Comcast Rate Hike: Getting Less for More

Comcast is raising the rate on your service by $3/month for most customers starting on your next bill. Their promos state, “This has required investment in our high-capacity network, which impacts our pricing. As a result, the price of your Xfinity Internet service will increase by $3, starting with your next bill.” But don’t be fooled, these “upgrades” Comcast is doing will not result in better services, or even new service offerings for most of you, and even if they did, their services would cost too much and be nothing like fiber. Of course, our students on low-income connections will see almost no benefit to this price increase, as any new services will likely be targeted at wealthier neighborhoods. Further, the cost of Comcast’s pretend Gig Service, which states “up to Gigabit speeds,” (just like CenturyLink’s pretend Gig service) never performs close to that standard, and starts at a whopping $140 a month (twice the rate of real Gigabit fiber service in Anacortes).

Adding insult to injury, your $3 more per month increase comes with a data cap of 1TB. In fact, Comcast is turning their data caps and overage fees back on for all customers in 2021. So, if you can even get the pretend Gig service, which most of you won’t be able to, you will be charged for the maintenance of it anyway. So get ready to pay huge overage fees as you exceed your data cap by doing routine things like Zooming all day for your job, participating in telemedicine, watching movies, and more. You know, the stuff most people are doing during the pandemic. Essentially, Comcast is profiteering during a pandemic, they are robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

But let’s start with some reminders and big numbers. Comcast has a virtual monopoly on providing services in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Sure, there are some other choices, most of which are rather unimpressive and usually even worse than Comcast’s lackluster service, but on the whole, Comcast controls just about everything here. Starting in 1992, the federal government allowed the big telecoms to charge customers nearly $400 billion to upgrade all Americans to fiber-to-the-home service by 2010. In a variety of ways, this money was stolen as Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T made backdoor deals with each other to squander the money instead of upgrading services. The details of this story are covered in Susan Craword’s book, “Captive Audience.” Comcast’s current net-worth is $205.58 billion dollars. Unfortunately, you know, at $205.58 billion, Comcast just couldn’t afford to do all those upgrades with that free money.

But unsurprisingly, Comcast’s story gets worse. We are paying about $110 dollars a month for a Comcast connection that is advertised at 150 Mbits down and only 10 Mbits up. This supposedly makes our connection 6 times faster down and about 3 times faster up than the virtually worthless Comcast “internet essentials” low-income connections that our poorest residents are stuck with. Unfortunately, it performs at about a ¼ of that speed when load tested, it is not adequate for multiple users at the same time for video conferencing (Zoom), and it has much higher latency than fiber. Remember, their upload speeds, needed for critical tasks like Zoom, will be capped way below their download speed at about 10 Mbits for most customers (25 for pretend Gig customers). But it will not perform consistently at that rate since Comcast uses shared bandwidth neighborhood hubs, meaning you share all of your bandwidth with your neighbors. Aggravating the problem, their last mile service is often copper cabling first designed in the 1870s—not what you’d call “state of the art.”

So it’s the same smoke and mirror game…again. Comcast is pretending they just couldn’t afford to do the right thing in the past, including upgrading their network and routine maintenance. You know, the stuff they should have done decades ago and were given billions of tax payer dollars years ago to do, but stole it instead. Now, in order to do the bare minimum, they just had to raise your rates.

Meanwhile, towns like Chattanooga, TN; Wilson, NC; and Anacortes, WA are providing real fiber-to-the-home services at $70 a month for Gigabit symmetrical services (1,000 Mbits down and up) with much less latency than you get on Comcast, CenturyLink, or other Whatcom County networks. All for close to the same price we’re paying here for services that are laughable in comparison.

While you can get some private fiber in a limited area here, private companies like WAVE offer $900 a month Gigiabit fiber service to some, one gentleman I just spoke with was quoted $250,000 for the initial WAVE hook up; other WAVE customers I know, who live downtown, have been quoted a minimum of $1,200 just to get hooked up. To compare, the cost of installation in Anacortes is usually around $200 in most cases. In Mount Vernon, the cost for most hookups is equally low in most cases. Plus, even if you cough up the dough to get WAVE service to your location, since it’s a private service you’re really just being duped into paying to expand WAVEs private infrastructure on your own dime. This infrastructure then can’t easily be shared with other entities like publicly owned infrastructure can.

And then there are the “low-income” connections provided to poorest residents via the schools by Comcast and Verizon. Naturally, these perform well below their stated standards and are inadequate for current usage as I’ve written about here extensively. If you are wondering what else can be done, I refer you to some of my other articles, because there are some options. But the bottom line is that it all comes down to the need for countywide public fiber-to-the-home and we won’t have real choice until we have that infrastructure.

