- July 26th, 2008
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According to this story, Comcast has started monitoring blogs and Twitter for complaints about its service. I just hope they’re doing the right thing and finding these mentions through a Google search or something, and not monitoring the private traffic of Comcast customers. My hate for Comcast is generally hard to form into eloquent writing (it’s usually along the lines of expletives), but I figured I’d give it a shot in case Comcast is reading.
I recently went through my site and deleted a great many of my old posts that I felt were no longer accurate/applicable/pertinent. One such post was a “comcast sucks” entry (my second entry about comcast at the time) that somehow ended up being one of the top page hits when doing a search about crappy comcast service. It was an informative rant about certain methodologies Comcast used back in 2002, but not anymore.
In a nutshell, it was a study of the way Comcast distributed IP addresses. At the time, Comcast used to require you to buy an extra IP address for each additional computer you wanted to connect to the internet. It was a few bucks a month for each address – it doesn’t sound like a lot, but the more connected devices you have, the more it adds up. Back in the days when home router-firewalls were not the common household devices seen today, Comcast used to lie and say that their service would not work with routers, only computers directly connected – therefore, you had to pay for extra IP addresses.
A router is a computer in a box.
When dealing with customer support on the phone, I used to lie and say that my computer was directly connected, and work around instructions – for example, instead of “rebooting my computer,” I’d log into the router admin page and release and renew the WAN IP address. However, when they sent people out to fix something at my house, they would always disconnect and bypass my router, even if it was a completely unrelated issue and it was working just fine with the router.
The test was just some experimentation with what IP address Comcast assigned you by DHCP, depending on what device you had connected to the computer. It was found that connecting a router and repeatedly releasing/renewing would give one IP address over and over, but connecting a different router or a computer directly would immediately change that address. A certain computer would always get one IP, a different router would always get another. Therefore, the IP address was given based on the machine’s MAC address. (This test was actually a pain in the ass since most cable modems cache the MAC address of the device connected to it, and will not work if you just connect a different device with a different MAC address. You have to power cycle the modem by leaving it with the power disconnected for 30 seconds to 1 minute)
However, after some time they realized that people aren’t idiots, and stopped trying to screw people out of money for extra IPs and maintain a facade that routers are the problem.
I have a couple of other miscellaneous stories.
Way way back in the day, Comcast used to use static IPs. They would issue one static IP for each user. At some point they decided to switch over to DHCP, and sent out a letter telling customers to switch over to DHCP, and how to do it.
At the time, I was living in my mother’s house, where we had gotten the letter, so I knew to switch it over. My dad, however, had just moved and did not get the letter for whatever reason. So when they finally cut out the gateways serving the static IPs, his internet went down and he did not know why. He called tech support and dealt with them for hours, without getting it to work. Finally, I went over, switched him over to DHCP, and everything worked fine again. Took two minutes.
The tech support people apparently did not know anything about the switch, or they would have checked to make sure he was using DHCP. Why, exactly, would you implement such a significant structural change in your system without telling the tech support people that were going to be dealing with the repercussions of that change? Do you want your tech people to sound completely lost?
Not only that, but he had to endure brilliant suggestions such as “flip the network cable around.” As in, you have one end plugged into the modem and one plugged into the computer, flip it so that the end formerly plugged into the modem is now plugged into the computer, and vice versa.
Are you serious? It’s a bi-fucking-directional cable. It’s either connected and it works, or it’s not connected and doesn’t work. Flipping the cable is not going to make anything work better, it’s going to make you look like an idiot.
Another story comes from this last spring semester at school. I was living in a dorm with university internet service, but I used to spend every day at a friend’s apartment a block away. He had Comcast.
For some reason, the performance of his cable was really shitty. Connections would intermittently drop or pause traffic every now and then. With web pages it was not a problem since HTTP connections generally only last a few seconds. However with constant connections, it was impossible to maintain a good quality of service. For example, playing a 5 minute Halo 3 match online was almost impossible. Either there would be a big drop that would kick us out in the middle of a game, or there would be so many pauses and hiccups in the traffic that the lag made it impossible to play.
It was not a LAN issue, as we tried direct connection and router, with the same results. It was also not a signal level issue, as the modem was connected as close to the wall as possible, before any splits to TVs. Upon talking to apartment staff we also found that the cable to the room splits off directly from the tap (as opposed to having a cable running down the hallway and splitting off for each room). Plus, the cable modem’s perceived signal level was within acceptable range.
We called in the Comcast tech support guys several times – each time being completely unhelpful. They would come in, test the signal level and find it acceptable, and then shrug and leave. We had to specifically ask one time for a replacement cable modem – it didn’t help the issue, but it was a test they should have done on their own (checking if the modem was faulty), rather than just saying, “not my problem.”
Not only that, but one time, when the tech support guys were over, my friend’s iPhone was out on his desk. One of the guys just picked it up and started messing around with it. Excuse me? That’s not your fucking property, you’d better put that shit down. The guy messing with the phone was apparently a trainee that was tagging along to watch how a house call was taken care of, but not only was he touching other people’s property without permission, he wasn’t even paying attention to how things were being done by the real tech guy. What would have happened if he had broken the phone, or something else? Would the answer have just been “he’s a trainee, we’re not responsible for him?”
