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Comcast revisited

Saturday, November 15, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named remote.gifIt occurred to me that with a new administration coming into office, it might be time to re-open the issue of how vendors like Comcast resell access to something that doesn't belong to them, the Internet. It seems there ought to be some rules about what they can and can't do, since they don't behave reasonably on their own.  Permalink to this paragraph

If all they were selling was access to other Comcast customers, it might make sense for them to be so awful with their customers, but this is a case where they have something close to a monopoly providing access to a public space, and a clear conflict of interest, a reason to want to cripple that public space. Seems like a time when the government should take an interest in regulating what they can and can't do. Imho. Permalink to this paragraph

I've had a few months for my own personal Comcast debacle to settle in, and have a few thoughts this morning to share. Permalink to this paragraph

A review of what happened... Permalink to this paragraph

1. When I moved into the new house in Berkeley, I got Comcast for TV and AT&T DSL for Internet. I had had terrible experience with Comcast at the apartment I rented while house shopping, lots of outages, and lots of time spent on the phone with Comcast trying to convince them the problem was theirs and not mine, each time resulting in them fixing the problem on their end. I wanted to see if DSL would be any more reliable. I've found that it is quite reliable. (However in the end so was Comcast, at least at a technical level. The problems at the apartment were probably due to the newness of the building, high turnover of tenants and construction projects nearby.) Permalink to this paragraph

2. At some point I saw a story on TechMeme saying that AT&T was playing funny games with their customers, so I decided to order Comcast Internet service as a backup, in case something went weird with my AT&T DSL service. The Comcast service was unused for many months, there was no need for me to use it, AT&T service was fine. If ain't broke don't fix it, an old belief of mine. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

3. Then the fateful moment -- I saw a tweet from Dave Sifry saying he had just done a perf test on his Comcast service and found it was delivering incredible throughput. I immediately did the test on my own, and was amazed that it was delivering a consistent 14 megabits up, 5 megabits down, sometimes with as high as 28 megabits up. That did it, a few days later I switched the roles of the two networks, using AT&T as the backup and Comcast as the primary. Permalink to this paragraph

4. At roughly the same time I was starting active testing of the photo aggregator part of FlickrFan. I had five computers running the software, all downloading hundreds of high-rez pics every day from AP and AFP. I only needed one, but as I said I was burning in the software, and sheez, I had all that bandwidth, the net never got slow, and it was a source of pride at first that I could do it and then I forgot they were all running. Until one day... Permalink to this paragraph

5. My Internet service was cut. I thought it was an outage, but when I called, I was told they had cut me off deliberately. I was current with my bill (if I recall correctly a total of about $180 per month for both services), but they said I was using too much bandwidth, though they wouldn't say how much I had used. I found it more than appalling that they cut me off just to get me to call them when they could have sent an email, or communicated through comcastcares on Twitter. There are so many better ways to communicate with customers. But I think they must have hired a psychiatrist who told them if you want customers to be compliant, treat them like overdue college-age billpayers, even when they're customers in good standing. You're more likely to get what you want. I wrote up the experience on my weblog, as I am doing now.  Permalink to this paragraph

They told me that if I didn't reduce my Internet usage to what they considered a normal level, without specifying what that was or offering me any way to measure my usage, they would cut me off again, only next time the outage would be for 12 months. I know this must sound unreal, that I must be exaggerating, I wouldn't believe it myself if I were reading it on someone else's blog, but that's what they said. Permalink to this paragraph

6. Having been threatened, I did two things. I reduced the use of the Internet on my LAN and I ordered DirecTV so, in case this happened again, I would just revert to AT&T and would have the redundant TV service. I also bought EyeTV devices for three of my computers so I could receive digital over-the-air broadcasts. It amazes people when they find out that such high quality transmissions are available for free over the public air waves. Permalink to this paragraph

7. Of course, eventually they cut me off again. I think it was after I downloaded all the content off my server onto a local hard disk for backup (it was shortly after doing that that they cut me off, I'm saying it wasn't likely a coincidence). Rather than call them, I instructed comcastcares to cancel my service, giving me the slightest shred of pride and honor, having been treated so shabbily by a vendor, in the end it was I who cut them off, not vice versa. (Yeah sure, if you believe that...) Permalink to this paragraph

8. No I never forget shit like this. Sorry. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Updates... Permalink to this paragraph

Kevin Werbach, who is well-known in the tech industry, has been appointed to the Obama transition team for the FCC. Permalink to this paragraph

Marc Canter raises questions about Werbach's relationship with AT&T, and by implication, other vendors in the communication industry. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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