With Comcast instituting their new terabyte cap for customers, they’ve been on the continued end of criticism for how they gauge and measure the bandwidth that accounts for that terabyte cap. They use a “usage meter” found within the customer profile to give users an idea of how much bandwidth is being consumed by the modem. The main issue, however, is that a lot of people are curious as to exactly how those measurements are made and where that data is coming from or going. After discussing the issue with a few representatives, they claim they don’t know… for security reasons.
Some Comcast customers have been up in arms about the spread of Comcast’s new data caps, something they’ve been steadily pushing across their service regions nationwide, originally starting at 250GB and then increasing it to 300GB and eventually putting in caps at 1TB in additional regions this past fall. If you exceed the 1TB cap it’s $10 for every other 50GB exceeded, and up to $200 total that they will charge in overages. Users can relinquish the cap by paying an extra $50 on top of their current bill.
The reason people have been up in arms is because not only are users now facing new data cap overages, but Comcast’s data usage meter is extremely vague and doesn’t offer any details about the actual bandwidth usage. The only thing you can know for sure is how much upstream and downstream data has come through their network from your modem, but the type of data (media, games, audio, live-streaming) is absent from the manifest. In fact, there is no manifest, just a bar, as pictured below.
If you click on “detailed data usage” you only see the modem listed and no further details.
When reaching out to Comcast to find out exactly how the data is measured and what the sources are for uploading and downloading in order to better understand how Comcast measures data usage, you’ll only get vague answers and deflection. A level 2 service representative from Comcast named Charles explained that Comcast doesn’t actually keep track of the details on bandwidth usage but that it’s handled by a third-party firm, saying…
“Okay… so with the data, with the usage, and specifically with the way data usage is calculated, it’s calculated [by] both the upload and download, or any usage coming from a particular network.
“So we usually speak in reference to what can drive the data in terms of different types of streaming, and downloading and uploading, and things of that nature – and further details you can find on our website at dataplan.xfinity.com – but essentially the way the data usage is captured, it is verified and it is audited and verified by a third-party system. So it is verified to be accurate. But now we don’t look beyond the modem, so we wouldn’t be able to pinpoint for you exactly what device is using the data or what program or software is on your network that’s running up the data in those various ways.
“Now as well with that, the data usage or the meter that’s shown [on the website] is not in real time. There is a delay to it. So it’s possible that if you turned off everything that you’re using, it may not have fully calculated all of the usage it had already processed. […] We have seen where there are delays up to a day [or] two days even.”
As explained in the call to the rep, there were caps put on the devices but the data was still being consumed the same as it was before the caps were applied.
Charles mentioned they would look into the matter and call back, but the call didn’t happen, and when reaching out to the tech support again, they didn’t have the ticket number on hand that Charles had claimed to give out.
Nevertheless, in a second conversation with a separate representative from Comcast’s level 2 technical department, it was explained that Comcast can’t provide users with a detailed data log of how bandwidth from a home network is being consumer due to security purposes, with the rep saying…
“[…] for security purposes we don’t [log individual IP data], we only do bulk [data] in-and-out. We don’t get into individual Mac addresses and find out [what Mac address is downloading what]. Everything is all just bulk. And that’s for your security.”
So how exactly are Comcast customers supposed to know exactly how much data they’re consuming if they can’t find out where the majority of their data consumption is going or coming from? According to the service representative, customers should download an app on each of their devices called Glasswire. The app is designed to monitor traffic on your network and show what sort of bandwidth is coming in and going out of your home network.
So why exactly is it a security concern for Comcast that they can’t tell you how much data you’re consuming? Well, according to the rep, it’s due to potential data access…
“What will end up happening is… if someone had access to that information. So that’s why we try to keep everything on a security basis. So everything is bulk. So when we tell you [that] you used this much, it’s in, out, downloads, uploads, everything. It’s just one bulk.”
In the recorded conversation it’s explained that while they can’t see what individual devices are accessing what IP addresses or websites, they can see when a general home network accesses a website or host.
For the hearing impaired, the representative states…
“What we’ll see is, we’ll see the network and we’ll see an IP, but we won’t be able to see exactly what Mac [address is accessing the network]. So we’ll see that somebody on the network – we can’t see specifically who it was – was getting on to XYZ.com.”
Instead of being able to offer details on how much data a consumer is using from specific sources, or what devices are consuming the most data in the month, Comcast reps only suggested getting apps to monitor the data. Even still, it doesn’t exactly account for whatever differences Comcast might be recording on their end, compared to what a user may be seeing in the logs on their end.
It was mentioned in an Ars Technica article from back in September, 2016 that Comcast’s opaque policies for data usage is the equivalent of the electric company telling customers that they can’t give them a breakdown of how their energy is being consumed.
Users are essentially beholden to Comcast’s rates and charges, even when they’re not allowed to get detailed information on those charges. It’s worse yet for those living in areas where Comcast is the only cable provider, forcing users to either pay up for the service or go without cable internet service.