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Comcast accused of cutting competitor’s wires to put it out of business (arstechnica.com)
499 points by coloneltcb on June 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments



This does not surprise me, in fact a Comcast technician told me they do this (on a much smaller scale) by disconnecting or cutting competitors' cable runs to buildings they are working on (and also sometimes their own).

I lived in a multi-unit apartment building and one day noticed my internet was down (I was a Comcast subscriber). I was suspicious because a Comcast technician was just out earlier in the day installing internet for a new tenant in the building. After going through the phone support steps they scheduled a technician to come out and check the line.

A couple days later, when the technician arrives, he checks the line only to confirm no signal. Then he goes out back to the cable box outside. I was unable to check this myself since it was mounted high on the building and required a ladder to access. Within a few minutes it was working again.

The Comcast technician then told me my line was just disconnected. I asked him if the previous technician made a mistake during the install. He said something along the lines of: "No, often in these multi-unit buildings we will disconnect people at random in case they are trying to steal cable. If they are a paying customer they will call and get it turned back on". He then went on about how they would have fun disconnecting competitors, and that competitors did it back to them etc.. all very nonchalantly and candidly.

I then called Comcast and got a 3 day credit for the outage they created "intentionally" to prove I am a customer.


A 3 day credit? Sounds like they need a Public Utility Commission to lay the smack on them for usurious behavior.

But they're an "entertainment" provider, not a utility. What a joke is our regulatory process. Completely captured.


Something similar just happened to me yesterday. My condo building has multiple providers: AT&T, Comcast, and Gigamonster. Apparently a Comcast technician "accidentally" disconnected my 1gbps Gigamonster service while setting up a new Comcast client in my floor's Telecom utility closet.

I've lived in highrise complexes for the past decade and have experienced this type of outage four times. The common denominator seems to be Comcast.


A Comcast tech (who was out as a preliminary to getting a run buried to my then-unserved house) cut my ATT DSL line because he "assumed it wasn't being used." (Even though he wasn't installing anything that day)

Since then, I watch Comcast techs work, tell them exactly where to term and where to stop, and then to get the hell off my property.


I live in New Zealand and had Vodafone do the same thing when they installed the cable internet for the previous owners. They cut both the phone line and the satellite lines leading into the house. No bloody reason for that to happen, the Chorus tech that came out to fix it said he found the same problem at a bunch of other houses in the area.


Vodafone Cable/FiberX is all sorts of terrible.

Thank god we have a common installer for fibre, makes life a lot easier having only Chorus/whoever doing the fibre installs.


So glad the Sky-Voda merger was declined. Two shit companies coming together like that can only mean one hell of a monopoly.


Last year a neighbor had a comcast tech who identified a noisy signal somewhere on our block. He proceeded to disconnect every other house on the block and then left.

He never told anyone at Comcast or the other houses. Took hours of battling with phone support and a two day wait to have another tech who came out and identified the problem. He said they do this often to get into houses to find problems but he's supposed to put a note on each door and put a note on our accounts. Whoops.


This happened to me as well - Comcast tech A gets on our house to disconnect a "noisy line" and doesn't tell us or anyone else about it, requiring me to wait for Comcast tech B to come out and reconnect. And of course we heard nothing more about this "noisy line" issue, with no changes made to our connection.

Just one of the reasons I no longer use comcast.


Yeah, happened to us, too. No note on our account, no notification.


Exactly this happened to me about a month ago. I switched from Provider_A to Provider_B. Provider_A totally sabotaged the connection hardware when it disconnected the service. Provider_B's technician had a very hard time redoing the connection hardware.

It's amazing to me that all these connections are still physicial (as opposed to some software-defined switching between providers). Something akin to software-defined networking.


> Something akin to software-defined networking

What you want is "local loop unbundling". It's how this works in Europe where you have artificial non-free markets with real price competition, rather than natural monopolies without price competition as in the US.


This used to be the case in the US after the Telecom Act of 1996. However, the FCC decided on their own to give the ILECs a grace period of a year to implement LLU and then kept extending the grace period. After the dot com bust and the following recession in the early 2000s, most of the CLECs went out of business and Congress gave up and removed that requirement in 2006.

The state PUCs didn't do much enforcement either, but the FCC deciding not to enforce the law killed it.


I'm not sure you have the history quite right; at least in Califonia, the mandated LLU was alive and well[1] for incumbent telephone carriers (ILECs), but the FCC had decreed that it applied to ILECs and not cable operators; and eventually (after much complaining and lawsuits from ILECs) decided it applied to noone, because ILEC + Cable + Satellite + Power line (hah) was a competitive marketplace.

[1] not exactly well -- when the ILEC regularly offers individual customers service at rates under the wholesale rates; and the regulators don't do anything; that's not really working well.


AFAIK in LLU cases the (unbundled) ISP still needs to install their connection hardware at the local loop. VNO is the fully software one.


LLU still requires connecting the "loop" from its original termination point in the exchange to the space your ISP rents for its DSLAM racks (usually the next room or the same room, just a couple of corridors away).


None of the big European countries (Germany, the U.K., Spain, France, and Italy) require unbundling cable lines: http://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/2-7.pdf. Unbundling of POTS in the US was not much of a boon, because DSL was a dead-end technology even then.

What Europe does isn't really a good benchmark for how to structure a telecom market, because all the big European countries have slower broadband than in the US: https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/state-of-t... (the U.S. beats the U.K., Germany, Spain, France, Italy--which accounts for 2/3 of the population of the EU).


