Archive for February, 2011

18
Feb
11

Hidden Comcast/Xfinity data restrictions

Let me just quote this to start, it’s from a hidden Comcast FAQ  related to a data usage cap that was not disclosed during any part of the service order/contract process:

What will happen if I exceed 250 GB of data usage in a month?

The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold. If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used. When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily. If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months. We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call. If your account is terminated, after the twelve (12) month period expires, you may resume service by subscribing to a service plan appropriate to your needs.

The back story

I recently switched to Comcast because Qwest had been unable to provide the level of service that I’ve been paying for; typically delivering around 1.5Mbps rather than the advertised 7Mbps. At peak times Qwest performance would drop to near dial-up speeds, and at best we would clock close to 5Mbps around 3am with no one else using bandwidth in the neighborhood. We’ve been streaming a lot of movies on the Xbox recently, and this requires a fairly steady data rate for uninterrupted playback. Qwest just hasn’t been able to keep up. Picture quality is dynamically adjusted by the Netflix Xbox application to attempt to account for bandwith issues, but even with the picture at low quality there are still times where we can’t maintain a playable stream at all.

So when a Comcast rep knocked on the door offering higher speeds for roughly the same price, we decided to give it a shot. After a few hiccups (they wouldn’t drill through stucco, so we had to have a separate contractor put in the jack) we got Comcast internet yesterday. This morning, a graph appeared in my Customer Central page that wasn’t there last night. The graph shows my total data usage out of  a max of 250GB, already at 6GB used. It’s been a little over half a day’s worth of use. My math says we’ll be over the threshold about 21 days into a 30 day cycle. So then what happens? Like I said at the top, I had to do a little digging to find the answer.

Let’s take it point by point:

  • “The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold.”
    • Decodes to: If you exceed this limit, you’re an oddity. The problem is You the customer, not Us. Granted, my internet usage is heavy, but higher than 99% of all Comcast internet users? Even those that purchase the top tier speed package?
  • “If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used.”
    • Decodes to: We have a special department to meter, micromanage and badger you about your internet usage. I haven’t dealt with this kind of heavy handed bandwidth management since the days of the local ISP operating out of a small office with a T3.
  • “When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily.”
    • Here’s where it starts to get nasty. Comcast is now judging my internet usage and applying the term “excessive” and then hinting around at a threat: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, buddy.”
  • “If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months.”
    • Ah-HAH! The threat at last. Decodes to: If you don’t stop using the product which you are paying a heavy monthly fee to use, we will kick you off the internet for a year.
  • “We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call.”
    • Decodes to: We are very proud of the fact that most customers are sufficiently intimidated by our threat that they stop using the product that we’re billing them for.

I find this interesting. Comcast is unable to provide the level of bandwidth that they’ve contracted for, so they avoid embarrassment by pushing the blame back onto their customers. In the modern era, 250GB of data is a lot of data, but certainly not the unreachable limit that they make it sound like. We watch by far less streaming programming than the average family watches TV, but we prefer the option of being able to choose when/what we watch. There’s nothing really “excessive” about it. It’s a feature that is offered on all standard game/entertainment consoles, and even smart phones and iPads.

So right now the plan is to watch our usage for the first month, and if necessary invoke the 30-day service guarantee. But I’d much rather have the best of both worlds, the unlimited usage we had with Qwest, and the speed that we’re getting with Comcast. I don’t fancy the idea of having to closely watch our data usage. This should be transparent to the end user, especially when you’ve contracted for the top tier of residential bandwidth.

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