Scripting News for 4/16/2008

A new reason to hate Comcast 

As long as I’ve been a customer of Comcast I’ve been writing how much I wish they’d sell their Internet business to a company that doesn’t hate its customers so much. But sometimes you forget, when the service is good, you just cruise along, happy and productive.

And so I was blissfully forgetful until I read, on Twitter, that Dave Sifry was testing the bandwidth on Comcast with PowerBoost and was blown away by how great it was. I had Comcast as a backup, rarely used it, so I hooked it up, tried it out and I got even better bandwidth than Sifry did. Amazingly I was getting 28 megabits down, about 3 megabits up. So I started using it on my LAN, I kept my DSL service, but I’m not using it as much.

Then this morning around 9AM the service went down. I called the service number, and was quickly directed to call a special number. I couldn’t record the call because I didn’t have Skype working, but I wish I had found a way. The recording said I was talking to their legal services department, Press 1 if you are stealing content, 2 if you are using too much bandwidth, 3 if Comcast hates your guts, 4 if you’re a criminal. (I don’t remember the exact wording, this wasn’t it, but the implication was that I was guilty of abuse, me, a paying customer, in good standing. By pressing a button I was admitting to doing something wrong.)

Update: Later I called the number back and recorded the opening sequence.

I was quickly connected to a man who told me I had been deliberately disconnected because they had tried to call me and I didn’t pick up. The number they called was my Blackberry, which I disconnected a couple of months ago because I never use it, I much prefer the iPhone. Then he threatened me. He told me I was in the top 1/10th of 1 percent of all their Internet users and that if I didn’t immediately stop using so much bandwidth they would suspend my service for 12 months. I asked if I could get this in writing, he said no. I asked how much bandwith would be acceptable, he wouldn’t say. I told him this wasn’t much of a threat if they weren’t willing to put it in writing, and I wasn’t intimidated. I also told him I was a blogger and would be writing it up. He didn’t care.

Now, before I called the first number, I posted about the outage to Twitter, and sent a direct message to comcastcares, an amazing account, staffed by a guy named Frank who works at Comcast in Philadelphia, who really does seem to care. A few days ago, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch mentioned on Twitter that his Comcast service was down, they contacted him immediately, and had a service tech at his place the next day (I think). Mike was so pleased with the service he said he’d be willing to pay double if they could keep it up. Pretty impressive.

So I spoke with Frank on the phone after receiving the threat. He asked me to write it up, and I am doing so here.

I also recorded a podcast with Christina Warren of Download Squad.

A bunch of ideas and questions resulted.

1. They should have sent me a letter. This idea of disconnecting customers to get them to call is utterly unprofessional and disrespectful and should get them in trouble with the FTC and the FCC and everyone who uses Comcast or who works at Comcast who has any self-respect. The letter should have said something like this: “We noticed that you’re using a lot of bandwidth, and we’re happy you like the Internet so much, and like our PowerBoost service, but if you’re going to use this much bandwidth you should seriously consider getting our higher-class service, which will cost $X more per month, but along with it you get 5 new features that only our most special customers get.” I told Christina, there are few things I’m so happy to spend money on as bandwidth and Internet connectivity. It’s so easy to make it a positive instead of treating a customer as a criminal.

2. I used AT&T DSL the same way I use Comcast and they never threatened me. So their claims in their commercials that they’re better than AT&T are bogus. I still love Comcast’s commericals, esp the faux news announcer and the turtles, all who ridicule AT&T but I think Comcast is dishonest, they’re selling something they don’t deliver on. (Except PowerBoost really is awesomely fast when they haven’t cut you off.)

3. I can see where people would be very intimidated to have their service turned off and to be lectured the way they lectured me.

4. Honestly, I think Comcast should give me my service for free and let’s work to create new services that use more bandwidth so they can sell them to customers as part of the upsell to people who use a lot of bandwidth.

5. I figured out why I use so much more bandwidth than the average Internet user. I have five computers, all Macs, all sucking down FlickrFan pictures once an hour. That adds up to quite a few gigs. It would be easy to cut back. Not sure I will though, cause I hate to be lectured and threatened by companies I pay $180 per month to.

6. The thing that amazes me, that is totally unacceptable, is that they refused to put the threat in writing. I knew, having dealt with lawyers enough, that I had a right to receive the threat in writing, and I wanted to scan it and put it on Flickr along with my $3 million Comcast bill. 🙂

7. I’ve now spent all of today working for Comcast. Should I send them a bill?

8. What’s the big issue with bandwidth anyway? Does a company like Comcast pay their ISP for bandwidth? Do they even have an ISP?

Update: A plausible explanation of why they’d want to constrain bandwidth usage.

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