Illustration of a broken data meter.

Getty / Aurich Lawson

Comcast’s data-usage meter gave hundreds of customers inaccurate readings for two months due to a software program bug, inflicting the broadband supplier to incorrectly cost about 2,000 customers for exceeding their month-to-month data caps. Comcast has admitted the error and informed Ars it’s giving refunds and extra credit of $50 every to customers who paid data overage charges that should not have been assessed.

We contacted Comcast two weeks in the past after we heard from a buyer in Duluth, Georgia, who discovered that Comcast was recording main data utilization on his account even when he wasn’t utilizing the Internet. The buyer, Michael (who requested we not use his final title), supposedly had exceeded his 1TB month-to-month data cap. But when he unplugged his modem in a single day, Comcast recorded one other 40GB of utilization throughout a 15-hour stretch through which he could not have used any data.

Our inquiry to Comcast and complaints from different customers on social media brought on the corporate to research. A Comcast spokesperson informed us what the investigation found yesterday.

Comcast engineers discovered that the issue started after the corporate began rolling out a brand new billing system in early August. The data meter was apparently nonetheless gathering correct data, however the numbers have been being reported within the new billing system incorrectly.

Comcast mentioned it is nonetheless attempting to determine if the bug is within the meter software program, the billing software program, or within the interplay between the 2. What Comcast is aware of for sure, the spokesperson mentioned, is that the issue was mounted when it rolled again to the earlier model of its billing software program.

Comcast’s assertion to Ars mentioned:

While updating our data utilization meter to a brand new system, a software program error occurred leading to a small variety of our customers being billed incorrectly. We’re very sorry for inconveniencing our customers and this is what we’re doing to handle it: We mounted the technical concern, we’re proactively crediting the accounts affected, and we’re giving these customers an extra $50 credit score to make it proper.

Comcast enforces data cap in 27 states

The back-end software program improve was rolling out progressively, one CMTS (cable modem termination system) at a time, so the data-meter bug did not have an effect on most customers. Comcast enforces a 1TB month-to-month data cap in 27 of its 39 states and fees $10 for every further block of 50GB, as much as a most of $200 per thirty days. Customers can get limitless data for an additional $50 a month.

Comcast informed us {that a} couple thousand customers have been incorrectly charged for overages, however the complete variety of customers who got inaccurate data readings was seemingly considerably increased. That’s as a result of the issue brought on inaccurate readings in each instructions, with some customers getting a quantity that was too excessive and others getting a quantity that was too low. Also, customers who had readings that have been too excessive would not essentially have been hit with overage charges as a result of the readings may nonetheless have been beneath the 1TB cap, and Comcast permits two courtesy months earlier than billing for overages.

Comcast mentioned the wrong readings affected a fraction of 1% of its customers, however it declined to offer a extra particular quantity. Because Comcast has 27.eight million broadband subscribers, a fraction of 1% might be tens of hundreds of customers.

Comcast informed Ars that it was capable of establish the customers who have been wrongly billed overage charges and is proactively making use of the invoice credit and $50 further credit to these customers’ accounts. Customers do not must contact Comcast with a view to get the credit, and the corporate will attain out to individuals who have been inaccurately billed to elucidate what occurred, Comcast mentioned.

The downside wasn’t remoted to 1 state, as Comcast mentioned it affected customers in states from the corporate’s Central and Western US divisions. Comcast would not implement data caps within the Northeastern US, the place it usually faces stronger competitors.

Comcast nonetheless has work to do. Even customers who weren’t overcharged may see inaccurate data counts or the phrases “not applicable” as an alternative of a selected quantity in the event that they verify their accounts immediately. Some customers may even see higher-than-actual data readings whereas others may even see lower-than-actual data readings, Comcast mentioned. But the corporate informed us it will likely be capable of replace buyer accounts with correct readings for the August-September interval.

Comcast additionally wants to determine the way to deploy its new billing software program with out triggering the issue once more. Comcast mentioned it bought the software program from a vendor and that it’s speculated to be an improve over its present billing system.

While the corporate continues to be investigating the precise nature of the bug, Comcast informed us that the bug “redistributed” the data counts in an inaccurate method, maybe that means that some individuals’s data utilization was wrongly utilized to different individuals’s Comcast accounts. The determination to roll again to the previous software program on October 2 provides Comcast engineers time to determine precisely what occurred and do additional testing earlier than trying to reinstall the brand new software program.