VDSL is certainly not a "dead end". 50Mbit is available in most of Germany, with 100Mbit slowly rolling out.

A lot of people will opt for the cheaper standard DSL though (<16Mbit), which I suspect is what brings down the average. In the US you have little choice but to pay obscene prices for a very fast cable line, usually with a monthly cap.


The 35b profile with active DSLAMs in neighborhood cabinets "may" reach 300mbps with a fully vectored network (but just a couple of loops not being vectored greatly reduces speeds [1]). It still requires lots of infrastructure upgrades, replacing the old passive cabinets with bigger active ones containing DSLAMs, laying lots of fiber around etc. I still think its a dead end and countries like Greece that only now are installing such networks are making a big mistake.

FTTB, either through G.FAST OR Ethernet is a better use of all that money in my opinion and it's a lot easier to upgrade in the future (either the building terminal or switcing to full fiber i.e. AON/GPON etc).

[1] https://i.imgur.com/39pCRjN.png


I wonder about that. Obviously the future of internet connections is wireless. Why are we still bothering to hook up individual houses. Apartment blocks, perhaps. Houses ... why ?


> VDSL is certainly not a "dead end". 50Mbit is available in most of Germany, with 100Mbit slowly rolling out.

Using increasingly involved techniques to get more speed out of a century-old technology is pretty much a dead end.

100Mbit is decent, but it comes at the price of * the wires needing to be very short by telco standards * the use of DSL vectoring, which creates mini-monopolies in the DSLAM and allows one provider (usually Telekom) to hold all users on that DSLAM hostage

And keep in mind that if we had fiber, we could probably get a Gbit.

Make no mistake, the strong position of DSL in Germany is the result of politics, not common sense.


In the US, 100 Mbps availability hit 60% in 2014, and the next milestone is gigabit.


How often is the performance difference between 100 megabit and gigabit internet all that measurable, though? For that matter, how often do truly get even, say, 900 megabits allocated to you on that sort of connection?

I'm not doubting they actually give you a gigabit connection, but especially during peak hours, I doubt the transit links you hit would necessarily have that much to spare.


> How often is the performance difference between 100 megabit and gigabit internet all that measurable, though?

For doing backups/restores, in this age of multi-terabyte disks, fast network links (especially in the upload direction) are a necessity.

I don't mind some oversubscription, I can work around peak hours, hell, I'd love to temporarily trade away most of my downlink bandwidth in exchange for uplink bandwidth -- average upload speed is all that matters for this sort of large transfer.


It's the tail end of the PM peak here, and I'm getting 420 mbps to my web host, about 450 to Azure (on a 500/500). I think it's growing pains from Verizon's gigabit rollout, because when I was at 300/300, I consistently got over the rated speed.


In the US, if you don't have symmetric streams, the average high-speed stream is 6mbps/100mbps up/down. The next milestone is still going to discriminate against content producers, IT workers, and software engineers.

Compounding that, the latency comcast deliberately introduces into their network (I've got many ISP's to judge on here) makes the internet ugly, but only if you don't pay for their services.

What we need is not a target for faster downstream, but higher competition - I could give a shit about network neutrality if the providers offered network honesty: a 500 GB monthly limit is a 1.5mB stream - full stop.


I'd actually dispute "slower broadband": from that doc I get

United Kingdom 16.3mbps average 91% above 4mbps United States 17.2mpbs average 88% above 4mbps

which implies that the US has a slightly different, more unequal curve where slightly fewer people have "adequate" broadband and a small number have much faster broadband.


I wouldn't say a "small number" have faster broadband in the U.S. than in Europe. In the U.S., 42% of people have above 15 mbps (enough for more than one Netflix HD stream at a time). In U.S. states that are as dense as the big European countries (Maryland, Delaware, etc.) that number is 50-60%. The U.K. is at 39%, but the other big European countries are much lower: Germany (30%), France (16%), and Italy (10%).

So I think it's fair to say that the U.S. curve is more unequal. There's more people without access to adequate broadband (in New Mexico, or inner-city Baltimore) than in Europe. But the median American likely has a faster broadband connection than the median European.


I'm the UK, the vast, vast majority of cable infrastructure is owned by openreach (BT) because it used to be a government run service. While it's not a general requirement, it is one for them, which in effect means it is general.


Does BT have cable, or just DSL and fiber?


I was using "cable" to mean lines in general (not very clear, my bad) - it's almost all ADSL over phone lines, with FTTC in a lot of places now. The only other big network of physical cable is Virgin who run their own cable network.

Cable for TV was never a huge thing in the UK like it is in the states - satellite TV (Sky) was the bigger thing.


They do ADSL, FTTN/VDSL and FTTP (very sporadically).


If this is true why is my Virgin Media fibre pretty damn fast and reliable and every American seems to constantly whinge about their cable provider?


What do you mean, "if this is true?" I linked my sources (Akamai and OECD)--you can see for yourself.

As far as that perception goes, my suspicion is that it has to do with the tech press/readership skewing young and urban. The U.S. is highly unusual in making the actual building of wires largely a state/local issue, and also in treating cities as ghettos instead of national priorities. Maryland, where I live, is a microcosm: if it were a country, it'd be just below Finland for broadband speeds. But it's only major city (Baltimore) is impoverished, and doesn't have fiber even though all the counties around it do. My neck of the state is pretty rural--large parts of it don't even have public water/sewer. But it's had fiber for a decade. Meanwhile, New York and Boston are just now getting fiber, and San Francisco still mostly doesn't have it.


