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Comcast shuts down Winer

Thanks to the recent BitTorrent debacle, Comcast has been far from Comcastic for many of its customers. Throttling customers for using technologies they deem too data intensive is pretty nasty, and the company has had to acquiesce and change its practices, but what happens when they disconnect your service (and threaten to keep you shut-down for 12-months) for "excessive usage" -- yet refuse to issue that threat in writing or tell you what "excessive usage" really means?

Well, that is exactly the situation Dave Winer, tech analyst, pioneer and RSS God, has found himself in. Comcast has restored his service, but still says they will shut him down for up to 12 months if he doesn't alter his usage patterns. The kicker? They won't tell him what level he needs to adjust his usage patterns to in order to stay compliant.

Can they do this? Especially without issuing the warning in writing? And what exactly defines, "excessive" in Comcast's terms? Many of us here at Download Squad use Comcast and we DO love to download, so this issue bothers us both on principle and for practicality. Although Comcast has been more receptive via their @Comcastcares Twitter account than they were via phone, this whole situation makes us very, very uncomfortable.

We spoke to Dave earlier today (the podcast of our conversation is here) and this is what he had to say:

"I thought it was an outage and they said I had to call a special number and that I had been disconnected as a matter of policy."

That policy, was apparently an ambiguous clause in the contract that allows Comcast to shut-down customers for what they deem excessive usage.

So what is excessive in this case? Comcast told Dave his usage was in the 450 GB a month range. That's pretty hefty, no doubt, but is it hefty enough to cut off a customer's service without doing more than calling the number on file (which in Dave's case, was an old cell phone that was no longer in service)? We don't think so. This seems like the sort of information that should be communicated in writing.

Additionally, Dave described the treatment and attitude from Comcast as extremely hostile. "It was like I was back in high school and in the principal's office," Dave said, "and he was telling me I might not be able to graduate but without saying what GPA I needed to get off probation."

Instead of working with Dave and trying to find a solution to meet his needs (though again, to be fair, Frank from @comcastcares has been much, much more helpful and understanding), they are essentially bullying him. At the very least Comcast should let customers know what the limits of acceptable usage are. Especially if they are going to tout their advantages in speed and service over DSL in their advertisements. Customers should know going in that there are caveats to that kind of speed.

Frankly, we don't think it is the customer's problem if Comcast can't scale bandwidth at advertised rates to all of their subscribers. Communicating acceptable usage limits with customers directly and offering a solution (even if that means moving to a commercial account -- something Dave would have been more than happy to entertain) rather than cutting off service and refusing to back threats of pro-longed cancellation in writing makes much more sense.

On a legal level (and we are not writing this with any legal background or conjecture), Comcast may be technically clear, but basic consumer protection policies would seemingly make many of these threats baseless. We'd love to hear from actual lawyers on how a company can and cannot issue service changes or potential denials of service.

Look, we don't think that Comcast should have to offer unlimited bandwidth at unlimited speeds to every customer. They are a business and they do need to maintain balance on their network. However, we find the current way that they are handling the situation to be unacceptable. We think it is important that consumers and customers appeal to ISPs (in this case Comcast) and the FCC in ensuring that better transparency is achieved in situations like this in the future. Less ambiguous contract terms and a clear-cut communication with customers would result in better relationships and better service for everyone.

Tags: broadband, cable modem, CableModem, comcast, comcastic, dave winer, DaveWiner, denial of service, DenialOfService, news, tweet-this