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How Comcast is Shortchanging Customers In Vermont (wired.com) 144

New submitter mirandakatz writes: Comcast is suing Vermont's Public Utility Commission, claiming -- among many other things -- that its First Amendment rights have been violated. But as Susan Crawford argues at Backchannel, there are far too many holes in that argument. Crawford writes that 'Comcast, which Wall Street knows is essentially an unregulated public utility for high-speed internet access in the areas it covers, has unlimited resources to fight off this public-spirited regulator...[And] although there are many efforts in Vermont to provide fiber (including ECFiber), they're still small: Comcast isn't feeling any pressure to upgrade its lines to fiber. And, as [Craig] Moffett has reported, Comcast from now on will be growing through price hikes, not through building new lines. It's done with building new lines. The whole thing is dispiriting.'
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How Comcast is Shortchanging Customers In Vermont

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  • by Seven Spirals ( 4924941 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:30AM (#55335845)
    They pwned [theverge.com] congress. Game over. Maybe a new name is in order. I nominate one of these: Comca$t, ComCaste, ComAssed, Comlast. Someone else can do better, I'm sure.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:36AM (#55335897)

      ALL infrastructure: roads, bridges, water, sewer, telephone, electric, Internet, etc. need to be publicly owned.

      • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:42AM (#55335955) Journal
        Why stop there?
        How about all the above, plus the entire medical industry, including especially the pharmaceautical industry, be mandated as not-for-profit? Take greed out of the equation for everything that is classified as a necessity, and you come closer to the Star Trek vision of a post-scarcity, utopian society.
        Of course the main problem is getting the rest of the world to go along with this, and getting rich conservative types, who would much rather we return the world to monarchies and feudalism, to not go around waving their arms screaming "Socialism!!!" and spending their considerable monetary and political resources shutting it down and permanently discrediting anyone who supported it.
        • You know ... despite all the hatred for her opinions, Ayn Rand tried to point out the fact that framed properly, "Greed is good." Not a big fan of hers, but can respect her for taking that radical of an idea and backing it up with some reasoning.

          If you really take a basic human emotion like greed out of the equation, you remove a prime motivator for humans to work hard to achieve goals. Anything, to excess, becomes bad or unhealthy. Greed is no different. (Gluttony is another one of the supposed "deadly si

          • by Twanfox ( 185252 )

            Ayn Rand, misguided as she was, did not simply posit that 'greed is good' but it was that self-interest or selfishness was the highest and only moral behavior. That could mean a lot of things to different people. It could mean being greedy as it results in your self-aggrandizement. It could mean being altruistic if that is what you want to do. Regardless of what you do, you do it because YOU want to and not because you were told to do it by someone else.

            Sadly, she also seemed to believe that people will per

            • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

              Everyone *should* want the most return for the least effort, though. That's how things become more efficient. The best software developers I know wrote great automation scripts that saved people lots of time doing repetitive tasks not because they were so hard-working, but because they were so lazy!

              I don't believe in ANY utopias, whether the Star Trek type post-capitalist world or the idea that a minimalist U.S. government with no controls on the free market would make things perfect.

              But what I *do* know fo

        • plus the entire medical industry, including especially the pharmaceautical industry, be mandated as not-for-profit? Take greed out of the equation for everything that is classified as a necessity, and you come closer to the Star Trek vision of a post-scarcity, utopian society.

          As long as there are medical treatments whose cost to implement exceeds the average lifetime productivity of the individual being treated, this can't happen. Unlike economics, productivity is a zero-sum game - everything that's cons

        • by uncqual ( 836337 )

          Why don't you start a movement to refuse all drugs and medical equipment that have been initially developed via venture capital? That would show the capitalists how sincere you are in your beliefs and perhaps they will come and put flowers on your (likely premature) grave every year (or, maybe, piss on it).

          How would you suggest small startup companies that actually develop quite a few of the drugs (often to be acquired by Big Pharma for big bucks after/if their ideas actually pan out) get the money to fund

          • Why don't you start a movement to refuse all drugs and medical equipment that have been initially developed via venture capital?

            You're gonna have to learn to be a bit more subtle in setting up a strawman if you want people to read further than your first sentence.

            • by uncqual ( 836337 )

              It doesn't matter because people who don't care to think about the problem don't read past the first sentence that challenges their beliefs anyway.

              In this case, the GP urges eliminating profit from all of medical care (interestingly, though, not from an even more essential industry - food - which we all need daily rather than just some people needing some of the time). Yet, he doesn't address how any new medications, for example, would get developed. There are very few (any?) of modern research intensive dr

    • Comcass would probably take the least effort.
  • Does that summary actually explain what the issue is at all?