> treating cities as ghettos instead of national priorities

This sounds completely backwards, until you realise all persistent problems in the US can be traced to racism.

(I'm still unconvinced as to the idea that broadband is statistically "better" in the US but the customers complain far more. I suspect that a huge chunk of people prefer slow/cheap/reliable to fast/expensive, certainly once you get beyond about 10mbit.)


So what you’re saying is averages don’t give the whole picture?


If you're talking about how well a national regulatory regime works, nationwide or statewide averages are probably more relevant data points than anecdotes about specific cities.


Back when I lived in the northwest, something similar happened; I had Comcast for a year for phone and internet, didn't like it, and decided to switch back to Centurylink.

During the Comcast install, I watched the guy physically break a part of the telephone network interface box. I just sorta assumed he was incompetent and fat fingered it, but the Centurylink guy who fixed it put some sort of weird plastic mold in place of the part that the Comcast guy broke. Ever since that happened, I've sorta half wondered whether that happens more often than not.


> It's amazing to me that all these connections are still physicial (as opposed to some software-defined switching between providers). Something akin to software-defined networking.

What you're describing is called "local loop unbundling". Lots of other countries do it, it works great, and it would solve most if not all of the problems with the telco market in the US... so naturally these companies lobby hard to make sure it'll never happen.


It's amazing that traditional phone companies could do this in like 1995, and cable companies in New York could do this in 2000. (I had Earthlink service on Time Warner because my parents had a camp with phone but no cable service, and Earthlink gave you both)


I had a similar, if less malicious, story from my past.

At a prior home, I had Comcast, and my internet suddenly went out one day. Tech comes out, confirms it's not something inside, pops outside onto the pole behind the house and it comes back.

A few days later, it suddenly goes completely out again. Call, get another tech out, he goes up on the pole, comes back and says "yeah, there's not enough plugs up there so the last few techs have presumably just been unplugging someone and plugging whoever complained in", and then we get some time spent to remedy this situation. [1]

I spent a bit of time wondering how many people might have had spontaneous outages before this tech who actually tried to address the issue came out, as I knew quite a few people on my block had Comcast (aside from the xfinitywifi, you could tell because they'd all come outside almost immediately if they were at home and a persistent outage happened).

[1] - I have no idea what the equivalent terms or appearance for a coax patch panel would be, my apologies for any mangling.


If it is true, what is fascinating is that it means Comcast has no way to know who is a legitimate customer and who is not - if they have to rely on the customer to make the call and verify to be a legitimate user. How can they run a business like that?


They can run a business like that by making the barrier to switch providers very high, and the ease to collect bills very low. This is pretty much standard experience in the US. Even if one lives in a region where there are competitors, it's annoyingly difficult to switch providers so most just don't.


What is difficult about switching when theres actually competitors. I finally live in an area with multiple competitors and it was fairly painless.

Comcast tripled my bill for internet after one year and was also charging me for occasionally going over their data limit they set after I had been a customer for a couple months. I called Comcast and specified the day I wanted my service to end and had it coincide with the day I scheduled for RCN to connect my internet. The only annoying part was having to tell them more than once that there was no discount that would make me want to stay a customer since they were just going to pull the same crap in another year.


Part of the problem is that getting Comcast to close your account can be a craps shoot. For you, it worked just fine, like it does most of the time. For my mother, it was a nightmare.

My father passed away a few years back and my mother was trying to cut back on expenses, so she went to cancel the Comcast. The account was in my father's name, so she expected there to be some trouble. Comcast required that she bring in my father's death certificate. Also, they would be keeping the death certificate for their own records and a photocopy wouldn't do, so she'd need to go down to the county corner and get a second copy of the death certificate printed and hand signed. While this all seemed fairly onerous, I can at least appreciate the formality from an security standpoint.

After jumping through all of the hoops set forth by the Comcast, my mother drove out to the local branch office and presented the paperwork. The case worker brought didn't know how to handle the situation where someone had actually done everything that Comcast had asked and brought in the branch manager. He then told my mother that they needed my father to personally deliver his own death certificate before they would close the account.


What baffles me is that communications companies routinely complain that rolling a van and tech to anywhere is "expensive". They are willfully wasting money if what you say is true. I doubt that this is worth finding out who is their customer and who isn't.


Could it be the techs do it because they know there's a good chance they personally will be called out to fix it. Probably called out late at night, and collecting lots of overtime money?


They probably mean "expensive for the customer", not "expensive for us".


In order to get our current rate at a new building I had to send Comcast a copy of our bill. The bill they sent us.


Comcast knows who is on its network based upon the MAC address of the modem that is registered with your account when you sign up. It's not that simple to steal cable nowadays.


The problem is that the departments that handle infrastructure and contracts are probably divided, maybe even separate subsidiaries / companies. So the infrastructure subsidiary may not have enough information about who the actual customer is. All they see is equipment and maybe an assigned contract number, but no names. It gets worse, when infrastructure is done by contractors, just labeled as insert big telco here.


It's so easy to change a MAC address though.

