9.07.2007

That's Comcastic: Internet Disconnection

by Rick Rockwell

Here’s a truly Comcastic moment: use the internet too much and the company will disconnect you.

Sure, Comcast will warn you before they do this. But they won’t tell you how much bandwidth you are consuming by using the internet. So it makes it tough for a consumer to adjust.

Why does this matter, even to college students? Well, for college students in dorms, it isn’t so important, unless your university depends on a cable company for service. But a recent poll shows those who live off campus far and away prefer using cable to get high-speed internet service. According to the poll from the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM, which is a cable industry organization, so take this with a grain of salt) less than ten percent of college students prefer phone companies or satellite firms as internet providers. That leaves the bulk of young consumers depending on cable. And with Comcast as the biggest cable provider in the U.S., you might begin to realize how that company’s disconnection policy is a concern.

In those areas of the country where Comcast is king, you are bombarded with commercials about how wonderful it is to have Comcast as your cable provider. “That’s Comcastic!” the commercials shout. But not even in small print on the screen do they give a hint that their service for internet is limited, depending upon your usage.

That has groups like Consumers Union, and cable users upset, naturally. Consumers Union calls Comcast’s policy on internet usage vague. The company responds that only users who may be downloading the equivalent of 1,000 songs a day, every day, or four movies a day would fall into the disconnection category. The company also says it has targeted people running home businesses who should be signed up for Comcast’s business service, not a residential service. Or the company says neighborhood wireless pirates could be hacking into home routers and stealing service. But in those cases, the consumer is held to account, not the pirates.

Consumers like Frank Carreiro in Utah don’t buy the cable company’s excuses.

In his blog, Carreiro points out that Comcast uses the phrase “unlimited use” in its ads. What Carreiro says is that Comcast is scamming the public: selling the concept of a limitless multi-media service but in reality hoping most users stay in the slow lane of the internet superhighway by using only e-mail and surfing the web occasionally. Otherwise, if everyone starts downloading gigs and gigs of information, the limits of Comcast’s network will be exposed.

This is typical behavior for monopolistic cable firms which usually have little oversight by government. Few local governments truly exercise their power to regulate cable and often waive that right just to get cable firms to wire up the citizenry. And Congress has no real will to make cable buckle under either.

There’s a big fight brewing over which firm can provide you with one-stop shopping for all your phone, internet, television, music, movies, and more. But the cable companies, especially Comcast are playing the game by 20th Century rules. Those rules say consumers must bow to what the company dictates or go without. So far the supposed wonders of the competitive market haven’t corrected that attitude. By the way, in a national poll conducted this year, Comcast ranked third on the list of companies reviled by consumers because of poor customer service.

Perhaps more stories about the company’s high handed manner with costumers will change that eventually. But don’t hold your breath.

(Photo by Dimitris Kritsotakis of Athens, Greece via stock.xchng.)







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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

bandwidth suppliers are in a pickle because bandwidth hoggers slow service down for the vast majority of customers but the suppliers did not foresee this problem so they did not price and market accordingly.

I suspect the politics of big company management which block common sense and honesty with customers is creating this mess. Comcast should just be honest and say "we blew it guys" but their lawyers would never let that happen

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