    • Yes, you just need to be able to read above, below, beside, between, several miles away from, etc. the lines in order to catch it. So I guess the answer is really no.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

      by suutar ( 1860506 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @11:31AM (#55336413)

      not really. Short form:
      comcast's agreement with vermont's utilities commission is up for renewal, and the utilities commission wants them to continue working on the buildout obligations they picked up when they acquired a local cable company. Comcast doesn't wanna.

  • by Vermonter ( 2683811 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:34AM (#55335887)

    Is that ECFiber is only building infrastructure to service people who can't get Comcast already. So if you are like me and have Comcast available, then you don't get fiber access, even though fiber backbones are running through Comcast territory all over the state

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      That's a lie. The most recent map showing where fiber rollouts show they are confined to small areas of the state, mainly due to comcrap's...how shall we say...influence preventing the expansion.

      Comcrap is comcrap. They serve only comcrap.. They have not and will not do ANYTHING in a state where they hold a veritable monopoly for the customer unless they are absolutely forced to. Comcrap is like a new version of AT&T: We're Comcast. We don't care. We don't have to.

  • Headline should read:

    How Comcast Is Shortchanging Customers In America

    • Re: Wrong headline (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have Comcast with fiber to the house. I donâ(TM)t live in a big city. Itâ(TM)s just that we also have the choice of AT&T with fiber here. In other words competition works and the market is better than fucking stupid government regulation.

      • So you have a choice of two providers? Both waiting to ream you. Yeah, your system works a treat...
      • You actually think what we have now is 'a competitive market'? How adorable you believe that. What we have are a few 350-pound inmates serving life sentences without parole, and like it or not you're going to be their 'girlfriend', if you catch my drift. The way the system is now is broken in fundamental ways because of monopolies (or near-monopolies), and give them a few years and there won't be ANY competition whatsoever, it'll be just one company and they'll do what they please with impugnity. Would you
    • No, it should read:

      Comcast says its first amendment free speech is being violated, but nevermind that, we won't present that argument. Rather, here's some rhetoric from a kind-hearted public-spirited regulator what's wrong with that guy he's sweeeeeeeet!

      I'm fine with stories that present both sides, but this is flat-out bullshit. Which would also be a more accurate headline.

      • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        Seriously. How is the First Amendment being violated here?

        • 1. Comcast is a religion?
        • 2. Comcast is not being permitted to state their side?
        • 3. Comcast is being prevented from staging a march down Main Street?
        • 4. Comcast is being denied
  • by dicobalt ( 1536225 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:38AM (#55335917)
    1) Provide the minimum possible infrastructure and quality of service to save money 2) Beg the government for free money leading to more money 3) Use saved money to buy out competition 4) Use saved money to buy out content providers to save more money on licensing 5) Use saved money to buy out more competition and content 6) Agree with other providers not to compete with them 7) Use saved money to buy out more competition 8) Use saved money to buy out nearly all competition 9) Conglaturations, YOU ARE WINNER!
  • C'mon editors. This is the second Comcast-in-Vermont story this site's crapped out in a month. Could you at least pull up TheRegister to see if there's anything interesting in tech we could talk about?
  • As in municipalities can't build their own infrastructure, nor is anyone else allowed to compete. In cases where competition is legal, collusion isn't and companies just divide up the region and everyone charges triple fair market value. Can't let the socialists win by breaking up monopolies and forcing net neutrality, id rather pay triple for 1/4 the speeds and willingly give up my right to a free, fair, and neutral internet. /s
    • Why /s ? Comcast tells us to bend over and take it, so we gladly oblige. It's the American thing to do.
    • In cases where competition is legal, collusion isn't and companies just divide up the region and everyone charges triple fair market value.

      Dividing up by regions is implicit collusion (if not secretly explicit). What needs to happen is some cracking down on this.

    • by Jerry ( 6400 )

      " Can't let the socialists win by breaking up monopolies "

      uh, Vermont is noted for its heavy lean to the Left and its senator, Bernie Sanders, is a self-declared socialist, yet Vermont got in bed with the devil.

      It is common for Socialist to conflate profit with greed, but the Left has a sizable number of Billionaires: most of the Marxist Chinese ruling class, ditto for the Russians, the Cubans, North Korea, and individuals likeBill Gates, George Soros, and a very large number of American charities. *Cue

      • It's common for Capitalists to confuse theft with profit.

        1. Control the law and regulators

        2. ???? = Monopoly

        3. Profit!!!

    • As in municipalities can't build their own infrastructure, nor is anyone else allowed to compete.

      Exclusive franchises have been illegal in the US for almost two decades.

      Can't let the socialists win by breaking up monopolies

      The only way to force competition in a market is to force a second company to come provide service. You can break Comcast up into 1000 tiny cable companies, but that won't change the costs of a second company entering any of those markets.

