Tag: "comcast"

Posted July 13, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The net is buzzing about Comcast's data caps after a Seattle resident ran afoul of them. I found it particularly interesting given Seattle's recent decision to use its assets to further Comcast's monopoly following a poorly considered RFP.

This story highlights many of the frustrations and injustices that come with companies as massive as Comcast effectively monopolizing an essential utility, with practically no oversight locally or federally.

When Comcast enacted is 250GB monthly transfer cap years ago, many thought it was sufficiently high that few would run afoul of it. But the smart folks noted that if it did not increase as natural usage increases, it would hurt legitimate users (as opposed to those who run servers constantly trafficking in file sharing that violates copyright).

I made very clear to the gentleman I spoke with that I thought Comcast’s data cap policy was arbitrary, unfair, and extremely irritating… and that if I had any decent competitive options in the neighborhood I’d dump Comcast in a heartbeat. Since I don’t, I listened to him read his canned warning that if I exceeded their cap again I’d be cut off again.

Bear in mind that when you fill up the fuel tank in your car, you are at a gas station that is regularly inspected by the state to ensure it is correctly measuring the volume of gas dispensed. Comcast is not similarly regulated and we have to take Comcast's word on how much traffic we use. Most of the time I have visited Comcast's meter to see what my household usage is, I have been unable to even access it.

But back to the story, our Seattle friend later found that he had unintentionally violated the cap again, despite taking precautions not to:

The Customer Security agent was polite, and after the standard identification questions notified me I was cut off for a year due to exceeding Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy limits on their bandwidth cap. I asked for details on what had been using bandwidth, and again, Comcast would not share. In a sudden brainstorm, I then asked whether the 250 GB bandwidth cap applied to just downloads (which I had assumed, as the majority of most bandwidth used in households is downstream bandwidth), or download and...

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Posted June 27, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

We have an answer to the question of what a city gets when it commits the bare minimum to improving broadband access: more of the same. We were skeptical of Seattle's approach of using city-owned conduit to spur serious improvements to broadband and, it turns out, correct.

Only one company bid on the project, Comcast, a provider in much of Seattle already -- and a much maligned one at that. So Pioneer Square will have better access to the Internet, but from the dominant provider of high speed access in the City.

Seattle just helped Comcast consolidate its monopoly just a bit further. This is a small step forward for Pioneer Square, and a larger step backward for the City as a whole. With FiOS available in the suburbs, offering much faster and more reliable connections for the same prices, Seattle has done very little to stem the flow of techies to the burbs.

The RFP set certain requirements for use of the City's conduit, as noted in the Seattle Times article but one has to wonder if Comcast might be able to negotiate that down - few are better at exercising monopoly power than the Nation's largest cable and Internet provider.

Comcast is slated to pay $78,000 in one-time fees to cover part of the cable's installation, plus $4,057 in annual leasing fees, according to city documents.

The City elected a Mayor who promised to improve broadband access, but it seems the City Council is standing in the way of actually doing anything that would bring residents and businesses a meaningful choice in providers.

Photo, used under creative commons license, courtesy of Jeff Hathaway

Posted May 27, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

In the campaign for Mayor, Seattle Mayor McGinn frequently proposed the city getting more involved in improving broadband access. Since becoming mayor, he has accomplished little in this area, perhaps due to a City Council that is not convinced it should get involved in broadband.

But the mayor held an event in Pioneer Square to announce a new initiative to start using City assets to expand broadband access:

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn today laid out a proposal to encourage broadband Internet in a four-block area in Pioneer Square, allowing telecom and cable companies to lease some of the conduit that the city is now placing under First Avenue South. McGinn said it is a small, incremental step in a larger plan to bring high-speed Internet to the parts of the city that need it, tapping into some 500 miles of “dark fiber” that’s not being utilized.

Pioneer Square, with a mix of commercial and residential, currently has very poor access to the Internet:

Jeff Strain, the founder of Undead Labs, a 20-person game developer in Pioneer Square, said that fiber-optic cable would dramatically improve his company’s ability to create cutting-edge games.

“What we are able to get in Pioneer Square is about half the speed of what you’d be able to get in your home,” said Strain. “So, it is not really suitable for the sort of media rich businesses that we are trying to build down here.”

The Mayor's site explains that Jeff Strain was considering moving his company to a location with better access.

We’ve heard from Pioneer Square businesses that internet speeds there are just not what a 21st century economy needs. Jeff Strain, who founded a game development company called Undead Labs, worries that he might have to move his company from Pioneer Square if the “barely adequate” internet service isn’t improved. He needs high-speed, high capacity internet access to upload his content.