Also in the past (different cable provider) they had it MAC authorised so I couldn't use my new modem. But then I set the new modem to use the MAC of the old one and it worked. So same


It's not as easy as it sounds. We're talking about the MAC address of the modem itself. In any current DOCSIS network you're going to need to use BPI+ which encrypts everything between the modem and the CMTS as well as authenticates the modem itself. Basically there's a cert on the modem that's signed by the manufacturer and the manufacturers cert is added to the CMTS. In short you can't just impersonate a modem and even just rooting a modem and getting at that certificate is difficult enough, not to mention once you do that you can only impersonate the modem that you've already rooted.


I'm not an expert by any means, but for VDSL2, I think you only need to get the DSL login data (username and password) and then your modem will work. I used a friend's login details when I bought a different modem and my provider didn't give me my DSL login. But it's all linked to the physical port on the DSLAM so that you cannot get faster speeds or anything like that.


The authentication in DSL is essentially an backward compatibility hack. Original motivation for that was compatibility with Radius/Diameter based AAA systems of ISPs (and to lesser extent the fact that the link the looks from both sides like faster dialup connection). Today it is used mostly because it is default. In many cases ISP (or even the underlying telco) either uses one login/password for all customers or simply accepts anything.

All DSL lines have same L2 interface as ATM and thus there is no authentication. How the authentication works is that PPP gets tunelled through this, either by running PPP directly on AAL5 (PPPoA), or more commonly and somewhat nonsensically by tuneling by wrapping PPP in ethernet frames that are then transfered inside AAL5 channel (PPPoE, or more correctly PPPoEoA). Interestingly this is usually used only on the first virtual channel (ie. the "Internet" one) and not on the additional channels that you typically get today (IPTV, VoIP, free hotspots...), these additional channels are usually straight Ethernet over AAL5 with the modem behaving like simple L2 bridge (often these channels form relatively large broadcast domains that are typically NATed to the Internet).

[Edit:] In contrast, DOCSIS variants for Internet over CaTV are derived directly from IEEE 802 family of technologies and there are no telco-style ATM/X.25/whatever protocols in between. Good first approximation is that the DOCSIS segment handled by one CMTS behaves like one big ethernet switch. But beacuse of the nature of shared medium, data on the coaxial cable is encrypted as otherwise it would be trivial to eavesdrop on anyone else on the same segment. The encryption even involves PKI to mutually authenticate modem and CMTS.

On DSL there is clear physical interface on the network side, that can be turned on or off, shaped and metered which is everything that the ISP cares about from the charging and authentication PoV. CaTV does not have anything like that and thus there has to be relative complex authentication and confidentiality mechanism (that is, somewhat paradoxically, usually completely invisible to the end user).


Yea but if you change your MAC address to an unregistered one (what happened when you connected a new modem) you won't get internet and if you change it to a duplicate one your account will be suspended (unless you're doing a swap like in your case). You can't have 2 modems using the same MAC simultaneously.


In the days of analog you could connect a walmart cable to the box outside, and your TV would receive cable. The cable box probably had an empty connection on the splitter outside to plug the cable into, and opening the box isn't hard so this entire process was well in the ability of anyone who could change their oil. There were plenty of bootleg instructions on how to bypass the scrambling system to get any channel, though the basic cable channels were not scrambled in the first place.


Infrastructure is probably handled by a different department, maybe even a different subsidiary or company. I bet, the infrastructure people get to see as less information as possible about the contract / actual customer and no information about other lines / contracts.

I worked on workforce management software for utilities companies. The field crews often only see information about their current task for various reasons (data size of standing data, privacy protection, field crew is a contractor).


It isn't that they have no way of knowing, it just isn't worth the tech's time (in their mind) to validate the status of every connection. If they are like most other telecoms, they would have to manually cross reference date from multiple applications.


I used to live in an apartment building and park next to one of the cable distribution boxes. One day, while was sitting in my car, I saw a Comcast technician walk up to the box, open it, clip one of the wires with wirecutters, close it up, and move on, all in less than a minute. I assume he was acting against a cable pirate, but it was so fast I have no idea if he actually got the right unit.


Giving himself extra overtime work?

Gotta be quick because his van probably has a GPS tracker on it, and he'd have to explain to his boss why his truck was parked there for 20 mins otherwise.


Cable pirates generally don't know how to terminate coax. There's terminators that require a special tool to remove intended to deter cable theft but the design of those terminators means that just about anyone who's determined can open it with something like a fork. If they can't open it, they can always just disconnect one of the neighbors and use that or try to remove one of the terminators via brute force and break the tap. Cutting the drop cable would be very obvious to a cable thief and they wouldn't be able to do anything without being able to terminate coax.


Typically all that is in those boxes is a coupler. A guy I used to know still had service running to his line. He was actually stealing it though. He just kept hooking it back up after they would come remove it.


Does that still work on the day and age of encrypted cable boxes and modems that require 802.whatever certs?


This was before full-digital so probably not.


This happened to me in the Bay Area (Walnut Creek) about three months ago. I thought it was an isolated event. Fuck them.


This happened to me with BrightHouse (now Charter) - they cut my line thinking it was a neighbor. They told me its customary because if they disconnect a paying customer they will call in. I went 5 days without internet because the tech's availability and my work schedule didn't match up until the weekend. I was credited for 5 days. I was NOT amused, but I hope there is some regulation in the future.


I was in a multi-unit building as a customer of RCN (back when they were in SF) and a Comcast tech cut my wires one day. I was without service for a few days. I deduced it was a comcast tech because the day it was a new neighbor had their comcast service installed, and when I traced the wire, it was clearly cut.


