Comcast’s data usage meter gave thousands of customers inaccurate readings for two months due to a software bug, causing the bandwidth provider to incorrectly charge about 2,000 users for exceeding their monthly data caps. Comcast has acknowledged the mistake and told Ars that it is issuing refunds and additional credits of $50 each to customers who paid data overage charges that should not have been assessed.
We contacted Comcast two weeks ago after hearing from a customer in Duluth, Georgia, who found that Comcast was recording significant data usage on his account even when he was not using the Internet. The customer, Michael (who asked that his last name not be published), is thought to have exceeded his 1TB monthly data cap. But when he unplugged his modem at night, Comcast recorded another 40GB of usage during a 15-hour stretch in which he couldn’t use any data.
Our question to Comcast and complaints from other customers on social media prompted the company to investigate. A Comcast spokesperson said what the investigation found yesterday.
Comcast engineers discovered the problem began after the company began rolling out a new billing system in early August. The data meter is apparently still receiving normal data, but the numbers are reported in the new billing system incorrectly.
Comcast said it is still trying to figure out if the bug is in the meter software, the billing software, or an interaction between the two. What Comcast knows for sure, the spokesperson said, is that the problem was fixed when it rolled back to an earlier version of its billing software on October 2.
A Comcast statement to Ars said:
While updating our data usage meter to the new system, a software error occurred that resulted in a small number of our customers being charged incorrectly. We’re very sorry for our customers’ inconvenience and here’s what we did to address it: We fixed the technical issue, closed the affected accounts, and gave those customers an additional $50 credit to make it you’re right .
Comcast enforces data cap in 27 states
The endpoint software upgrade is rolling out gradually, one CMTS (cable modem termination system) at a time, so the data-metering bug doesn’t affect many customers. Comcast forced it 1TB monthly data cap in 27 of its 39 states and charges $10 for each additional block of 50GB, up to about $200 per month. Customers can get unlimited data for an additional $50 a month.
Comcast told us that thousands of customers were charged incorrectly for overages, but the total number of customers who gave incorrect data readings is likely higher. That’s because the problem causes inaccurate readings in both directions, with some customers getting a much higher number and others getting a lower number. Also, customers with higher readings won’t necessarily be hit with overage charges because readings can still be under the 1TB cap, and Comcast allows two grace months before billing for overages.
Comcast said the incorrect readings affected a fraction of 1% of its customers, but declined to provide a more specific number. Because Comcast has 27.8 million broadband subscribers, a fraction of 1% could be thousands of customers.
Comcast told Ars that it is able to identify customers who have incorrect overage charges and is applying charges and $50 additional credits to those customers’ accounts. Customers don’t have to contact Comcast in order to receive credits, and the company will reach out to people who were charged incorrectly to explain what happened, Comcast said.
The problem is not isolated to one state, as Comcast says it affects customers in states from the company’s Central and Western US divisions. Comcast does not enforce data caps in the US Northeast, where it generally faces strong competition.
Comcast still has work to do. Even customers who aren’t overcharged may see inaccurate data counts or the words “not applicable” instead of a specific number if they check their accounts today. Some customers may see higher-than-actual data readings while others may see lower-than-actual data readings, Comcast said. But the company told us it will be able to update customer accounts with accurate readings for the August-September period.
Comcast also needs to figure out how to implement its new billing software without causing the problem again. Comcast says it purchased the software from a vendor and it should be an upgrade over your current billing plan.
While the company is still investigating the exact nature of the bug, Comcast told us that the bug “redistributes” data counts in an irregular manner, possibly meaning that some people’s data was mistakenly applied to Comcast accounts. other people. The decision to roll back to the old software on October 2 gives Comcast engineers time to figure out exactly what happened and conduct further testing before attempting to reinstall the new software.
Some customers are already seeing changes in their data usage readings. Michael’s data usage readings returned to normal after a Comcast technician replaced his modem with a new one. That happened before Comcast discovered that the problem was in its billing software, and it was unclear why a modem switch would have had any effect on its problem. Two other Comcast customers who contacted us about strange data readings said the readings were reset to a lower value last week, right after Comcast changed the software update.
This isn’t the first time Comcast has been cited for improper data usage. In December 2015, we wrote about Oleg, a hacker from Tennessee who was accused of using 120GB of data while he was overseas on vacation. Comcast insists that someone must have hacked into its Wi-Fi network and used the data. But when Oleg disconnected his cable modem for a week, the Comcast meter kept reading unusable data. Comcast finally admitted its mistake and said that the company entered your modem’s MAC address incorrectly into their billing system.
We detailed other problems in our September 2016 feature “Stories from Comcast’s data cap country: Can the meter be trusted?” In one big one, Comcast told Ars that a “table display bug” caused incorrect data reading for customers.
The data meter reading dispute process is tedious and often frustrating for customers because Comcast offers no way for users to verify that individual data readings are accurate. Comcast customer service representatives are also quick to blame customers and insist that Comcast’s data meter is infallible, even when customers measure their own usage and see possible errors in Comcast’s meter.
Michael Goldsberry, who helped his parents in Hinesville, Georgia, deal with a Comcast data meter problem, told Ars that Comcast gave his parents a credit after weeks of insisting that the meter readings were accurate and that the parents it may have been hacked. . (To be clear, we are talking about two different people named Michael in this article.)
“What really got my blood during the whole process, even with the executive complaints filed twice, Comcast employees were extremely dismissive,” Goldsberry told Ars. Comcast employees took the position that “things are right, and no, we’re not going to help you with the metrics so you can decide for yourself if there’s a problem,” he said.
“If (Comcast) wants to have caps, I think there needs to be better exposure and tools for employees, especially now we have evidence that it could be a terrible mistake,” Goldsberry added. tell.
Michael, a customer from Duluth, Georgia, told us he had a similar experience:
The first couple of calls to customer service, the reps told me that their data measurement was correct and that it must be that I was using the data, or the wrong device. I told them it wasn’t, and they basically told me I was wrong and tried to sell me a $50-per-month upgrade to unlimited data.
As previously noted, Comcast had miscalculated data usage at Michael’s home when his modem was off. Michael told us he continues to be a Comcast customer “because they’re a monopoly and there’s not much choice.”
Michael from Duluth continued:
Comcast probably wouldn’t have such crappy customer service if they had real competition. Also, since they have admitted that the data problem is their fault, they must not tell the customer again that it is impossible for the data meter to be faulty. Essentially, they put the burden on the customer to prove that the data was improperly scaled.
To assure customers that its meter can be trusted, Comcast has paid consulting firm NetForecast to ensure accuracy in a portion of customer homes for several years. We explained the NetForecast measurement process in our 2016 version. The latest NetForecast report found that Comcast’s data meter in 2018 undercounted customer usage by 1.5% on average.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts once said that Internet data is like electricity and that customers who use more should pay more. But unlike regulated utilities, Comcast faces no government oversight of how it measures data usage.
The Federal Communications Commission relinquished its first regulatory mandate over broadcast providers when Chairman Ajit Pai led a December 2017 vote to repeal net neutrality rules and regulate the industry. The FCC vote leaves it up to the Federal Trade Commission to prevent consumer harm, but it doesn’t appear the agency is doing anything to ensure data cap meters are accurate.
“This seems like an issue that the FTC should look into,” Michael told Ars. “Some people have to take (Comcast’s) word on how much data they use and get paid for, and Comcast has shown themselves to be irresponsible in this regard.”