Those are only the stories that I remember. I cannot even count on my fingers how many times the cable connection has dropped and left us without internet for a day or so. There was even a period of a few months where the internet went out every time it rained.
In general, Comcast has given me the impression that everyone there, especially their tech support people, are either
- All of the above
In any technologically advanced industry (internet, computers, electronics, etc), much of what happens in tech support is still seen as “black magic” by people who don’t know anything about the industry. It is absolutely essential, especially in the high-tech industry, that you have techs that are (aside from not being assholes, which is a blanket rule for all tech support in all industries) competent. Granted, it’s going to be hard for those techs to impress a computer literate person such as myself, but when you have computer-illiterate people also getting the impression that your techs don’t know anything, guess what? You’re doing it wrong.
I also have complaints about things such as overselling bandwidth – that is, cutting off customers that fully utilize the bandwidth they paid for. It’s unfortunate, but every ISP does this. I know that no ISP would be able to afford the pipes they have if they didn’t oversell to compensate. I’d complain about this if I felt it would actually help anything, but it really won’t. That’s not the problem. However:
Don’t say it’s unlimited.
As a Comcast customer, your bandwidth is not unlimited. They say it’s unlimited in all the ads. They will tell you it’s unlimited. It’s not. I have received notices before that I’ve downloaded too much one month, and that they’ll cut me off if I keep downloading like that in the next month – without even telling me what the limit is. (Over a year before that consumerist article) When they say it’s unlimited, they’re lying. My problem is not the limit – again, I understand that the bandwidth is oversold. I understood that when I got the service. My problem is the fact that it’s blatantly being advertised as unlimited service when it’s really not, under the assumption that most people aren’t going to fully utilize their bandwidth.
I also have a problem with the whole BitTorrent blocking thing. In reality they’re already being investigated by the FCC for this so it doesn’t really make sense to go into this for very long. In case you missed it; Comcast has been actively interrupting uploads on BitTorrents. They do this by interjecting themselves in the connection between you and the other computer, pretending to be the other computer (which, if I’m not mistaken, is illegal), and making it look like the other computer wants to drop the connection (by sending a forged RST packet; forging traffic is also illegal), thus causing your client to drop the connection. (You can use sites such as this one to see if you’re being manipulated) Since this is already fucked up in so many ways and has gotten so much coverage already, there’s no point in me ranting and raving about this forever (although I could).
The funny thing to me, though, is that the only part that really gets manipulated is the upload. Downloads are not interrupted. They’re encouraging more downloading and less seeding – i.e. hit-and-run on torrents. With this model, BitTorrent downloaders are much more likely to become (aside from shitty bittorrent netizens with crappy ratios) heavier downloaders – rather than downloading a few torrents, then waiting and letting them seed to 1.0 or greater, then moving on to more torrents, people are much more likely to download a few torrents, stop them as soon as they are complete, and then download some more. I know I was like that for a long time after I found out about uploads being blocked.
However, do you know what I do now to keep my ratio up? Seed more torrents.
The RST packets that terminate the connection are not completely immediate. In addition, as peers try to reconnect to you as you’re seeding, the connections will recover and continue (and be terminated again, and so on…). As opposed to trying to seed a large amount of data on one really popular torrent, I try and seed small amounts of data on a large number of torrents. Suppose my client allows 30 connections per torrent. If I’m seeding on one torrent, that’s only 30 connections that keep getting severed and recovered. If I’m seeding on ten torrents, that 300 connections that get terminated and recovered. As some connections are getting terminated, others are being recovered and new ones are being formed. I don’t have exact numbers, but guessing that one third of the connections are actually up and running at any one time (while the rest are being cut off), that’s 100 connections still going, as opposed to just 10.
In the end though, it’s really just trying to fight back against bullshit traffic management techniques. As if the bandwidth limit calls weren’t enough, they had to target BitTorrent traffic in addition. I also like how they lied about it for a while. And by like, I mean hate.
I hate the fact that the HD channels have been overcompressed to get more “bang for the buck” to fit extra channels in each QAM. HD content is already compressed to not be enormous, and any retard that knows anything about compression can tell you that lossy compressing already-compressed content causes massive degradation of the quality. HD cable/satellite is already limited to 720p/1080i right now, so degrading it even more is approaching SD level. What are you going to do next, Comcast? Charge me an extra premium to see un-fucked HD content?
There are so many reasons that I hate Comcast. I’ve hated them ever since I’ve had them, since before they were even bought by Comcast and were just called @Home. If it wasn’t for the fact that they have a monopoly on my area and can screw me over as much as they want (and proudly admit it, too), I’d be with a different ISP. Since the internet is probably abuzz with everyone posting their own Comcast horror stories now, they’ve probably got their hands full, but I’m curious if they’ll try and respond to this. Maybe they’ll learn that not all their customers are fucking idiots they can just screw over.
I’ll be the first guy switching to Verizon FiOS as soon as it’s available in my area.