March 17, 2004
Behavior Mod by Comcast, or Mickey Mouse Internet

by Farhad Manjoo/Salon (sub req or watch ad).

    "We use the Net as a lifeline," George says. "For anybody for whom this isn't their native country, you'd understand."
    But Comcast, the company that provides George's high-speed Internet service, didn't understand. Last August, the company sent him a letter telling him to quit it -- he was using the Internet too much. The firm said he was violating Comcast's "acceptable use" policy, that he was somehow abusing his service. This surprised George, because as far as he knew he wasn't doing anything illegal or unseemly online -- "We're not using porn sites," he says -- and his contract with the firm didn't spell out any limits on his Internet use. When he called the company, it gave him the "runaround" -- nobody would tell George specifically what he should do to bring his use back in line with Comcast's policies, other than that, as a general matter, he ought to consider using the Internet much, much less.

Even if he was using porn sites, it's not illegal. The fact that Comcast would monitor his use and then tell him he was using his service too much when it's an unlimited service is disconcerting.

    George is not alone. Since the summer, Comcast has warned hundreds, possibly thousands, of customers of potential service termination due to high Internet use. The customers who receive these letters, people who'd always been told that their Internet service was "unlimited," find themselves in a Kafkaesque comedy of errors: The customers say that Comcast tells them they're using the service too much, but it won't give them any meaningful measure of how much is too much.

But it gets worse, Comcast has clamped down on VPN system use by customers, their TOS says no to P2P of any sort, and they allowed AOL to sell it's high speed internet service over Comcast lines but only if they did not offer streaming video that directly competed with Comcast's offerings, and when other Comcast competitors and consumer groups demanded to have the FCC look at Comcast's secret deals as part of the Disney Merger, the CEO called Michael Powell and the issue was dropped.

They are anticompetitive and working hard to maintain their monopoly services, among other things, by hiring Victoria Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld's former spokeswoman, and Lorine D. Card, the sister-in-law of Andrew Card, George W. Bush's chief of staff to remain exceedingly well connected to top government. Keeping the internet open and unrestricted is becoming more and more worrisome.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 17, 2004 08:27 AM
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