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The Almighty Buck The Internet Your Rights Online

Comcast Typo Penalizes Wrong Customer For Data Usage (arstechnica.com) 124

ShaunC writes: Soon after Comcast implemented its data caps in Tennessee, one customer began getting calls warning that he was approaching his monthly usage limit. The company's data cap meter was ticking up rapidly, even attributing 120GB of use — almost half of the monthly cap — to a period of time when he was out of the country. After months of back and forth and troubleshooting by the customer, Comcast finally admitted that a typo in a MAC address was causing another customer's usage to appear on his account. With data caps like Comcast's carrying a real financial cost in terms of overage fees, how can we trust providers to accurately track customers' bandwidth usage?
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Comcast Typo Penalizes Wrong Customer For Data Usage

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  • Déjà vu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Thursday December 17, 2015 @03:47PM (#51139457)

    What was his name then: Buttle or Tuttle?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • by grilled-cheese ( 889107 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @03:51PM (#51139507)
    If you're hand typing MAC Addresses, you're doing it wrong and should get a better captive portal setup.
    • by Cramer ( 69040 )

      Really. I don't buy their lame excuse. If his modem works, they have to have the correct MAC in the system. Why would the money printer, err, bandwidth meter have to have shit entered "by hand"???

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oh, it's pretty much a manual process over there at Comcast. For a long time even though my modem was registered correctly (even getting updates to new bandwidth speeds), my data usage wasn't being tracked correctly (or at all actually). They still track the old modem I had prior to purchasing my own. Before that, my modem wasn't throttled at all (the mis-assigned whatever package I was supposed to be on, and I got the full theoretical bandwidth my modem could handle). Obviously, I never complained abou

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Okay, I can partly answer this! When I was doing this, :

        A) There were three main account systems. One was some old billing thing in regions I had nothing to do with, so I never touched that, but apparently it also handled some provisioning-related things. One was the main billing system, which was also linked to cable TV provisioning, and to modem provisioning in most regions. One was linked to the trouble ticketing system, and modem provisioning in some regions. Typically you had two deal with at least two

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      My previous and current cable companies used barscode scanners. :/

    • How, exactly, would you automatically enter the MAC address of my own provided cable modem (which could be from any company, with or without ':', in any font of any size, on any number of labels), using only the gear the installer has out in the field? Bonus points for methods that can be proven to be fail safe all the way to the back end database (we'll pretend it's immutable once there, even if I upgrade my gear and it automatically is corrected for argument's sake so that a rep. can't accidentally fat-f
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @03:53PM (#51139513) Homepage Journal

    how can we trust providers to accurately track customers' bandwidth usage?

    I hate wired broadband caps with a passion, but this has to be the absolute worst reason not to have them. Somehow electricity companies, water companies, phone companies (traditional and mobile), et al, have survived for decades (centuries perhaps?) despite occasional billing mishaps.

    There's nothing particularly new about this as a problem.

    • by markana ( 152984 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:02PM (#51139569)

      Those entities are regulated, and generally must use certified measuring devices. And there's always a theoretical appeal to a state agency if there's a dispute.

      Comcast has no oversight of their usage billing, and a financial incentive to cheat a bit.

      Look at it this way - from Comcast's point of view, there's no problem. One account went over, another went under by the same amount. They averaged out, and there was balance in the Force (or at least their billing system).

      Now go back to your TV and stop complaining!

      • I'm pretty sure that just because you don't have the FCC or State Utility Commissions breathing down your neck, you're still required, by law, to bill the right people correctly.

        If that's not the case, I invite you not merely to state how, but also to send me a check covering your past-due $127 payment for SquiggleSlash Services ASAP.

        • I'm pretty sure that just because you don't have the FCC or State Utility Commissions breathing down your neck,

          The FCC still regulates Comcast, just not the content part.

          The state PUC or Attorney General is quite interested in Comcast and having them follow the laws, like not fraudulently billing people.

          And our city, at least, has a franchise authority that is quite interested in poking Comcast when they do something stupid. For example, half an hour after I chatted with my franchise specialist about Comcast promising services at one rate and then refusing to provide them, I had the Comcast state consumer affairs

          • by Cramer ( 69040 )

            The franchise authority has ZERO power over internet services. (hint: the franchise is for TV services) While complaints about their idiotic bandwidth metering MAY be factored into any franchise renewal, they have no direct power to intervene. If they say you used 100TB, then you used 100TB - period. There's no proving otherwise, and no legal entity will even bother to listen.

            • (hint: the franchise is for TV services)

              The franchise is for access to the public rights of way. Note that Comcast uses the same rights of way, the same fibers and cables, for Internet and TV. The claim was that nobody regulates them, and that's not true.

