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Yet another problem with Comcast data caps: Customers have no idea why they’re exceeding their limits

Comcast Data Caps FCC Complaints

Comcast sure knows how to bring out the love from its customer base. Cut Cable Today recently filed a FOIA request to the Federal Communications Commission and discovered that the commission has received over 13,000 complaints so far related to specifically to Comcast’s implementation of data caps. It seems that, contrary to what Comcast believes, many people don’t see the “fairness” in Comcast’s introduction of metered usage in the home broadband market.

MUST READ: A simple idea that will make Comcast’s data cap much more consumer-friendly

So what are Comcast customers saying about data caps? One complaint that really struck me was the fact that Comcast doesn’t really offer you any granular information about what might be causing you to exceed your monthly data threshold, as this complaint explains:

They offer a ‘data usage meter’ online that simply tells you how much data you have used every month with no detailed statement as to the accuracy of it with no way to view where the data every month is being allocated, an example would be how much data is being used on Netflix or other streaming services. At the moment it simply says you’ve gone over without any real feedback to tell you exactly where the data was used and could potentially be used to fraud people into paying more for services as there is no way to dispute the data usage.

This is exactly what I’ve heard from some other Comcast customers who have emailed me to complain about their data caps. One customer who lives in the Atlanta area wrote to me a couple of months back to explain how his purported data consumption has swung wildly from month to month and that Comcast hasn’t been able to offer a definitive explanation for why that’s been the case. Here’s a portion of his email that explains his story:

In January 2015 our data usage was 32 GB and in February 64 GB. In March it was exactly 300 GB. Since then it has registered 134,123,120,138,181,187 and 215 GB in October. […]

The problem here is that we cannot be consuming that kind of data. I purchased a Roku for my sister nearly 2 years ago  so she could watch Downton Abbey reruns through Amazon Instant Video. In a normal month she watches 8 one hour episodes. In  rare months she watches 12-16.  We do not have Netflix. Our computer usage (2 laptops) is limited to normal business use (Excel and Word) and email, news and shopping. These laptops are hardwired to a Linksys modem. We do not use wireless. My research suggest that one hour of video should be 3-5 GB. Her 16 hours of Downton should be 48-80 GB.

On Oct.31 I unplugged the Roku. As of 11/10 we have consumed 7 GB of data. I’m not sure how.

As often happens with aggrieved Comcast customers, I forwarded his complaint to Comcast to see what they could do to address his concerns. As it turns out, however, it doesn’t look like Comcast really knows how to offer granular information that will give you concrete answers about what could be sucking up your data.

Here’s what this customer wrote back to me after Comcast worked to help him out:

[The Comcast customer service representative] logged into our account and listened to my questions but said he did not have any detail about usage other than the  totals.  He noted that after we unplugged the Roku our usage has dropped to next to nothing and said that obviously Roku was the problem. He said they had a few instances of  Roku and Netflix continuing to broadcast after you stopped watching, changed to a different input or even turned off the TV. He recommended that we unplug the Roku after each use.

This sounded ridiculous to me especially since my sister has 2 Rokus  (one in a bedroom and one in a den).  Both of them were purchased at different times and can’t both be rare defective devices. When I asked about the strange 300 GB reading he said their modems and data management are regularly audited. I told him that every Comcast I have talked to for the last 9 months says the same thing.

He said I should call Roku.

Not very satisfying.

Comcast later told him that it wouldn’t give him any additional information about what might be causing his data usage to spike due to privacy concerns. While this is certainly a noble consideration on Comcast’s part, it should also be possible for Comcast to offer a way for customers to see which specific applications and devices are using up data without posing a risk to user privacy.

My iPhone, for example, lets me know exactly how much data individual mobile apps have been using over a given period — couldn’t Comcast make a similar application that lets you see how much of your data is being gobbled up by your PlayStation or by Netflix?

SEE ALSO: Cord cutters’ Bible: The best shows you can watch only on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon

The problem here is that if customers feel that they’ve been wrongly overcharged for their data, they have no way to effectively challenge Comcast’s claims about their data consumption. And if they just want to know what applications are gobbling up data so they can better manage them, they can’t do that either.

Comcast’s data meters are essentially informational black holes that only give you a total count of the data you use but give you little understanding of what could be causing excessive data consumption. For many customers, that is simply not an acceptable long-term situation.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.