Comcast Silently Terminates Broadband Customers

Cable giant Comcast continues its practice of cutting off service -- often without warning -- when high-speed Internet customers exceed an unstated download limit. But while Comcast tries to stay mum about these terminations, its customers are making more and more noise to try to force the company to explain what its policies really are. Earlier this year I wrote about a Comcast customer in Illinois (see "Comcas

Cable giant Comcast continues its practice of cutting off service -- often without warning -- when high-speed Internet customers exceed an unstated download limit. But while Comcast tries to stay mum about these terminations, its customers are making more and more noise to try to force the company to explain what its policies really are.

Earlier this year I wrote about a Comcast customer in Illinois (see "Comcast Has Its Limits") who was threatened with termination because of one month in which his main sin had been to download his MSDN subscription from Microsoft. Comcast never responded to that story, but ever since I've been hearing from others with similar experiences. But, in many cases, rather than being threatened they were simply cut off before they could even try to use less bandwidth.

"We've been a Comcast customer for many years and just learned my account has been disconnected for 'abuse' this morning," wrote a Utah man in January. "I am unaware of my wife or I doing anything that would cause this to happen. I've downloaded DVD's from Microsoft MSDN, I'm a heavy Internet gamer, get lots of e-mail and I regularly visit sites such as YouTube.com. But I don't run any servers nor violate Comcast's terms of service or acceptable use policy to my knowledge, and I've reviewed them many times. What's really shocking is in December my wife had received a call from a 'Comcast employee' telling us we were using too much bandwidth and providing a case number to reference. When I contacted their customer service, they said it wasn't Comcast calling me as the case number was not valid and that it was probably someone trying to get information in a phising scam. Now I'm disconnected. If there was a problem I should have received something in writing and someone I could talk to in figuring this out. It's amazing a successful company such as Comcast would make it this difficult for loyal customers."

The Utah reader turned out not to be one to suffer in silence, however, as he soon began a blog of his own at http://comcastissue.blogspot.com to bring more attention to what Comcast is doing. He has succeeded in getting several national publications to write about the topic, and he also did one other thing I always recommend when the cable company treats you unfairly: he complained to his city council. After all, the cable TV is a virtual monopoly granted by your community, so why not complain to city hall when the monopolist isn't treating you fairly?

It's not that Comcast doesn't have a right to restrict bandwidth hogs who slow down the Internet for their neighbors - what really bugs those who have been cut off by Comcast is the lack of any guidelines on what the limit is. "I was booted off of their network because apparently Comcast has a bandwidth cap but refused to divulge what it was exactly," wrote a reader from Massachusetts. "I use my webcam a lot to communicate with friends and family and have downloaded software and free music from the net. I received a phone call from a Comcast abuse department rep saying that they have been monitoring my bandwidth usage and would like me to 'limit my downloading', which I politely asked what is the cap or limit? The rep told me that there is no limit, to which I argued back that there had to be -- otherwise I would not be getting this phone call. He in turn explained that if I didn't stop, my service will be cut off for a year and this would be my first and only warning. Sure enough, within a few weeks my service was cut off. It's deceitful how they advertise their service with 'unlimited downloads' and 'faster than DSL.' My issue with Comcast isn't that they are tightening the screws on bandwidth, I just want to know what those limits are."

Some Comcast customers may receive notice before they are terminated, but too late to try to change their ways. "I read about the warning call that you wrote about, and pretty much the same thing happened to me," wrote a reader in Minnesota. "They just told me they are canceling my service this week. There was no warning - I actually found out about this when I called Comcast to upgrade my TV service, and that's when they told me my service will be disconnected. What a bunch of baloney. I don't know what to do considering my wife does school online and we need the connection. I'm calling a class action lawyer to see if anything can be done there."

Of course, the big reason Comcast wants to keep the limit quiet is that it only applies in some communities. I know a number of Comcast users in the Silicon Valley area who really do hog bandwidth without any problem, but recently I heard from another California reader whose service was terminated for much less. "They suspended my Internet access this morning," she wrote. "They told I was downloading too much only after I discovered I couldn't get to any websites or download any data. I didn't know there was a broadband usage limit - I thought it was unlimited access, and I paid much more than I would for DSL. I had recently increased my Internet usage, but all I was doing was downloading data and visiting websites. I am a longtime customer and I did nothing wrong, and they just stopped my service like that."

With Comcast, in other words, it's not so much the amount of bandwidth you use as where you live. If you happen to reside in a city where Comcast has invested in its network infrastructure, you can download your MSDN subscriptions and hang out on YouTube all you want. But if Comcast has chosen not to make not make that investment where you live, it's cheaper for them to just cut off the top tier of bandwidth no matter how innocent their usage might be.

Comcast did not respond to my calls asking for clarification of their download limit policy, but that's hardly surprising. Clearly, they are trying to keep it as quiet as possible, but that's not going to work if their customers refuse to remain silent. If you've been a victim of Comcast's secret download limit, make some more noise on the Gripe Line by writing me at Foster@gripe2ed.com or calling my voice mail at 1 888 875-7916.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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