      And there is no monopoly on ISPs. Never has been. The only pre-existingd dejure monopoly situation was cable -- not the Internet. When you talk about paying triple for 1/4 the speed, you're talking t

      • You can force companies to come and compete by 1) forcing any isp that used public funds to lay cable/fiber to allow competition and 2) remove laws banning government installations and allow cities to install cable/fiber and then allow competition. Basically just remove the monopolies that currently exist. I live in an area with millions of people the vast majority of which have exactly 1 choice of high speed internet, Comcast. That should Never have happened.
        • You can force companies to come and compete by 1) forcing any isp that used public funds to lay cable/fiber to allow competition

          Since the franchise is not exclusive, this is already true.

          2) remove laws banning government installations and allow cities to install cable/fiber and then allow competition.

          These laws were made by elected representatives. Your issue is not with the ISPs.

          Basically just remove the monopolies that currently exist.

          The monopolies that currently exist are not legal ones but economic. Your step 1 does not solve the economic issues, and step 2 does so at the expense of the taxpayer.

          I live in an area with millions of people the vast majority of which have exactly 1 choice of high speed internet, Comcast. That should Never have happened.

          Comcast was never granted a monopoly as an ISP, so if it is one today then it wasn't for legal reasons. What is stopping a competitor? The cost. Solving the cost issue should not require the taxpayers foo

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:44AM (#55335979) Homepage

    This is one of the worst Slashdot summaries I've ever seen. It provides almost no information as to what the case is about while slamming the company and complimenting the regulators. What the heck is his about and why is it relevant tech news? What the heck does the first amendment have to do with it?

    which Wall Street knows is essentially an unregulated public utility

    This statement is simply false, it is a regulated public utility.

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      The aren't a regulated public utility. Sure, by pure legal definition they are but they are a monopoly in a state where their quarterly corporate profits exceed the entire state's budget. They own enough "interests" and have deep enough pockets that they can pretty much get away with anything they want, and they do.

  • Comcast will compress video to shit & not add hd channels so they don't have to upgrade the cable plant.

    It's a joke to just have 1 HD each for SHOWTIME, CINEMAX, STARS. But at least they have 2-3 for HBO.

    But there don't even have all of there OWN RSN HD feeds. Yes CSN/NBCSN Chicago Plus2 HD is only on dish, directv and att-uverse

  • I think that getting rid of laws that prevent competition (such as laws preventing local communities from creating their own internet service) would go farther to increase quality of service. On a side note, though, I don't think that high speed internet is an inherent right for people living in a rural are.
    • Worked for me (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Doctor Memory ( 6336 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @11:01AM (#55336173)

      Got a competing service where I live, and I was able to cut my bill in half and raise my average throughput from 12Mb to 525Mb. When I told Comcast I was cancelling, they didn't even try to dissuade me.

    • The challenge is competitors can only be viable with a certain minimum penetration depending on the density of households. So, in a suburban town, 20% uptake might work, but when you get to the sticks you need close to 100%. This makes it hard to have competition in all but the easiest markets.

      • This is part of the reason why the sticks will be wiped out within a few decades. They simply are not economically viable due to a lack of economics of scale for their infrastructure. The communities were built in a different age, when the dynamics of value production were wildly different. Now they exist because they can salvage/repurpose previously developed infrastructure and they have united behind the R party to demand government subsidies. You can only live off of old infrastructure and government han
        • You can put in a mile of fiber in the sticks for less than $8k. In a city, the cost is closer to $1 million/mile. All it takes to make rural life work is people working together for a common goal.

          • While I have no idea if your numbers are correct, or even close to correct. But you fail to even consider population density. Given those numbers (if they are correct) it is still very easily to see how the city results in cheaper service per person.
        • They simply are not economically viable due to a lack of economics of scale for their infrastructure.

          Their infrastructure is also a lot cheaper to install and maintain. It is a good exchange.

          If anything, I'd have said that the cities are going to go away as the high cost of infrastructure maintenance and increasing demands of larger populations will cause the system to crash.

          • That would have been a viable theory except their is a massive variety of data out there basically completely refuting the your hypothesis.

            10 seconds for research indicated that costs for package delivery are twice as expensive in the sticks.

            https://www.prc.gov/sites/defa... [prc.gov]

            five more seconds

            "The overall average per subscriber cost is $2,200. For the urban zone of the exchange the average cost is $800 and for the rural zone it is $6,000"

            telecom service costs http://www.rural.org/workshops... [rural.org]

            There is ar

            • costs for package delivery are twice as expensive in the sticks.

              "Package delivery" is not infrastructure. Roads and electricity and water are infrastructure. A dirt road costs a lot less than a four lane city street. Above-ground wires cost less both in hardware and in easement costs. Water is not an infrastructure cost at all in the sticks.