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Posted May 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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Posted May 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Daily Show joined many others in being outraged at FCC Commissioner Baker leaving the FCC to work for Comcast-NBC a few months after approving the deal. That subject is toward the end of this four minute clip:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Well, That Was Fast - Comcast/NBC Merger
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily...
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Posted May 3, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

As we continue to report on depressing campaigns to deny people fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet (as Time Warner Cable is doing in North Carolina), we are also making an attempt to highlight good legislation (as we recently did in Washington state). In that spirit, we turn to HB 2076 / SB 1847 in Tennessee

From the bill summary:

This bill urges all municipalities to endeavor to utilize advanced broadband systems in their operations and to encourage the construction of advanced broadband systems.

The full bill is available here [pdf] but the most interesting part is what was not included. As reported by Andy Sher of the Times Free Press, the bill was intended to go much further.

The bill would have let the municipal utilities extend service up to 30 miles outside their service areas.

Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent lobbying machine (including AT&T, Comcast, and others who already hate having to compete with technologically superior networks in several Tennessee communities) killed the bill, a blow to the future of economic development in the state. Neighbors of Chattanooga, including Bradley County, desperately want access to the impressive 1Gbps network Chattanooga built -- the most advanced citywide network in the country.

epbfiber.jpg

Harold DePriest recognized the power of AT&T and Comcast in the Legislature, but vowed not to give up.

“Well, we would like to see the bill pass, but I think Gerald was dealing with the reality of the difficulty of moving the bill through the committee at this point in time,” he said Friday. “We will be back. We think it is important.”

The article wisely includes a...

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Posted February 2, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Martin County, Florida, is building a county-owned network (that we wrote about back in September) in response to gross overcharging by Comcast for the connections they need to connect their City Departments.  

The County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $100,000 to pay experts to advise county officials about ways the new broadband network the county government is constructing could be used to generate revenue as well as promote economic development and job creation.

...

Precision Contracting Services of Jupiter started construction on the $4.2 million network in January and is expected to finish the project by January 2012. The network is expected to serve 280 government, public safety, educational and health care organizations.

Having committed to building a network to meet their own needs, they are now searching for ways to leverage that investment to best meet community needs.  They will evaluate laws, conduct a survey of residents and businesses to find what their needs/desires are, and possibly develop a business plan.  

Last Monday, the day before the planned vote, a Comcast regional VP had the gall to ask the County Commissioners to delay their vote.  No thanks Comcast, these folks have waited long enough for the broadband they need, that you have no interested in delivering in a timely nor affordable manner.  On Tuesday, the Council voted unanimously to approve the contract.  

Good for them.

Posted January 29, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Another excellent video from Susan Crawford, this one from Summer 2010.  

Posted January 5, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Though it is rarely, if ever, the top motivation for a community to build its own broadband network, the idea of local customer service that is actually responsive to the community ranks usually among the top 5 motivations. We love the idea of a "strangle effect" -- coined by folks at Wilson's Greenlight in North Carolina. If something goes wrong, you can find someone nearby to strangle.

Compare that to these three stories.

First - a coworker of mine had to return a Comcast set-top box after cutting back on services. When he drove to the Comcast storefront, the outside drop box was full of gear, so he stepped inside to a room packed with Comcastic homicidal folks who had waited too long for attention from the overworked counter folk. He asked to just drop his box but they said he would have to take a number and wait... so he could set his Comcast box on the counter because no one had emptied the box outside where it should have been placed.

Another Comcast story comes to us from the Consumerist: where Comcast tries to repossess a cable modem is does not own.

Finally, David Pogue recently recounted the story of Qwest demanding that a customer call a specific phone number to report that his phone was not working. Rachel, the person who experienced the terrible service, writes:

Do you suppose all communications giants are like this? “We are abjectly sorry and have instructed our employees to grovel at your feet, but we are simply unable help you, value you though we do. Yes, we’re helpless. You know, we’re only a giant corporation. You can’t really expect us to help you, can you? We’re sure you understand. Please visit our Web site again to order more products!” Is it truly impossible to debug a VoIP modem problem via e-mail for some technical or philosophical reason?

Yes, Rachel, those massive communications giant are all like that. They have no obligation to any community they serve and while they employ good people who may genuinely want to help, they are structured to benefit shareholders, not subscribers.

A lesson for community broadband networks: focus on providing great customer service and making sure the community knows it.

...

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Posted December 30, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Excellent lecture.

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