              If they say you used 100TB, then you used 100TB - period.

              Well, apparently not, since this guy got the typo and bill corrected.

              There's no proving otherwise, and no legal entity will even bother to listen.

              I've already listed two, and the FTC would be a third.

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:16PM (#51139669)

      squiggleslash..... Dude! This is supposed to be a Comcast bashing topic. A new reason has been found to vent our hate for Comcast, and you come here with your corporate shill excuses, pointing out the long history of generally successful utility billing and try to ruin it! What, exactly, is your problem mister?

      I want you to stop posting for a moment and make an effort to recompense us all for your mistake. First, you are to find a way to pin this billing problem on a Republican. It's Tennessee after all. This should be easy. Then, you are to generalize the matter until you get to Net Neutrality, and show us all how this threatens our future, our liberty and everything. Bonus points if you can find a racial angle, or some other related grievance.

      Don't actually post your effort. It's for your benefit and you're not supposed to be posting stuff for a while. At least till Monday. Give yourself the weekend to reflect on how it is you found yourself deviating from appropriate groupthink and consider ways you might prevent this in the future.

      Thanks.

    • Electricity companies and water companies should be able to bill, it costs more money for them to produce more electricity/water.

      It however costs Comcast $0 if you use 100 GB more data in a month.

      The phone company is a different animal, so I won't go into that monkey barrel.

      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        "It however costs Comcast $0 if you use 100 GB more data in a month."

        That's a red herring. It would cost them a lot more to build out a network where every customer could use 100GB more a month.

        Unless you know of a source for free backbone class routers, switches, and long haul dark fiber, that is.
        • The bandwidth is already there though. They already paid for all those routers and peering connections. They are instead of upgrading like normal, charging their customers usage fees to drop usage when the customers have already paid for the service, and likely all the networking gear is already paid off.

          Just remember, they are only doing these usage limits where they are the only game in town. If this was about an actual cost, it would happen where they have competition as well. Verizon FiOS has no tro

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            "The bandwidth is already there though."

            Nope. It's just that you don't understand how networks are designed or how ISPs work.
            • Uh huh. So once you buy a OC12 connection into the internet (a peering connection), does the bandwidth cost extra?

              There is a limit at which you have to upgrade, but generally, that is considered a normal operating expense, the network is expanded as part of normal operations to make more money by gaining new customers or selling new features.

              If I use 100 Mbit for a period of time, that is 100 Mbit someone else isn't using, it isn't like it is just gone, it is all flexible. There is no nominal cost to the

              • by msauve ( 701917 )
                Come back when you understand statistical multiplexing and oversubscription. If everyone's use doubles, things break unless the network is upgraded.
                • I do understand this thank you.

                  You don't seem to understand that NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Their network is still the same network that was handling no caps just fine, but now they need caps? None of their competitors has any issues with it, only them. They are also only doing the data caps in regions where they are the only ISP, but not in others where they have competition, which says it is a financial decision, not a technical decision.

                  Come back to me when you understand how to setup QoS which would take c

    • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @06:29PM (#51140473)

      I can go read my meters for all my "real" utilities. I cannot read my internet usage anywhere. A large amount of my internet usage is crap ads and Windows 10 trying to download itself. I have limited control on a lot of this bandwidth. Netflix does not have an option to set the maximum download rate anywhere I can find (I wish all streaming could be throttled locally). I usually have a pretty good idea why my gas/electricity/water bills are what they are, but I honestly could not tell you what my internet usage is or which devices are the main users.

      The internet grew up without a metered notion to it. Mobile sites went through very small straws and forced the sites to be lean (often to the point of uselessness), so this attempt to close the barn doors is just rather late in the game. To fix it we will need to have some charge-back to companies to incentivize the not go overboard with all the crap. But in reality this is more of a money grab than an actual issue being addressed.

      • "I can go read my meters for all my "real" utilities. I cannot read my internet usage anywhere."

        Then you are definitely doing it wrong!

  • by JimXugle ( 921609 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @03:53PM (#51139517)

    Get the state bureau of weights and measures involved! If Comcast insists on usage-based billing, then its routers and billing infrastructure should be inspected, certified, and sealed just like gas pumps, water meters, and grocery store scales.

    • (no mod point) This! Yes! If it's used for billing then it should be measured by an approved, documented and controlled method, like any other utility.
    • by psycho12345 ( 1134609 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:18PM (#51139685)
      Seriously this. Weights and Measures are the ones who keep honest people honest, by auditing and randomly testing anything that relies on metering. They are one making sure out of town people are not being cheated at the gas pump. If Comcast wants to measure and meter data usage, then they should be compelled to install a tested and sealed device that spits out the data usage to customer on premise.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:50PM (#51139887)

        Seriously this. Weights and Measures are the ones who keep honest people honest, by auditing and randomly testing anything that relies on metering. They are one making sure out of town people are not being cheated at the gas pump. If Comcast wants to measure and meter data usage, then they should be compelled to install a tested and sealed device that spits out the data usage to customer on premise.

