwidth a customer gets is proportional to the number of people on the node, and since some people like myself out in the boonies only have one or two other people sharing our nodes, our bandwith is really high.
      Anyone who says they are doubling their top download speed to 3 megabits are stepping way out of the wording I have ever heard them use: they have NEVER confirmed A
  • by obeythefist ( 719316 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @02:49AM (#8132516) Journal
    I still say they have it way too good in the USA. Sure, things are getting a little more restrictve, but nonetheless.

    Let me tell you how it is in Australia! When Telstra, our telecommunication overlord and monopoly release ADSL for all us little punters, you could get it at a tremendous cost, and they gave you a whole 300MB quota. Then they charged you a significant rate per MB after that. It's taken about 2 years to creep up to 1GB for the basic Telstra plan.

    After Telstra was forced by various competition enforcement bodies, third parties are allowed to sell internet services over Telstras local loop. However, Telstra charges incredibly high prices for these services and there are terrible delays. These brave smaller ISPs are able to offer reasonably high limits, starting around 3GB and going anywhere up to 16GB (if you want to pay for it). ISP's will either charge /MB over the limit, or shape the account down to around 56k (varies from provider to provider).

    There are a few groups of ISP's with peering agreements, these make the very low limits on Australian broadband tolerable.

    Some ISP's do offer unlimited, however there are a couple of provisos.. if you use too much bandwidth, your priority for connections declines and so does your general quality of service.

    The primary real reason behind this is that the USA offers, I don't know, something like 1GB of traffic to Australia, and charges like crazy for the rest, generally bringing most countries who wish to communicate with the USA to their knees.

    If you want to see how the rest of the world lives, have a look at - it might open your eyes up a little.
  • Dubious claims... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Friday January 30, 2004 @04:26AM (#8132822) Homepage
    "A senior Comcast technician...but some abusers, he said, consume more than a terabyte of data each month"

    That is simply not possible with a standard cable-connection, of the type Comcast sells as far as I can see from their website. They say they sell "25 times modem connection", and specify that with modem they mean 56K, so, they sell 1400Kbps, upload is capped at 256Kbps.

    Thing is, with that speed, even at *full* download around the clock, the entire month, you would end up with around 420 GB in a month. This is very much, but it is not "over a terabyte"

  • Here in the land of Oz, it's now been like this for a while. Both ISPs who offer cable have caps on their service, and they do tell you what that cap is.
    You want more capacity, you buy more.
    Cable services, however, are unlimited speed. This is good - my Optus cable would have to be (by my reckoning) somewhere between 7 and 10 megabits per second.
    If you go over your cap (mine is 12GB) some companies will charge you per meg, some will throttle your speed back...
    ADSL is a different kettle of fish, and you can get services that are advertised as unlimited downloads - and it is. Other services offer other advantages, like static IP address, or let you do what you want and run servers, but cap your data downloads.
    US companies are having a good look at what's happened here in Australia, and are starting to follow suit... It's now been two or three years since the major ISPs have done this, and they seem to be quite happy with their subscriber level - and let's face it, if you want a T1 to use at 100% utilisation, damn well go out and buy one, rather than abuse a RESIDENTIAL service.
    - k
  • by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <syberghost@sybergho[ ]com ['st.' in gap]> on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:31AM (#8133918) Homepage
    Unlimited access (I.E., stay on as long as you care to) is not the same thing as unlimited bandwidth (I.E., use capacity that costs them 10 times as much to provide as they're charging you for the line.)

    Information may want to be free, but fiber optic cable wants to be one million US dollars per mile.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.