To pour more salt into the wound, Comcast also announced that they will be removing complementary Norton Antivirus suite software for their customers. This was a software they provided as part of your service for decades. This will make their network significantly less secure as they are inviting customers to use systems that are not being properly secured. It will also make their network perform even more poorly as, for example, infected machines will make many unnecessary requests which will chew up bandwidth.

So what about the COB? What is their response to this pandemic-induced crisis and Comcast’s rate hike? Well, they’re still not willing to share their publicly owned fiber network with the citizens that paid for it, and they’re still dragging their feet on creating the Broadband Advisory Group, and they’re still trying to sneak big telecom reps onto it while keeping community reps off of it. So, same old story. They simply don’t care what citizens think. They just want to put on an Advisory Group show and take good care of the telecom companies that provide poor service at exorbitant prices instead of moving us toward the future. Meanwhile, Bellingham is missing out on all the social and economic benefits a robust public fiber infrastructure would bring.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Lisa E. Papp

Dec 11, 2020

Thanks again, Jon, for the valuable reporting and ongoing work. An aggravating situation continues, unfortunately and unnecessarily. The COB needs to create the Broadband Advisory Group ASAP! You and Atul Desmane’s applications to be members of the group should be accepted ASAP, as you actually represent citizens and small business owners.

My Tweet today to Comcast with link to this article, as I have tweeted to them and linked to your articles in the past:
Thanks
@comcast @Xfinity for another rate hike & for pretending we’re getting the Internet speeds you advertise. Can’t wait until our city/county switch to public fiber broadband (faster, more secure, more reliable, AND more affordable)! http://nwcitizen.com/entry/comcast-rate-hike-getting-less-for-more #Comcast #XFINITY

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Michael Lilliquist

Dec 14, 2020

Jon,

Thank you for your continuing work to document the worrisome cost/service levels from our near-monopoly ISPs.

I have to ask what you have heard or been told, if you can say “they’re still dragging their feet on creating the Broadband Advisory Group, and they’re still trying to sneak big telecom reps onto it while keeping community reps off of it.”

Do you have any information or evidence of this?  Who are “they” that is being sneaky?  If you have evidence, I’d very much like to hear it, and so would a lot of other people.

I think everyone expected that people with technical and professional background in telecommunications would apply. The eligibility rules anticipated this, and set limits on direct conflicts of interest.  I am predicting appointment of a few techies, some economic development folks, and a smattering of more regular folks.  And maybe Port and PUD representatives as non-voting members?  That’s a guess, since I have not seen the applications.

I spoke with the mayor about this over a month ago (maybe two?), and he was working his way through the applications.  I got the impression that it was not his highest priority, understandably, but also he was not dragging his feet. The next step was virtual interviews, which I believe are ongoing.  More recently, I asked staff when the mayor would be announcing his choices. I was told it is scheduled for the first City Council meeting in January.

So, we can expect notification of appointees in the agenda for the January 11 meeting.

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Jon Humphrey

Dec 14, 2020

Michael, did you even read my articles or any of the information I sent to the COB over the years? I document everything I do and I use multiple sources for each point whenever possible. It’s what we like to call being legit. My research is based on public records requests and documents you, and everyone else, have access to. Why don’t you start with that, do some actual research instead of just regurgitating what staff tells you, and try again. Sure it might take you about 5 years, that’s the amount of time I spent on our issues in Whatcom County, but it’s better than making up stories and lying to the public. Right now the COB has zero credibility and continued obfuscation and deceit isn’t going to help you get it back. You can earn some back by becoming transparent and helping out the poor. Sure, I have 27 years of computer experience on you, but it’s never too late to for you to start.

It’s been 265 days since the lockdown, and the COB still hasn’t Open Accessed it’s network, or expanded access in any way except for the APs at the libraries and the school internet cafes and the COB had nothing to do with that. You say that COVID has pushed everything back but the COB purchased the existing network from the PUD around 2009 and public works fought anything like the advisory group for years while exclusively leasing public fiber to AT&T and T-Mobile (all documented). So you’ve had 11 years to do something and didn’t. I can go on and on and I did, and I backed it all up. Maybe someday we’ll get the same from the COB. Our citizens deserve better that what the COB is giving them, a staff run government with virtually no input from their elected officials.

So don’t thank me for, “my continuing work to document the worrisome cost/service levels from our near-monopoly ISPs.” When you approved every aciton that they’ve taken and sat on a publicly owned fiber-optic network during a pandemic and for years before that. Your actions show that your words are meaningless. Show the citizens that you can be better than your past and help them. What is the point of power if you won’t use it to help your community?