Yeah, they do this all the time. When I was having Comcast install the internet at my home the technician cut the satellite cables running into my home. I ended up having to have Dish come out and fix what the Comcast tech had done. The Comcast tech was like "sorry, but we always 'disconnect' old runs"


Verizon engages in these shenanigans too.


I actually had a FiOS installer tell me that he cut a neighboring building's Comcast line because my line needed to run through their property and they were dicks about letting him on the property to run my lines.

He was almost unreasonably nice and professional to me otherwise. One of the best/cleanest installs I've ever had for anything.


I recently moved, and we paid for Comcast installation (instead of self-install) because at our utility connection there was just a bundle of cables with the ends cut off.

I didn’t understand why anyone would have cut them. Now I’m upset that these shenanigans actually cost us money.


offtopic: I always wondered why people don't do more internet sharing these days and screw over comcast? If you live in a multi-unit apartment and you get 100mps down and your neighbor does too - why on earth is everyone paying $60 permonth just for internet? In college (as a broke person) we all shared internet. But now in multi-unit apartment's everyone removes guest wifis and pays $60 each for internet. Sure you might be the %1 that does hardcore gaming, and you shouldn't share with other hulu types, but the old lady down the hallway who uses AOL mail doesn't need 500mps down -- and you both should cut costs --- and fuck over comcast.


I know the reason I don't, because if my ISP were to find out (or even suspect this) and ban my account, I'd need to move.

At my location the only other option besides my current ISP is sat based internet with crazy high ping times, and I work from home. If my ISP drops my service, I'm fucked.


Reminds me of my days as a phreaker and phone slamming. It sounds pretty similar, albeit without the actual changing of the service provider.


Hmmm yea maybe time to start recording all conversations with internet technicians from now on?


At least you got a credit. I've been less lucky.


Very similar story happened to me.


I've had this happen to me as well. Comcast technician came out to hook up one of the other tenants in the building, and went through the Comcast hookup box (there's only one for the building) and disconnected all the splitters that went out to the other units in the building - it's an old building with some almost certainly not-up-to-code coax running all over the place along the outside to hit all the rooms where drops have been put in...

Meanwhile, the video conference I was on at the time suddenly dropped. Started to make me think about whether the other tenants were also getting the higher speeds I was paying extra for...


Even if this was accidental and overblown (as lawsuits often are: one side of the story etc...), Comcast has a steep hill to climb because of their terrible reputation.

I think they're going to get completely hosed in court over this. Being assholes to everyone you deal with can have surprising hidden costs.


> being assholes to everyone you deal with can have surprising [effects]

Becoming a US president.


"You can't achieve anything without getting in someone's way."

Abba Eban


Doubt they have enough evidence...

Knowing if something was accidental or deliberate is super hard.


I would bet that if it ever gets to a jury phase the very first thing Comcast defense will do is try to use the jury selection process to dismiss jurors that have ever had Comcast service.

That will tell you everything you need to know about what's about to go down.


At some point does it cross into negligence and come with steep civil penalties? That would be the best way to stop this kind of thing at the moment.


In a shared-housing unit, a Comcast tech once cut the coax wires going to my FiOS box when installing internet for new tenants. Why he felt the need to touch my wiring is beyond me. The tech had to come back (albeit hours later) to undo the damage he did. A minor annoyance, but just adds onto the anecdotes of stories about the techs not knowing what they are doing.


I was surprised the other day when someone told me the fios technician intentionally clipped the comcast line at their house during an install

Probably an extremely common practice by any big company in areas where people have a choice.


He gets money for each callout.


When we purchased a house a few years back, Comcast was our only broadband option, so we reluctantly called them. The previous owners had a Dish Network receiver on the roof, and the when the Comcast technician arrived he enthusiastically offered to remove it and haul it away for us at no charge, even though it was in no way interfering with Comcast's cabling.

I doubt I will ever have interest in subscribing to Dish Network, but I declined, not wanting to be party to such anti-competitive behavior. I can't imagine the tech would offer to remove it unless such is standard practice. He'd be doing extra work for no extra pay (unless Comcast offers a head hunting bounty).


I've known small IT contractors to act similarly, in order to obtain free hardware which they could then resell on the used market or repurpose for their own use. Dish Network dishes apparently [1] having something of a used market as well, it wouldn't surprise me if your technician were simply an enterprising fellow with an eBay seller account.

[1] http://www.ebay.com/bhp/dish-network-satellite-dish


I agree; this offer doesn't seem malicious. At the very least the guy could have been scrapping them for beer money.


Fair point, that is possible. If that were his motive and he had stated it outright, I would have agreed. It felt shady at the time, but intuition is an imperfect instrument.


I wouldn't state that intention either, because then you'd be liable to try to sell it to me. Presenting it as a courtesy service rarely elicits such a result.


To be fair, many homeowners who don't intend to have satellite tv find the dishes unsightly. One of the first things I did when we bought our house was take down the two easily reached dishes that we weren't going to use ever; the one that was way up there got to stay, but I did remove the cable that was running outside all over the place.

From what I understand, it's pretty common for the next satellite installer to want to install a completely new dish and LNB when service is requested, unless the dish is very recent.


Wow - if true I really hope Comcast gets taken to the cleaners over this. We REALLY need more ISP competition in the US- this is just ridiculous.


Competition will not exist due to natural monopolies for the last-mile wiring issues.

What is required is effective regulation. Which the new FCC head just gutted.


"Which the new FCC head just gutted."

