Last week I found a voice mail message from a phone number I didn't recognize, who claimed to be from the "Comcast Security Assurance Division", demanding that I call them at yet another number I didn't recognize. I called the normal number to reach Comcast, explained what had happened, and gave that person the phone numbers. I was told then that those did not appear to be Comcast phone numbers and that they had never heard of such a department or division in Comcast. I asked whether I should report the incident to the police. They said that would be a good idea, so I did report it to the local police, stating that I suspected a possible phone scam aimed at identity theft. The next day (Fri.) I received another call, which I answered before noticing that the number was the one that had called a day earlier. The caller made the same claim as the day before, to which I replied that I didn't believe them, that I had already reported their number to both Comcast and the local police department. I then ended the call and called Comcast again to let them know what was going on. That conversation lasted quite a while, during which time my call got transferred to their tech. support area. The lady in tech. support did some investigation and found that the phone numbers in question were, in fact, Comcast numbers and that the "Security Assurance Division" was legitimate after all. She had never heard of them before, but connected me into a conference call with someone at the number I had been told to call. The upshot was that I was being contacted because their system claimed that in February my setup had transmitted and/or received more than 250 GB, an arbitrary limit that exceeding a second time would get my connection shut off for a minimum of 12 months. They claimed that my combined transmissions and receptions had totaled between 661 GB and 662 GB for February, a number I still do not accept. Further, Comcast sales staff and tech. support staff were unaware of any such limit, much less of specifically 250 GB. That means that when I was signed up last August for a reception rate limit of 6 Mb/s (~600 KB/s) and a transmission rate limit of 768 Kb/s (~76 KB/s), they didn't inform me that actual usage of those rates would use up a fixed, 250 GB, monthly allotment of data in less than 4.5 days. A month or a bit more ago, Comcast finished upgrading its infrastructure and cable system software, which led to their increasing the data rates, so that my connection can now run at 12 Mb/s (~1.2 MB/s) for reception and 1 Mb/s (~100 KB/s) for transmission. If used at capacity, these rates can exhaust the monthly data ration in a little over 2 days and 6 hours. I believe this constitutes deceptive marketing and possibly even fraud under U.S. law. At present I don't have an alternate ISP on tap to replace Comcast, but I am looking. Meanwhile I asked how much of the current month's allotment had already been used (according to their very questionable system) and was told that they were unable to tell me that. They said that they deal only with exception notices issued when someone exceeds 250 GB transferred in a billing month. They suggested taking the 662 GB figure, dividing that by 28 days for February, multiplying by the first 6 days of March, subtracting that from the March ration of 250 GB, in order to get an estimate of what might fairly safely be considered to remain for use in March. On the basis of the result, I immediately slammed the brakes on tor, setting BandwidthRate and BandwidthBurst both to 20 KB. The results over the next few hours were not pretty, but it is still running. I have no way of knowing, however, whether this will really prevent my total usage for March from exceeding the 250 GB combined in+out limit. In other words, by refusing to provide any further feedback short of cutting the connection, they aim to intimidate me into using much less than the measly 2.28 days' worth of full use that they think should be spread over an entire month of up to 31 days. If I make it to 1 April without getting shut off, I should be able to change the settings to BandwidthRate 35 KB and BandwidthBurst 70 KB, but that is still about 10% of how it was running before. Now, in actual fact, most of my network usage over a month's time is due to running a tor relay. That relay was also operating as a tor directory mirror, which consumed a fair portion of the limited output data rate. The remaining portion of the output data rate could be used for relay operations, and the input rate would roughly parallel the portion of the output rate used for the relay operations. That means that the 250 GB would actually be spread over more days, but remains only a fraction of the data that I ought to be able to send and receive in a month's time. I have since called Comcast again and had them reduce the service level to the minimum data rates they offer because even those rates if used flat out, would exhaust the monthly ration well before the middle of the month. That means I have to restrict tor's data rates to well under the Comcast minimum in order to keep the relay in operation throughout the month. (Continuous operation seems preferable to me than alternating into and out of hibernation.) Aside from writing letters of complaint to the FCC regarding Comcast's deceptive marketing practices, I am at a loss to know how to "civilize" Comcast. In this local area, I think Verizon is the only other broadband ISP available. (I refuse to count the worthless excuse for an "ISP" I dumped last year.) Verizon only offers ADSL service here; all of its fiber optics support is elsewhere still. Unfortunately, the ISP I dumped last year uses some of the Verizon hardware in this area to provide its services. Given the terrible problems I had with TBC last year, I'm reluctant to risk having to use what may well be the defective part of the same hardware setup. Meanwhile my relay has fallen from the top 15% or so of relays by capacity to just about rock bottom. :-( I know others have posted their complaints about this situation here on the list, but I don't remember anyone mentioning that most Comcast employees that customers will ever talk with over the phone appear to be unaware of the existence of either the 250 GB/mo. limit or the "Security Assurance Division" of Comcast. I also don't remember anyone mentioning that the 250 GB limit includes all data in both directions over the customer's connection. If you are a Comcast residential subscriber running a tor relay, it might be a good idea to set BandwidthRate to a value of 48 KB/s or less because that limit means 48 KB/s in plus 48 KB/s out, which would come to approximately 250 GB over the number of seconds in a 31-day month. The "Security Assurance" guy mentioned that soon Comcast would be offering a 99 Mb/s reception rate. (He didn't say what the transmit rate limit would be at that point.) He said that, as far as he knew, the 250 GB limit would still apply. I said that Comcast would probably have a lot of irate customers once they discovered the hard way that their entire month's data allotment could, in principle, be consumed in just 42 - 43 minutes. He disagreed, saying that people currently exceeding 250 GB in a month were less that 0.1% of all Comcast residential subscribers. We shall see, I guess. The only suggestion from any of the Comcast employees on how I might get around a 250 GB/mo. limit was that switching to Comcast Business-class service might do it, but they didn't know for sure because they only dealt with residential service. At this point, I don't know whether I could believe their business-class service sales staff on this issue, now that I've been misled by their residential-class sales staff through its ignorance on the matter. OTOH, the choices around here are distressingly poor.
Scott Bennett, Comm. ASMELG, CFIAG ********************************************************************** * Internet: bennett at cs.niu.edu * *--------------------------------------------------------------------* * "A well regulated and disciplined militia, is at all times a good * * objection to the introduction of that bane of all free governments * * -- a standing army." * * -- Gov. John Hancock, New York Journal, 28 January 1790 * **********************************************************************