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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...

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