This implies the previous FCC head was effectively regulating the telco and cable companies before, which is not accurate. It's gotten worse, but it's never been good. The telco/cable industry is basically a crime syndicate that operates in their own world of murky legality. Somehow, they keep getting away with atrocious behavior that hurts consumers and keeps competitors out.

So many things they do as standard practice ought to be illegal, but they're really good at lobbying. They may not be good at providing customer service or competent at providing internet but they're very good at manipulating the law to suit their interests. And, even given the incredibly favorable legal climate they exist in, they push past the law and do shit like this.

And, that's why the US is so far down the list in terms of internet speed and quality. The operators aren't in the business of providing good service, they're in the business of making it impossible for anyone to effectively compete with them via any means available (regardless of legality or ethicality).


Or you need the last mile wires to be owned by some entity that isn't an ISP.


If we want laws to fix this, penalizing large companies that damage others wires due to gross negligence sounds like a good start.


>Citation needed. Eastern Europe has demonstrated that absent restrictions it's possible for the market to develop last-mile wiring superior to that in the US:

https://medium.com/juice-romanian-vitamins/10-years-later-di...

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/jp5aa3/why-romani...


Those monopolies have been explicitly granted by municipalities for decades.


I guess we should all go home and get off the internet.


Behavior like this should end in a multi year ban of the corporation existing. Only with such extreme penalties that far out weigh any possible profit will corporate behavior change.


Buildings could allow competition several operators and impose a no-access ban to operators who mangle cables. The game is for a set of buildings to associate together, so one Comcast error in one results in a ban in the chain of buildings. This is actually very easy to organize.


...in the relatively rare case where a credible competitor exists. If you're renting, you also need the leasing office onside, and it's not rare that they'll have an arrangement with Comcast such that new tenants obtaining first-time service get a short initial discount period, the better to acquire them as customers.


Yes! Law enforcement used to freak out when someone was taking photos of public infrastructure like bridges etc. Meanwhile we have companies go around and destroy infrastructure like this. I actually would prefer any nearby bridge be closed for a while over not having internet for that time.


Mom and pop shops have so little recourse against this kind of abuse. I grew up in one that was killed by verizon, and this stuff still stings.


I've had Comcast employees call me posing as my current cable provider in order to verify my monthly payment.


The regulators need to crack down on this. If Comcast controls the regulators, they need to be broken up. No one company should have that much political power.


Have you not been paying attention to what the FCC has been up to recently?


You mean Ajit Pai's FCC or Tom Wheeler's FCC? Because under Pai, they seem to be rolling back all the regulations meant to control the industry and seem to be very much under their influence.


Recently? How about the last 20+ years?


At least they would listen to the public and revert rather than continue on sidelining stolen identity en masse for ISP support.

Today it's people vs corporate lobbyist paid accounts/bots and the ability to spam conversation.


The more I think about it, the more a legal solution like the ones these guys are advocating more makes sense: http://irregulators.org/ .


The cable operator should have been able to seek an injunction after they cut his cable the second time. Clearly Comcast didn't know what they were doing, and were just barreling forward. That behavior should not be rewarded.


The Comcast installer ripped out the AT&T lines and the lines to my aerial antenna along the side of my house when he installed cable. At a previous house I rented, the Comcast guy cut the AT&T line from the pole and left it hanging two feet off the ground from a branch in a tree. Comcast didn't want to come out to fix it because it wasn't their wire.


Former Comcast cable technician here. I was an in-house tech, and corporate has ludicrous quality standards and nitpicky, white-glove QC's after an in-house tech leaves a job. However, the company obviously employs a TON of _independent contractors_. Some of these contractors are excellent at their jobs, but a lot of them aren't, and as they're not subject to any real oversight by the corporation, you really don't know what you're going to get. At least, this was the case at the office I worked out of. Based on my experience (and I worked at the company for a while), this is almost definitely 100% true, but it's probably a contractor or an individual corporate tech being lazy, instead of malicious action on the part of Comcast.


Very hard to believe the company has'ludicrous' quality standards but at the same time works with so many bad contractors without putting controls in place. I don't buy it.


It's quite easy to believe a company has much higher quality standards for things it can blame on some other actor that it nominally doesn't control.

Outsourcing blame is fairly common.


I've literally never heard of anyone impressed with the quality standard on a single service Comcast provides soooo...gonna call bullshit on this, too.


their business service is somewhat responsive and pretty reliable. That said, the installer they sent was totally unprofessional and also, yes, a contractor.

How can you screw up just connecting a cable modem to a coax outlet?

Run two lengths of cable connected by a four port adapter, and staple the adapter to the wall a foot above the baseboard because why not, this is only in the middle of someone's dining room.

As soon as he left I disconnected the whole mess and ran a single length of cable along the baseboard, with a right angle connector to keep it flush.


I can believe that they have some small 'gold standard' team like this that they reserve for... say the houses that their lobbyists visit.


"I don't buy it"

Ah, sorry, I forgot I was on the internet, land of experts in everything.


More like people who have had to deal with Comcast. Thankfully, I'm in rural ND where I can get good fiber and not the crap my Dad has had to put up with. The number of splitters in the wall was impressive though.


I've had to deal with Comcast. I've known independent cable installation contractors, too, one of them being an uncle of mine - this being back when his crack habit was in full swing.

I find it a lot easier to buy a wide variance in skill and diligence among contractors, combined with a lack of QA oversight from their monopolistically disinterested corporate client, than I do some kind of shadowy, wide-ranging conspiracy to cloak deliberately anticompetitive behavior behind an obfuscating smokescreen of apparent incompetence.