  

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Jon Humphrey

Dec 16, 2020

Michael Lilliquist is trying to rewrite history and pretend there is no evidence showing COB misconduct in relation to broadband over the years. Both he, and Public Works Director Eric Johnston, are desperately hoping that you will forget all of the history surrounding this issue over the last 5 years I’ve been working on it in Whatcom County. Aside from the mountains that I’ve put in my articles, and that exist in the larger world, etc. here are some recent highlights from e-mails that are part of the public record.

 Please keep in mind that shortly after the March 23rd lockdown I, council member Stone and another expert met with Mayor Fleetwood. He talked then about how he was going to form a group soon. He and Michael both saw no issue with moving ahead with a Dig Once Policy and Open Access policies separately from the group, but allowed Eric to stall on those too right after the COB released their pretend conduit ordinance that I talk about in this article.

Even if you believe that more important things came up, keep in mind that the Fleetwood administration is doing what the Linville administration did, using the homeless as a shield. They say they can’t work on problems like broadband because they’re dealing with homelessness, but in the end they aren’t doing much about that either. The homeless, of course, use public wi-fi to do things like search for jobs, file for unemployment, and much more.

In this excerpt Michael admits that Eric still wants to include big telecom even after my article “Secret Telecom Lovers Part 2” first exposed big telecom involvement.

So, here is one e-mail excerpt from Michael Lilliquist himself dated October 29th. 28 days after the broadband advisory group was supposed to be formed.

“In a brief conversation with Eric Johnston last month, he suggested that industry professionals with an “active” conflict of interests might be included on a less formal basis, as non-voting participants. They would not be full members.  This is the same status as the reps from the Port of Bellingham and the School District.  This would enable some industry perspective, but not control over outcomes and recommendations.”—Michael Lilliquist

So if they can’t have them as voting members, Eric admits here to Michael that he is still going to put them on at the same level as the schools, PUD, Port and libraries. Of course, it’s inappropriate to put them on at all. They can always make presentations if their expertise is truly needed, but with so many community members having the expertise with no conflicts of interest there is no need to go to the telecoms for expertise. In fact, a Comcast rep. like Vincent Buys doesn’t have the tech skills to be of much use anyway. They are also saying that if someone is retired from say WAVE, that they can still be an active member even though their loyalty will be to that corporation.

Here is another one from Michael where he admits that Eric has been ignoring Dig Once for over 2 years.

“I have not seen a revised ding one policy from staff since I criticized the last draft about two years ago.”  

He is referring to the policy I wrote about in this article, “COB Produces Elementary School Lovel Dig Once Draft.”

The above, “policy” took them over two years to produce in the first place.

Of course, common sense policies like Dig Once and Open Access policies (both used in Mount Vernon although they call their a conduit ordinance) could have been into place at any point over the last 5 years and we submitted our suggested policy, based on the Mount Vernon conduit ordinance and South San Francisco Dig Once policies at least 3 times. Eric ignored it in favor of fake conduit ordinances.

When pushed on the issue by council members Eric used the advisory group to delay agian, stating on September 9th, ”However until the Broadband Advisory Workgroup completes their work, until the public discussion are complete and until the Council establishes new policy, the adoption of additional requirements on public and private projects would be premature.”

This is Eric, and Michael, hoping again that you’ll all forget that at this point they’ve been dragging their heels on creating common sense broadband policies for about 5 years.

And to top it off, after meeting in person with former public works director Ted Carlson and Eric Johnston, where they both assured me they were going to “wait for wireless” displaying a fundamental lack of competence in how networks work, they all have to be backed up by lots of fiber by the way, Michael wrote to me saying this on March 19th, 2018 It’s a freight train that has been heading our way, like it or not.” We still have no resolution in place.

I can go on and on, like how in my inperson disucssion with council members, they admit that Dig Once makes total sense and how they can’t understand why we’re waiting so long to put one in place. But I covered that, and much more, in my articles, presentations, and much more over the years.

The truth is that there is a moutain of evidence showing that the COB drug their feet and dropped the ball for years. Now they want to say that the pandemic is stopping them, but part of the reason they’re so busy with the pandemic is that they didn’t work on critical issues like broadband before the pandemic. On top of that, access to broadband is critical during the pandemic as it gives people access to jobs, telemedicine, and much more. Michael is just hoping that we forgot about all of the corruption surrounding this issue over the years and that he can rewrite history.

At best, the COB will have the group start meeting in February, over a year after Seth was sworn in and after he promised to do somethin about fiber on the campaign trail, and we won’t see anything until March if we’re lucky, a full year after the March 23rd lockdown. During that time, a lack of adequate broadband access has kept many of our kids from learning, has sent them back to school prematurely, has exposed the community to more COIVD risk unnecessiliary, has kept people from participating in job searches and telemedicine and more.


 

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