Customers have been discussing the issue on Reddit, Twitter, and a Comcast buyer discussion board.

Some customers are already seeing adjustments of their data utilization readings. Michael’s data utilization readings went again to regular after a Comcast technician swapped his modem for a brand new one. That occurred earlier than Comcast found that the issue was in its billing software program, and it is not clear why a modem change would have had any impact on his downside.

Trusting Comcast

This is not the primary time Comcast has incorrectly counted data utilization. In December 2015, we wrote about Oleg, a programmer from Tennessee who was accused of utilizing 120GB of data whereas he was abroad on trip. Comcast insisted that somebody should have hacked into his Wi-Fi community and used the data. But when Oleg subsequently disconnected his cable modem for per week, Comcast’s meter stored counting data that wasn’t getting used. Comcast lastly admitted its mistake and mentioned the corporate had entered his modem’s MAC deal with incorrectly into their billing system.

We detailed different issues in our September 2016 function “Tales from Comcast’s data cap nation: Can the meter be trusted?” In one case, Comcast admitted to Ars {that a} “table display bug” brought on inaccurate data readings for a buyer.

The means of disputing data-meter readings is tedious and sometimes infuriating for customers as a result of Comcast gives no method for customers to confirm that particular person data readings are appropriate. Comcast customer support reps are additionally fast responsible customers and demand that Comcast’s data meter is infallible, even when customers measure their very own utilization and discover doable errors within the Comcast meter.

Michael Goldsberry, who has been serving to his mother and father in Hinesville, Georgia, take care of a Comcast data-meter downside, informed Ars that Comcast provided his mother and father a credit score after weeks of insisting that the meter readings have been correct and that his mother and father might need been hacked.

“What really gets my blood boiling is during the entire process, even with executive complaints filed twice, Comcast employees were extremely dismissive,” Goldsberry informed Ars. Comcast workers took the place that “our stuff is right, and no, we’re not going to help give you metrics so you can determine for yourself if there is a problem,” he mentioned.

“If [Comcast] wants to have caps, I think there needs to be better disclosure and tools for the employees, especially now we have proof that it can be horridly wrong,” he additionally mentioned.

Michael, the shopper from Duluth, Georgia, informed us he had an analogous expertise:

The first couple of calls to customer support, the reps informed me that their measuring of data is correct and it have to be that I’m utilizing the data, or a defective machine. I informed them that is not so, they usually informed me principally that I was flawed and tried to promote me a $50-per-month improve to limitless data.

As we beforehand famous, Comcast incorrectly counted data utilization in Michael’s residence whereas his modem was unplugged. Michael informed us that he continues to be a Comcast buyer “because they are a quasi-monopoly and there isn’t much of a choice.”

Michael continued:

Comcast in all probability would not have such crappy customer support if that they had actual competitors. Also, since they admitted that the data downside was their fault, they need to by no means once more inform a buyer that it is inconceivable for the data meter to be inaccurate. In essence, they put the burden on the shopper to show that the data is being measured improperly.

Government inaction

To guarantee customers that its meter may be trusted, Comcast has paid consulting agency NetForecast to confirm the accuracy in a subset of buyer houses for a number of years. We detailed NetForecast’s measuring course of in our 2016 function. The newest NetForecast report discovered that Comcast’s data meter in 2018 undercounted buyer utilization by 1.5% on common.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts as soon as claimed that Internet data is rather like electrical energy and that customers who use extra ought to pay extra. But in contrast to regulated utilities, Comcast faces no authorities oversight of the way it measures data utilization.

The Federal Communications Commission deserted its major regulatory authority over broadband suppliers when Chairman Ajit Pai led a December 2017 vote to kill internet neutrality guidelines and decontrol the business. The FCC vote left it as much as the Federal Trade Commission to stop buyer hurt, however neither company appears to be doing something to make sure that data-cap meters are correct.

“This seems like an issue that the FTC should look into,” Michael informed Ars. “People just have to take [Comcast’s] word on how much data they use and are billed for, and Comcast has proven themselves to be irresponsible at this task.”

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