Comcast to customers: We control the horizontal, the vertical, and your Internets…but we can't admit it

By Martin Bosworth

The Save The Internet coalition alerted me to Comcast’s quietly rolling out new terms of service that codify what has been common knowledge for some time–that the company does, indeed, interfere with traffic on its network, and reserves the right to do so, any time it wishes.

Of course, the company hasn’t actually come out and said it so plainly, any more than they’ll admit they cancel customer accounts for hitting undisclosed bandwith caps. Instead, as Mike Masnick notes, they’re using “weasel language” that implies their intent without being so precise as to be caught.

Let’s compare and contrast. From Comcast’s terms of service, Section III, “Network Management And Consumption:”

How does Comcast manage its network?

Comcast uses various tools and techniques to manage its network, deliver the Service, and ensure compliance with this Policy and the Subscriber Agreement. These tools and techniques are dynamic, like the network and its usage, and can and do change frequently. For example, these network management activities may include (i) identifying spam and preventing its delivery to customer e-mail accounts, (ii) detecting malicious Internet traffic and preventing the distribution of viruses or other harmful code or content, (iii) temporarily delaying peer-to-peer sessions (or sessions using other applications or protocols) during periods of high network congestion, (iv) limiting the number of peer-to-peer sessions during periods of high network congestion, and (v) using other tools and techniques that Comcast may be required to implement in order to meet its goal of delivering the best possible broadband Internet experience to all of its customers.

From Comcast’s selection of high-speed Internet packages:

Get on the fast track…fast! With Comcast High-Speed Internet, you’ll enjoy the most amazing online experience. Powered by Comcast’s advanced fiber-optic network, you’ll love the thrill of blazing-fast speeds. Speeds way faster than DSL from the phone company! * And with Comcast’s innovative PowerBoost® technology, activities like downloading videos, movies, music and games or uploading photos go even faster.

One of these things is not like the others.
For Comcast to come out and say that their network may be something less than “blazing fast” is the kiss of marketing death, but at the same time, in the wake of their impending FCC investigation, they have to give themselves at least some legalistic CYA to ensure they can’t be held accountable by angry customers, consumer activists, or Capitol Hill. Thus this song-and-dance. As Andy Patrizio and Masnick have noted, the “reasonable network management” phrase is the same language used by the FCC itself, a clear signal that the company is trying to appease Kevin Martin in his never-ending war on cable.

I recommend reading Free Press’ Marvin Ammori’s awesome analysis of this seemingly innocuous change, in which he deconstructs their legalese down to the essence–that they are too cheap to build out a more advanced network to handle the demands their customer base is placing on it (which happens when you’re an essential monopoly in many regions), so they’re instead throttling their customers’ Internet access and calling that “reasonable network management.”

Enjoy that blazing-fast 3mbps speed!

8 replies »

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  2. My wife and I consolidated our broadband, phone, and DirecTV into a single payer Qwest plan a few months ago, going for DSL and abandoning the Comcast broadband we’d had up to that point. Not only did we save money in the change, but our connection is now faster. Given that DSL is not a shared medium like cable modem (I can go into detail if anyone’s interested – I once tried to convince my telecomm equipment manufacturing employer to move into cable modems and failed, so I know a decent amount about the technology), I wasn’t too surprised.

    And this will just drive yet another nail in Comcast’s broadband coffin….

  3. Interesting … particularly when paired with the recent announcement from Time Warner that they’re going to begin test marketing a ‘pay for what you use’ format with their cable internet.

    Clearly bandwidth usage is a major thorn for all of the big players. Also clear is that they feel that either a) the land grab phase of this service is over or b) people have gotten addicted enough to their high speed internet to tolerate their terms.

  4. Very interesting post, Martin. As must as I would really like to comment considering I am a Comcast customer, I will have to plea to 5th. I love my Internets too much.

  5. Martin,
    Whats interesting to me is your taking excerpts out of context and posting it as another conspiracy. Have you actually read the entire document? Mostly it concerns stopping piracy, spam, and viruses. All of those things seem good to me. I am a Comcast user and actually like the service I receive. Not everything is a conspiracy try looking at the possibility some companies may actually try to help their customers once in a while as apposed to screaming at the top of your lungs that the sky is constantly falling.

  6. I am unfortunately stuck with Comcast, because we can’t get DSL on our Key, and any other type of line would be prohibitively expensive.. I use the Comcast Business package, and find it to still be slow, and I suspect that Comcast is throttling it back because my market quotes are sometimes delayed for 2 seconds. 2 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be the difference between a profit or a loss.


  7. I am an IT consultant and Comcast Business Internet user in the Portland – Salem, Oregon area. I monitor the condition of my Internet connection on a regular basis. About 72 hours ago my Comcast connection went from an average 8mb+ download speed to about 2.1 to 2.3 mb download speed. These readings are averages using two different speed test sites and taken at different times of the day and night to allow for traffic peaks. There was no change in my upload speed (about 1.7 mb on average). A call to a friend of mine in the IT business in the Salem, Oregon area who also has Comcast Business Internet at his own office and in several of his customers locations revealed a similar slowdown beginning in the same time frame (around Tuesday/Wednesday 2/5 – 2/6). I have opened a trouble ticket with Comcast, who show no problem with my modem and no change in my settings. There has been no change on my network or firewall. They are sending a truck to check my connection tomorrow – required before they can escalate the call to second level tech’s. Interestingly, when I questioned (on the basis of my friend’s Salem problems) whether there was a system-wide problem, the tech I was speaking with made some vague mention of a “static routing problem” earlier in the week that “has been cleared”. Is anyone else on Comcast in the Pacific NW or elsewhere encountering a similar situation in tihs time frame?

  8. Jason,
    After reading your post I checked mine. I’m getting 26.6mb download speed and 1.55mb upload.