Contributions to the Political Process

I received an email from a relative today asking me about a suspicious email from her ISP, Comcast, suggesting she upgrade her hardware for “Speed” purposes. I spent a fair bit of time composing a response, which I will now share here for posterity. I welcome feedback on this issue from my fellow net professionals in the interest of creating a more coherent argument. TIA!


Short Story: It’s a legitimate Comcast email, but they’re trying to scam you. Disregard!

Long story: So it’s funny, your current hardware is perfectly capable. And you won’t necessarily get better speed with the new hardware. So the question becomes, “Why does Comcast want to change out my hardware?”

See, Comcast is in competition with Netflix. That’s not a secret.

What Comcast would like to keep secret is how they’re causing direct interference with competing web services through the use of something called traffic shaping.

Let’s say you have the Comcast Basic, and you’re speed is set at 10Mbps. That means you can download about 1 megabyte of stuff every second. With your current hardware, this won’t change. BUT! Lets say you’re watching an episode of Sherlock through Netflix or Amazon or YouTube or whatever. Comcast would prefer that you use THEIR streaming video service, XFinity. They don’t want you to use Netflix. Can they do anything to convince you to prefer XFinity over Netflix?

What they’d like to do is slow down your connection to Netflix so it runs maybe at 2Mbps instead of 10. So now your Sherlock episode is freezing and looks kinda blotchy and the sound keeps going in and out.

“THEY CAN’T DO THAT!” Oh yes they can! Or at least, they’d like you to think that way. Then when you call technical support to complain, they’ll say, “Oh gee, it looks like streaming through XFinity is working fine, why don’t you just use that?” And that’s how they’re attempting to take money away from Netflix.

Illegal? Maybe. Currently there’s a political movement called Net Neutrality which would ban these sort of shenanigans. I am, of course, very interested in the outcome of this particular battle. But, you might be wondering what this has to do with your email you’re receiving from Comcast.

Important Bit: They can’t slow down your connection to Netflix with your old hardware!

That’s why they want you to upgrade. The bit about you getting better speed? Blatant lie. Hold on to your current hardware as long as you can. Comcast is trying to stiff you.

Summary: Don’t listen to Comcast, they’re scummy and shysters and they wanna charge you more for doing things you’re already used to doing. Sorry for the long response, but I felt it important that you understand the level of duplicity you’re dealing with. I HIGHLY recommend watching this 3 1/2 minute video on Net Neutrality by noted Internet Smart Guy, CGP Grey.

Thanks for asking, love you, and have a great weekend!