How Comcast got me to Pay More for a Slower Connection

(posted in blog, tech)

Welcome to Nashville

I am one of the “fortunate” few who live in one of Comcast’s “trial” markets where they offer a “flexible data usage plan” to their consumers. Okay, I’ll stop with the sarcastic quoting (Sarcastiquotes™) and just call it what it is. Where I live, Comcast essentially has a monopoly and uses that power to fuck over its customers by charging exorbitant overage fees for using the service that they’re already charging exorbitant fees to provide to you.

We have a 300gb monthly bandwidth allowance, and if we go over that they automatically charge $10 per additional 50gb block of data. So if we were to use, as we did a few months ago, 903gb of bandwidth, we would be charged an additional $130 for 13 extra 50gb blocks of bandwidth. Adding that to the $100 we already pay for their 75mbps “triple play” service (a promotional rate we got for the first 12 months of our 24 month contract), plus $10 for the equipment rental fee (we own our own SBG6580 modem and would have been happy to use that, but apparently you’re not allowed to use your own equipment on service plans that include the phone service that we never actually use), plus other various fees and taxes, and we’re paying upwards of $250/month for a service that was advertised at $99/month. Awesome! Not! (Yeah, I grew up in the 90s when saying “not” was invented but still wasn’t funny because it was never actually funny.)

If you live in an area without caps, you may not realize just how infuriating they can be. You may not realize how awful it feels to have to second-guess every little thing you do on the internet. Should I add this file to my Dropbox folder now, or wait until next month when the counter resets? Are my kids still watching YouTube on their iPads? Can I afford to watch another movie off Amazon Prime before the end of my billing cycle? How much is this episode of Game of Thrones going to cost me?

FML. First world problems suck in the first world, right?

AT&T Makes a Funny

A few weeks ago, the doorbell rings and it turns out to be a salesperson from AT&T. Apparently they’re upgrading and expanding their fiber network into our neighborhood, which means Comcast now has some competition in our area. This excites me, but I try to keep my cool. Don’t want the salesperson to get too comfortable. What kind of speeds are they offering, I ask. They have a 18mbps plan and a 45mbps plan, he says. My excitement decreases a bit. How much do the plans cost, I ask. The 18mbps plan starts at $130, he says. My excitement practically evaporates. My problem with Comcast, I tell him, is the 300gb monthly bandwidth cap. I would even be willing, I explain, to pay the ridiculously higher monthly fees that they are asking for the laugh-inducingly reduced speeds that they are offering if it meant I would be free of the burden of monthly caps.

That’s when the salesperson cooly informs me that AT&T also has a 300gb monthly cap on all of their plans, and also charges $10 per 50gb block of additional data.


As you can imagine, I politely informed the salesperson that I was not interested in anything more he had to say and could he please get the fuck away from me as quickly as possible before I vomit all over his stupid face. (I actually didn’t say any of that, I’m a pretty tame and polite person in-person. I grew up in Canada, for gosh sake.) Incidentally, I checked online to see what plans/prices they were offering and they were completely different than what the salesperson had told me (but still equally unappealing, including the fact that their cap is listed as 250gb instead of 300gb). I don’t know what to make of that.

The Promise of Google Fiber

Nashville is on Google’s roadmap to get their Fiber service at some nebulous point in the future. I don’t actually live in Nashville. I live in a different city and county about 20 minutes south of Nashville. Far enough that when Google Fiber does come to Nashville, it won’t be an option for me. At least not right away. And even if it was, I don’t know if I trust Google enough to give them full control over my internet connection. My time working in the advertising industry (dealing almost exclusively with Google) has turned me into an extreme privacyphile. I don’t have a Facebook account, I’m not on Twitter, I don’t use Gmail, Chrome scares me, and my default search engine is DuckDuckGo.

I’m pretty much convinced that if Google was my ISP, every byte of data that travelled in or out of my home nework would be stored, analyzed, and possibly altered by Google before reaching its final destination. Why would Google want to store and analyze all of my internet traffic? Fuck if I know. Some evil, money-making, advertising related bullshit, I’m sure. Fuck Google. Fuck Comcast. Fuck AT&T. Fuck me!

Comcast Employs MITM Attacks

To inform their customers when they’re approaching and/or exceeding their monthly bandwidth caps, Comcast helpfully intercepts all incoming HTTP traffic and injects javascript that delivers the message in an inline pop-up alert.

You read that right.

Comcast uses a man-in-the-middle attack to inject pop-up alerts into third party websites that inform their users that they’re now being charged extra for downloading the very website that’s currently being hijacked. Thanks Comcast!

Avoiding the Cap

I’ll cut to the chase here. I switched to a Comcast business plan—50mbps down and 10mbps up for $110 per month. I lose my TV and phone service (neither of which I really used anyway), reduce my download speeds by 33%, and increase my monthly fee by $10. But. No. More. Fucking. Caps. My base monthly fee may be up, but without the caps and overage fees the amount I’m actually paying is over $100 per month less. Add to that the fact that I can use my own modem on the business plan instead of having to rent one means I also save the $10 monthly rental fees.

I never thought I would be grateful to pay (theoretically) more for lower speeds, but Comcast found a way to make that happen.

Taking a Step Back

I know that there are people who would kill to be in my position. I was in Canada for my grandmother’s 90th birthday in May and complaining to one of my cousins (who lives in Ontario) about the state of ISPs and mobile providers where I live. He practically punched me in the nuts. I guess ISPs and mobile providers in Canada are even more bullshit-ier than what we deal with in the US. And I’m sure there are third-world countries in Africanistan or whatever that don’t even have the internet or cell phone service.

For now, I’m content with my cap-free business plan from Comcast, even though I despise Comcast. Until there’s a legitimate alternative with reasonable plans and a respect for privacy, this is probably as good as it’s going to get.

How fucking depressing.

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