              There is article after article after article, all indicating that costs per person are MASSIVLY higher in the sticks and the communities and their people are a net economic drain.

              As someone who lived "in the sticks" and saw a huge amount of my tax dollars going to fund projects in the big city, I know the opposite is true. But but but city folks subsidize things like phone service. Say that again after you l

              • "As someone who lived "in the sticks" and saw a huge amount of my tax dollars going to fund projects in the big city," That is as close to an outright lie as you can get.. Rural populations get confused easily. They see large projects in the cities and think their money is going towards it. The reality is they pay far less taxes than than the get back as far as subsidies and the city folk pay far more than they get back.

                http://www.rockinst.org/observations/wardr/2011-12-giving_getting.aspx

                perfect example.

                • "As someone who lived "in the sticks" and saw a huge amount of my tax dollars going to fund projects in the big city," That is as close to an outright lie as you can get.. Rural populations get confused easily.

                  Yeah, us hicks in the sticks is just dumb fucks soaking it up at the public trough.

                  Your bias is clear and unshakable, so I'll just stop trying to educate you.

                  • "Yeah, us hicks in the sticks is just dumb fucks soaking it up at the public trough! " Yup!!! With direct welfare recipients, they at least know what they are doing. Rural communities simply do not, they were taught a myth since childhood that they somehow how are the "producers" in society. Unfortunately all the economic stats point otherwise. The rural communities are a rot, merely existing to cripple the economic powerhouses that are America's cities.

                    https://www.mckinsey.com/~/med... [mckinsey.com]

    • Most would rather complain that corporations are evil and government should take over without even realize they are asking the government to take over and fix a problem that the government helped create.

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @10:56AM (#55336129) Homepage Journal

    Mostly rural, so the lines are long, and low density so subscribers per mile are pretty low outside of the metro areas of Burlington/Montpelier.

    The business 'climate' is somewhat less than friendly, though Comcast can make any business climate hostile. Anywhere.

    The topology is downright hostile to telecom, with north-south ridges through out the state, making long-haul cabling a serious challenge, and expensive when traversing those ridges. This is not a new problem.

    Comcast has plenty of excuses to gouge their Vermont customers. And Vermont will probably just try to legislate the costs out of the equation. Good luck with that.

    • What bearing does any of this actually have on them complying with requirements they knowingly agreed to? Particularly since they are allowed to comply in whatever cost-effective manner they see fit? They're not bitching about technical challenges, they're throwing up a red herring about free speech.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Vermont has long been connected with long-haul fiber through Boston, New York, and Quebec. There is actually plenty of bandwidth, the stable (Few Natural Disasters) environment there also makes it an up and coming place for datacenter construction.

      Comcast has long played games, it is surprising it has taken this long for the lawsuits to start flying

    • Comcast bought this Vermont customer base with an OBLIGATION to expand service to those customers. How they do so is up to them, but they can't just back-out and claim freeze-peach on the whole situation.

    • So basically all the same problems faced by rural electrification and telephone 80 years ago?

  • ...Just leave off the last 2 words. There you go!
    • If you have a government-granted monopoly in cable service, then the government has the right to regulate you via a public utilities commission. What the government giveth, the government can take away.
    • If you don't want a public utilities commission overseeing your operations, then you must give up the government-granted monopoly. Even if it weren't government-granted (i.e. a natural monopoly), you'd still fall under anti-trust regulations.

    In the former case, the market desires of the people are conve

    • If you have a government-granted monopoly in cable service

      The only reason it is a monopoly is because nobody else has applied for a franchise.

      If you don't want a public utilities commission overseeing your operations, then you must give up the government-granted monopoly.

      They can't give up what they don't have, and they can't force other companies to come compete with them.

      Nobody would claim that Walmart is a government-granted monopoly, but if nobody chooses to compete against them in a market there is no way to force anyone to.

  • "Comcast isn't feeling any pressure to upgrade its lines to fiber"

    Their infrastructure is coax. If I read the DOCSIS wikipedia page correctly that coax is good for 10gig downstream / 1gig upstream currently and soon 10g/10g.

    Why would they convert to fiber? What would they gain from fiber except a lot of expense to convert from one to the other?

    • The issue is how many customers share that maximum bandwidth, and how much is usable due to ingress noise from said customers. The coax plant wasn't designed for upstream communication, and that causes issues.

    • Because that was in the contract that they signed with Vermont. Reading is fundamental.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only benefit to upgrading to fiber is to provide benefit to Vermont's citizens. They're obliged to build out a certain amount of infrastructure to the benefit of disadvantaged regions, as part of the contract with the state that grants them their local monopoly. Building fiber infrastructure isn't something Comcast does for Comcast's financial gain, it's an obligation Comcast must fulfill as a result of Comcast's earlier gains from becoming a state-granted monopoly.

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