        Exactly.

        First, we need a standard way of measuring the data, because there's a heck of a lot of different ways, so we need to standardize.

        Things like - what headers are included - IP level headers? transport headers? (Some providers charge for DOCSIS headers too!). Then you have to define the quantities - what's 1 GB - 1GB, or 1GiB (10^9 vs. 2^30)? (Cellphone providers use base 10, and many include the OTA headers - add about 5%).

        Next, what traffic do we use? This one is important because there's a LOT of unsolicited traffic out there - do we count it? Or not? Does being the victim of a pingflood mean you'll be billed extra?

        Seriously, these are important questions (especially unsolicited traffic). Comcast shouldn't be the one who defines it. Weights and Measures should - and even if they pick the worst case scenario, at least we know what's being measured and how. So if Comcast advertises 250GB, we know it's probably around 200GiB all said and done, for example.

        Then we can develop measurement boxes that Comcast and others have to use to determine traffic, sealed and inspected like your electric, water or gas meter with a display that's human readable, so when you get your bill (no one said the meter couldn't be electronically readable) you can check against the box.

        Anything measured for trade has to be certified. If you look closely, you'll see seals, calibration stickers and sometimes expiry dates on the meters (be it gas (natural or petrol), electricity, or water).

        And yes, we do this because people have cheated in the past. Scales that were off, calibrated weights (for balances) that weren't correct, etc.

        In fact, because they are so strict, gas pumps generally err on the side of giving the customer too much (read low - you get 1.01 gallons for every gallon indicated) than shorting the customer. Especially in colder climates where the gas contracts a bit so a gallon of cold gas has technically more energy than a gallon of warm gas.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 )

          Gas may pumps may be slightly calibrated in favor or customer - that I couldn't say; but every pump I see claims to be pumping gas volume corrected to a standardized temperature.

          So as gas contracts when its cold, you get slightly less than a gallon for the price of a gallon. (Warm it up to the standardized temperature though, and you'll have all the gas you paid for.)

  • and they fixed it too 30 years ago no one cared about these minor mistakes, but with the Internet,,,,,,,,,
  • Folks:

    The qwerty typing that we are still using is perhaps outdated?

    I heard that qwerty was deliberately made hard to use because if you typed too fast it would cause the mechanical typewriters of years ago to jam

    If the qwerty system is replaced, would this reduce typos?

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      I think it is based on frequency of letters used. You can surf the internet for origin of qwerty keyboard and why it is arranged like that, but may cut into your data usage.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Qwerty was not deliberately made hard to use, there were two dominant factors is the design.

      1) Engineering. Letters with high adjacent usage in words were placed in locations so that the hammers they were attached to would have a safe minimum number of other hammers in between. This is the part to prevent jamming.

      2) Sales. During the layout wars, a salesman had a strong advantage if they could impress the potential user. This lead to certain long and relevant words being parsed and analyzed so that thei

      • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

        Add to that that QWERTY is remarkably efficient in several languages, while Dvorak is uncomfortable for languages other than english, For example, there are, as far as I know, at least three modifications of Dvorak to adapt it for swedish, and I find all of them to be uncomfortable to use, since I type in at least 4 languages, and don't want to switch between multiple layouts, sometimes on a daily basis.

  • by zeet ( 70981 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:05PM (#51139595)

    Comcast won't let me activated the modem that I purchased brand new from Amazon and used to have active on a Comcast account in another state. They say they own it. I have the box and receipt from the purchase. After a couple of hours talking with various people they admitted that perhaps they had made a mistake, but couldn't fix it as it involved two different 'regions' of their service. They said it might be fixable in a customer service center, but at that point I was disgusted with it and instead bought a new modem.

    • by ADRA ( 37398 )

      "I purchased brand new from Amazon and used to have active on a Comcast account in another state" We if it was activated in a prior state, it wasn't brand new, so I'm not sure where you're with in your synopsis.

      As the maintainer of a huge ugly telco provisioning system in a past life, this surely is a use case worth of concern. Unless the system was specifically coded into the provisioning system to support device de-authorization, then they would have a problem dealing with your case. My original few cable

      • You fail at basic reading comprehension. They bought a modem brand new on amazon, they used it for a while in one state, then they moved to another state and tried to keep using it but weren't able to because comcast's systems are shit.

