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It truly feels like Comcast is constantly in the news for some atrocious, heretofore unimagined assault on its customers. Maybe that’s not surprising, as the Internet service provider is the most-hated company in America’s most-hated industry.
Do we hate Comcast because ISPs are inherently frustrating, and the company’s like the tax collector: a frustrating but inevitable character that’s part of the cost of living? Is complaining about Comcast like complaining about the weather: pointless bickering about a constant force of nature?
No. It’s seriously really bad. Here’s a shortlist of what the company’s been up to recently.
1) Renaming customers with schoolyard insults
Customers have recently come forth with horror stories from Comcast, saying they’d been renamed “Asshole Brown,” “Whore Julia Swano,” and “dummy.” Seriously. Comcast keeps apologizing for it. It keep happening. Sure, some of those customers may be irate. But they seem to have a pretty good reason for it.
2) Forcing customers to become Wi-Fi hotspots
Comcast had a great idea: What if we make hotspots all over the country, so that our customers can sometimes just wander around and get free Wi-FI? Then it had an impressively bad one: What if this was a mandatory program for our customers, who have to use special new hotspot modems that ratchet up their electricity bills?
The lawsuit is currently pending.
3) Outrageous moving fees
We all are familiar with the fact that ISPs lock you into a contract, and that you could get into trouble if your life takes you to a place where you’d want to change those plans. But still, it’s a bit much when Comcast bills you $2,789 for choosing a new home that happens to be outside its service area, as happened to Tennessee’s Adrian Fraim. After considerable media scrutiny, the company forgave him the fine—but one wonders what would have happened if the story hadn’t blown up.
4) Customer service from hell
Like with Fraim’s case, the handful of unbelievably painful customer service calls you hear only serves to make you wonder about how many don’t get recorded. Either way, there’s nothing like hearing an actual recording of a guy trying so hard to cancel his service that it makes you want to rip your hair out.
5) Spending huge money to lobby politicians
According to a recent study by the Sunlight Foundation, Comcast spent more than $14 million on lobbying in 2012, the most recent year data was available. Its influence is vast. Dozens of mayors across the country inexplicably signed a letter supporting the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner. And it goes all the way to the top. President Obama, visiting VP David Cohen’s home for a fundraiser in 2013, joked that “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have Seder dinner.”
6) Using its political influence to try to kill net neutrality
This is one of the big ones. Net neutrality is the basic concept that all data should be treated equally—and ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to charge certain websites extra for top service. It’s generally regarded as an essential component of Internet freedom. But Comcast sees a massive potential profit in charging companies like Netflix for their bandwidth, and wouldn’t mind taking net neutrality down in the process.
Unsurprisingly, the members of Congress in bed with Comcast tend to reflect that opinion. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), one of the biggest recipients of telecommunications money on Capitol Hill, has introduced bills that would straight-up kill net neutrality. Latta even openly tweets about how Comcast supports “Internet freedom.”
Related: Small ISPs, as a rule, support net neutrality.
7) Using its political influence to try to kill local broadband.
Considering how dismal the landscape of big cable companies is, one of the industry’s few bright spots is the rise of municipal broadband, where cities can take the Internet into their own hands, saving their residents time, money, and frustration. So naturally, Comcast throws its weight around in local politics to kill off community-owned Internet whenever possible.
8) Supporting CISPA
Congress has spent years mired in partisan bickering over what a national cybersecurity bill should look like. But no legislation in recent memory has drawn privacy advocates’ scorn like the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA, which keeps getting introduced and passed in the House before dying in the Senate. The gist of CISPA is that it makes it much easier for private companies to share what’s on their networks with the government if it’s being hacked.
In 2013, Comcast proudly offered its support for CISPA, saying that the company “know[s] that our XFinity Internet customers are concerned about security.” We doubt they were really speaking for all their customers, though.
9) Helping create both the Copyright Alert System and another, shadowy version
The Copyright Alert System, an alliance between the country’s biggest ISPs and the entertainment lobby created to track down and send sternly-worked letters to people it thinks are pirating content, could have been worse. It doesn’t actually kick people off the Internet, unlike France’s HADOPI program. It’s also regarded both internally and externally as ineffective.
So Comcast—itself a CAS founding member—is reportedly working on yet another, similar system. It would work concurrently with the CAS and would would track peer-to-peer filesharing software like BitTorrent in an attempt to track who’s pirating popular movies, shows, and songs. But what is it? Will it work? Will it lock users out of their accounts? Comcast isn’t talking, and didn’t respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.
10) Getting you with the fine print
Literally! In a letter sent to customers in March 2014 touting why it’d be great to be acquired by Comcast, Time Warner CEO Robert D. Marcus wrote that it’s because Comcast is an industry leader. But then, in tiny grey letters on a grey background, the letter clarifies that “Certain statements” that he’d just made “are not historical facts.” Oh.
Photo via ExDeus/Wikipedia (PD) | Remix by Jason Reed
A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.