Excessive splitters usually is a sign of ancient cabling as well. I know for a fact that Comcast has passive gain amps specifically built for dealing with homes that have more than like 8 tv's and a modem. You (or your dad, it's unclear) probably were hooked up a long time ago, or the tech didn't know what he was doing.


When I have internet issues, sometimes the techs actually install splitters that don't do anything because, "the signal is too strong."


> instead of malicious action on the part of Comcast.

Im not so sure of that. The destruction occurred from June 15th to Aug 1st (when they lost their last customer) -- thats 6 weeks -- using over 4000ft of cable for repairs.

If comcast was notified after the first incident, and it continued for 6 weeks.. doesn't that indicate malicious intent?


In addition to that, Telecom Cable also accused Comcast of systematically cutting the lines leading to every single one of their customers. They argue that if the damage were accidental it would not have been as comprehensive.


Comcast is huge, and again, a lot of the techs are independent. Some of the employees, especially management are totally incompetent too. Ever been to the DMV? Now imagine that they're the ones hooking up your internet. That's Comcast.


The DMV didn't cut my friend's brake cables when I went in to get my driver's license.


The DMVs I go to are staffed by highly-competent but over-worked and underpaid folks.


I have learned which ones to not go to though. Some are worse than others. I know of an out of the way office that is never very busy. (actually this office is more convenient than the much bigger overcrowded one everyone around me uses)


The DMV I go to is usually slammed, but they have a decent queue system so I only wait about 10 minutes. It used to be a joke that the government was inefficient and companies were bastions of efficiency and customer service. That's how bad the US has gotten. We run a sham economy.


Intentionally cutting lines that don't need to be cut to do your install is more than just "lazy".


It should be called criminal Damage.


It doesn't matter. If they are contractors working for Comcast, then Comcast should be held 100% liable.

Outsourcing has no bearing on who is responsible for the problem.


Technically the way the US legal system works, the expected outcome is that Comcast loses, pays this company, and then sues their independent contractors to recover the damages they had to pay out.


That's how it's supposed to work. How it actually works is that the contractor is probably going to get a new giant contract with Comcast.


If a contractor did it, the company isn't liable. It's precisely why Uber fights so hard to keep drivers classified as contractors rather than employees.


Legally speaking, you are likely correct. I'm saying that they should be.


If you hire a contractor to trim your trees, should you be liable if they drop a branch on your neighbor's roof?


If you've been repeatedly informed that the contractors make no attempt to prevent damage and are unsafe to retain and you don't make sure the contractor has his own insurance to cover damage liability? Yes, I'd say so.


Yes, I don't see why not.

I should be able to also sue the contractor or something, but ultimately my neighbor should absolutely be able to blame me.


You're right. I was just trying to give some insight into why the quality of work varies so much.


> However, the company obviously employs a TON of _independent contractors_.

They are contractors and do what Comcast tell them. "It was a contractor" is the laziest corporate excuse. But that's one reason why big businesses employ them, plausible deniability when things go wrong.


Yeah, it's weird that the OP emphasizes their contractor status. What they are is undertrained and incompetent employees. What kind of tax form they get is completely irrelevant.


Once is an accident. Twice is incompetence. Thrice is intentional. What was described in the story is just pure malice.

They cut three more lines as the guy was on the phone trying to complain to Comcast about the first cut. Comcast was given a map, and from the story, it looks like they used it to pre-plan the willful destruction of someone else's business and livelihood.

If there was a lack of training, it was a dearth of ethics classes. If there was a lack of competence, it was in devising plausible excuses for the cuts.


This is why I "happily" pay extra for Comcast Business Internet. Completely separate call center and 100% in-house techs. It also probably helps that a Comcast field supervisor lives in my building (now if he'd just stop blocking the %$#@ driveway with his van...)


I don't think "100% in-house techs" is right. I have Comcast Business and my line was recently cut (probably an accident by apartment maintenance). The tech who came out and put in a temporary line was from Comcast, but he said a contractor would come out at some point in the future to put in a permanent one (hence, he could not guarantee that I could get a notification when it would happen).


Interesting. I've had techs out several times in Santa Clara, both for installs and for repairs/troubleshooting, and it's always been a Comcast employee in a Comcast Business van.


I've had contractors come in vans with official Comcast insignia on the side.


That's because they have a different team to do burials.


I have three Comcast Business Installs. The phone support service is superior but the techs are outsourced. We had one good one do two installs and one horrible once completely botch an install just today.


I would have to say that hiring all those crappy contractors is malicious action on the part of Comcast.


In a near-monopoly situation: Never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by malice.


Not requiring sub-contractors go through the same "ludicrous quality standards" is a lazy, malicious act on the part of Comcast


> instead of malicious action on the part of Comcast.

Incompetence (by me, by you, etc.) may be just incompetence.

Incompetence by a Corporation is malicious action.

Possibly not the specific case, but the ludicrous quality standard is in itself malicious action.


I am astonished. This is not a complicated issue. This is sensationalism. Before any of you "vote" on anything, consider exactly what it is that you're criticising. As it is, I'll bet almost all of you have never turned a wrench, let alone crawled into some ungrateful asshole's filthy attic or appalling, sewage filled crawlspace to replace a corroded cable fitting so said customer could spank his monkey at 3am to shitty cable porn, or worse, play farmville, and made < $15/hour doing it.