  • With errors like this what does this say for the copyright infringement notices that want bypass courts / rights and tell people pay up or we will sue you for big $ with out much prof.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How hard would it be to make a usage meter for dummies?

    Just a piece to plug in the line that gives a couple up/down subtotals, etc. on a simple (2 line?) display. Independent device , just plug-n-play. Add a couple buttons to select from a few memory locations/subtotals and a reset. I suppose we'd have to add a way to track certain dates too.

    It would track everything so there couldn't be a reason for higher charges, bill could only be for less.
    If they start with exempting this,that, and the other thing, the

  • As corporations become larger and more bureaucratic, they become more dysfunctional. The only solution is to punish them for it. There should be penalties for behavior like this that scale up for the number of complaints received. Companies could either shape up and not commit so many errors, or split up so that the quantities of hits decreases to a manageable amount. We shouldn't be killing large dysfunctional corporations, but shrinking them to a manageable size to where we could easily drown them in a ba
    • by ADRA ( 37398 )

      Is there proof that large companies are intrinsically less efficient than small nimble companies (when scaled up to large company size)? I -feel- like large ugly mega-corps certainly are wasteful, but ultimately leverage more overall efficiency than N small players. The small player scenario only plays out if they're in direct competition from one another instead. Take two examples:

      Telco Megacorp is broken up for some reason (Anti-competitive, etc..).
      1. You can break up based on geography which is by far th

      • by ADRA ( 37398 )

        And before you jump down the throat of option 2 being impossible/impractical, ask yourself how Airports/Airplanes talk to one another... and then do some research.

  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Thursday December 17, 2015 @04:28PM (#51139761)

    With data caps like Comcast's carrying a real financial cost in terms of overage fees, how can we trust providers to accurately track customers' bandwidth usage?

    You can actually. There are laws that protect you from billing errors/problems but there's also lawyers. Sue the companies in court, present your evidence and sue for damages. I've had to do this with Bank Of America, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile in the past. It works because eventually you get somebody up the food chain who actually understands that they're fucking you over and try to fix it. Unfortunately in some companies there is not intelligent life to be found so I've found that judges can usually get to the bottom of things quite quickly especially when legal briefs start flying. Sure it costs money but if it's a small claims type of thing you can usually win by default because I can't see Comcast paying $500/hr for a lawyer to deal with a $300 bill.

  • I think the only way is to not trust the ISP, do your own tracking of usage. Unfortunately the bandwidth usage tracking in most routers is all but useless for this, it tracks all traffic on the WAN port regardless of whether it's yours or not. You'd need to flash DD-WRT into the router and use a custom tracking solution that'd separate out ARP/RARP, DHCP, broadcast traffic and other outside traffic from the actual traffic you generate. And of course even if it's 100% accurate the ISP will just say it can't

  • With data caps like Comcast's carrying a real financial cost in terms of overage fees, how can we trust providers to accurately track customers' bandwidth usage?

    YOU CANNOT!

    PERIOD!

  • But I would have thought the first part of the billing process would be around username and password in the modem. If that is then moved to a MAC system internally surely that would be done automatically when connection was negotiated.

  • A couple of years ago, we switched over to Comcast, because their rates were better than what we were getting from a different provider. The picture quality was very bad. The picture kept freezing and breaking up into a pixelated mess. Since our contract said we could change at anytime, we changed back to the previous provider. Comcast came out and picked up our cable modem, DVR, and set top boxes and the tech gave us a barely readable NCR copy of a receipt for the equipment. A couple of months later,
  • You trust them as much as you trust your electric meter to not put the wrong usage billing on your account.

    This is making a mountain out of the molehill.

    Relax. Accidents happen and that's why companies have mitigation paths for them.

  • Call Terry Gilliam, this story just gave me a terrific movie idea...

  • When I called in for a service problem with my cable modem being slow I had to be transferred to 4 people 4 times because my mac address was all zeros. Yes it was working just fine but it kept dropping because of comcast's craptastic wires they refuse to replace.

    The phone support people were unable to figure out to simply ASK me what the mac address was printed on the bottom of the modem. Comcast is not known for hiring the best or brightest.

    And yes I used to work for them as a DBA.

  • Buy a router that supports DD-WRT and install that. It keeps track of monthly usage.

    They probably won't care if your usage measurements contradicts theirs, but you'll have piece of mind that you're right and they're wrong.

  • "... trust providers to accurately track ..."

    Provider solution:

    Bill both customers for the usage. Problem solved. There's even precedent (Netflix extortion, etc.).

  • Shades of the movie "Brazil" !

    Over which machine did the clerk hit the cockroach?

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