Comcast has warned broadband Internet customers across the country to curb their downloading or wind up on the curb.
The company has a bandwidth limitation that, if broken, can result in a 12-month suspension of service. The problem, according to customer complaints, is that the telecom giant refuses to reveal how much downloading is too much.
The company, which a few years ago advertised the service as “unlimited” has an “acceptable use policy” which enforces the invisible download limit.
The 23-part policy, states that it is a breach of contract to generate “levels of traffic sufficient to impede others' ability to send or retrieve information.” But nowhere does it detail what levels of traffic will impede others.
Michael, of Speedway, Ind., uses Comcast Internet to transfer large work files while his son uses it for school research. In 2004 he received letters threatening to disconnect his Internet if he doesn't restrict his bandwidth.
“Unfortunately, neither the letter, the AUP, the Comcast websites, nor any printed Comcast materials specify what those bandwidth usage limitations are,” Michael wrote to ConsumerAffairs.Com. “Essentially, what they are doing is drawing an invisible line, then threatening to disconnect anyone who crosses it.
"I am more than willing to curb my usage to meet any limitations set by Comcast...if only they would actually make those limitations available to their subscribers,” he said.
ConsumerAffairs.Com has received several complaints from onetime Comcast customers whose service was interrupted by the phantom policy. One of them is Frank Carreiro, a West Jordan, Utah computer technician who has led the charge for hundreds of consumers with his “Comcast Broadband dispute” blog.
Carriero received a phone call from Comcast in December 2006 warning him that if he didn't cut back on his usage, they were going to cut his service. When he contacted customer service to see what he could do, they had no idea what he was talking about and even suggested it was a prank call.
One month later, he woke up to no Internet. When he called Comcast, they informed him he would be without service for 12 months.
For the next few months, he, his wife and his six children were without Internet until DSL came into their neighborhood.
Comcast told Carreiro he was downloading 200-300 gigabytes per month. He said he and his family download a lot of data but could never have used that much. So when he got his new service, he began tracking his use using two independent data logs.
“We haven't broken 50 Gigs a month yet and we tried,” Carreiro wrote in an e-mail. “I've even built a server for family photos to be shared and still we're not breaking 50 Gigs.”
Carreiro said he has spoken to hundreds of people in 15 states in the past five months who have had their Internet privileges revoked by Comcast. But Comcast spokesperson, Charlie Douglas, said only .001 percent of Comcast's customers ever horde too much bandwidth.
Carreiro, whose neighbors have also lost their Internet, doesn't agree.
“If it's so low, why do I have a couple of people right down the street who have had their Internet taken away?” Carreiro asked.
Douglas said the company shuts off people's Internet if it affects the performance of their neighbors because often many people will share a connection on one data pipe.
If customers want a more dedicated stream, they can order Comcast's business account which costs “roughly $1,500 per month,” Douglas said.
Carrerio agreed that download restrictions for residential accounts are necessary to keep the Internet running smoothly. But he said Comcast should reveal what the restrictions are, as most other Internet providers do.
Some Internet providers charge customers based on how much they wish to download every month. Carreiro's current provider has a 100-gigabyte cap.
Douglas refused to reveal Comcast's bandwidth ceiling and would not say on the record why they keep it a secret.