We are talking about a very delicate electrical system that cannot function effectively outside of a specific radio bandwidth before being completely overtaken by the numerous sources of RF which exist in the world. Remember radios? Well, they got their name because they were the receivers of "radiated" "waves" in the air. As were TV's. Guess what? That coax line in your house? That's the modern version of an antenna. CATV literally means "community antenna television". It's an antenna that you share with everyone on the same "node" of your cable system. It's shielded so the RF no longer has to go through the air. In effect, if there is a breach in the shielding around that cable (a long antenna), you're going to get noise, and crappy service. Additionally, your precious internet rides on the highest frequencies carried by this sole, frail copper wire. Those high frequencies, as any EE student can tell you, are especially highly susceptible to interference. A single dB can make all the difference for your highly calibrated, sensitive cable modem that you don't fully appreciate. Some of these networks are huge. If one of your neighbors got high and plugged a blender in, anywhere in his home, and he has frayed cable jacketing, anywhere in his home, or a bad fitting, anywhere in his home, it can easily take an entire block down. There are hubs, of course, but don't count on one being nearby, if you're tasked with repairing someone's internet. I get it, "fuck Comcast, they're the devil because I have to give them money", but let's be adults here. Comcast is people. Every company is people.


Sure, every company is made up of people. Comcast just happens to be made up of a lot of people lacking integrity. It's part of the company culture, trickling down from the top.


the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: "theres actually zero difference between good & bad things. you imbecile. you fucking moron"

-dril


Is this your version of a parody of the Cable Guy?


I previously worked inside Comcast systems for 10 years, I am always amazed by the competence and dedication to quality and service on the part of their engineering and technical operations staff.

It makes me a bit sad that these guys do really great work and then the press are able to have all these terrible things to write about customer service reps, megacorp lobbying and conspiracies, and some hotspots of technical problems.


What planet are you from? I have nothing but negative things to say about comcast and the quality of comcast products

I fully believe the press because as a customer of comcast they treated me like a turd on the sidewalk


To be fair, every exchange I've heard of with Comcast's actual network tech/admin people has given me the impression that they're extremely good at their jobs. Almost all of the problems I hear about with Comcast are related to extraordinarily poor customer service, neglected outside plant, or customer-hostile policy decisions.


I am sure they are getting blamed for customer premises wiring faults too.

I wish people didn't have to deal with their terrible CSR's. I think they are more inclined to sell HBO rather than communicate a useful fault report to technical staff.

I was also treated differently as a customer once I got insider connections.


It's not a 'conspiracy', Comcast really is just awful for the average person.


Comcast execs would literally stick it in your fart maker if they had the chance.


I don't doubt that the linked story is true, but I know that individually this can happen all the time inadvertently. I worked for an ISP which provided "dry loop DSL" (DSL without dialtone service on the phone line) in the mid-2000s and as a consequence of having internet service from a 3rd party over telco pairs with no phone numbers attached, the local phone companies would regularly re-use our customers' lines for new phone installations. Since they were not tagged with phone numbers in the exchange building, and had no dialtone, the phone company techs had no way to tell the lines were in use.


Old joke: an interview program has a standard question they ask everyone, "If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and could only bring one thing with you, what would it be?"

One day they're interviewing a network engineer, who says "I'd bring a piece of fiber optic cable. I'll bury it in the sand, wait a bit, and then when the bulldozer comes along and breaks it, I'll ask the man in the bulldozer how to get off the island."


Same thing happened to our apartment last summer. Technician came in to install a neighbor's internet and disconnected ours during the process. Shit is unbelievable.


Comcast customer service is terrible and will always remain terrible until they bring ALL of their customer service and technicians in house and pay them handsomely.

Until then they will always remain at the bottom of the barrel and as the most hated company in the country due to horrid customer service.

I worked at Comcast for too many years answering their phones and getting yelled out because 80% of the time due to the contracted technicians and the companies they work for.


I can vouch for this. Not only are the contracted techs horrible, the internal billing system is this byzantine fuckfest of terse codes and multiple, poorly-documented applications.

I spent 6 months putting up with angry phone calls from a small ISP that Comcast absorbed before I had to quit for my own mental health.


The Verizon FiOS installer did this in my apartment when I wanted to get cable IP service set up. What should have been a simple self install required a service call to have a tech come out and crawl through the attic to splice the cable back together.


Comcast once cut the wire that led to my apartment because someone else in my building didn't pay their bill, and their records were poor enough (I blame this on the fact that they had grown by acquisition of a company that I know didn't have it together) that they didn't know which wire went where. And then it took multiple technicians coming out to get it set back up. I work for a competitor now and I tell this story to illustrate How Things Can Go Wrong.


Similar things have happened in the UK, with BT contractors plugging phones in and calling the speaking clock [1] to work out if a copper pair is free for them to use for a new customer, or just unplugging them and hoping for the best.

[1] http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/11/phantom-calls-t...


Cutting competitor's wires feels like mafia tactics.


I've never heard a good thing said about Comcast. It's a shame they are the only option in so many places.


Not surprised Comcast did this.

Also wouldn't be surprised if Comcast got off scott-free.


Oh we can dream..


Competitors? tisk tisk Comcast... you've been slacking.


So is this more or less evil than Uber's various unethical actions? Comcast CEO sure won't be stepping down. Corporations gonna corp.


Have to wonder if this is union related & that tiny ISP hired non-union workers.




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