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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8 Responses to “Hidden Comcast/Xfinity data restrictions”


  1. 1 Luis
    March 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Unlike you, my situation is not theoretical. I’ve learned to curb my usage but it does seem to be a problem at times. I’ve yet to receive a warning. I would be nice for Comcast to update this cap considering HD streaming was yet a widespread reality it is today when it was enforced in 2008.

  2. March 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    I ended up going with the business class service, which is really inappropriate and overkill, just to avoid this cap. I agree, Comcast needs to revisit this data cap for residential users. It’s quite easy to hit this cap if you’re using Netflix streaming. Rating this cap in terms of “millions of emails” is misleading and irrelevant.

  3. 3 Robert
    April 3, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Unlike you noticed, Qwest does have a bandwidth cap just like Comcast, it’s just not as bad as Comcast. I found out the hard way and they don’t even let you know what it is, they just turn off the internet.

  4. April 8, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Interesting. As you said, it must not be as bad as Comcast’s because I never ran into it. A disconnect without warning is just an unpardonable offense for an ISP though. That’s poor service.

  5. April 9, 2011 at 12:03 am

    I ended up going with the business class service to avoid this cap. But this is the only aspect of the business service that is relevant to my usage. I don’t need any of the other services, I just needed the cap removed. I should keep an eye on this and see if they increase the cap for residential users at some point. As you said, streaming HD content was not as popular when the cap was implemented. They still rate the cap in terms of “X number of emails” which is ridiculous. Imagine the grocery store saying that you have a 15kg limit on your monthly shopping trip and then saying “that equivalent to 6 million grains of rice!” Well…yeah, but sometimes I need a 20lb bag of cat litter too!

  6. 6 Marshall
    April 13, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Well, I thought I was the only one freaking out about this, I have consistently used between 240 and 320gb of data in the last 4 months. I have not got a letter or a phone call yet, but maybe that is because they have come to realize that we are no longer that 1/10th of 1% that they claim that we are anymore. Hopefully, especially for my sake having gone over the cap 3 out of the last 4 months, the cap has quietly been increased!

  7. 7 Dan
    January 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I’ts worse than all this …. according to their website they now monitor daily high usage activity, separate from the monthly cap limit. It goes on to say that they make “adjustments at peak hours to high bandwidth users” … I’ve already experienced this while downloading files at rates approaching 3Mbps after 10 or 15 sec the rate fall off to approx kbps and stays their for some time.

  8. March 6, 2012 at 3:18 am

    So, for someone who now streams hulu, netflix, crackel, abc, fox, etc., etc.; sometimes on 3 tvs, an ipad, and laptop, all at once, supposed to do? Are they now judging our family size? I was under the impression, I was buying a data stream, not a monthly package. I used 3 times the threshold in December (we were all home) and twice it in January. Feburary was down, but I have already hit 10% of the monthly limit for this month. I have recently noticed that tvs are in buffer mode a LOT… Does this mean that Comcast downgraded my speed, but forgot to discount the price? Or should I be expecting a disruption of service soon?


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