Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
Special Report

Broadband Experiences
Rich Heimlich,
Copyright 2007 Rich Heimlich and Jerry Pournelle


[Rich Heimlich is an old friend and has recently joined the Chaos Manor Kitchen Cabinet of advisors. He wrote the definitive book on the Sound Blaster card system, and has long been known for his game reviews. In a recent discussion in the Advisors conference he mentioned his experiences with Comcast, and I asked him to write that up for the Chaos Manor Reviews readership. JEP]

Broadband Experiences

I've been a broadband customer from the very first days that it was available in our area. In fact, I actually took part in the beta testing phase of Comcast's broadband service before it was officially rolled out. When I first came on-board it was absolutely normal to never see any activity light on the modem. No one else was ever on my node.

That lasted for quite some time. In fact, I still remember the installer showing off the ability to watch a movie trailer at full speed, high-quality without buffering. The trailer was the newly released first preview of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. That puts my time with Comcast back to at least 1998.

One interesting note is that Comcast thought I was crazy to want to pay $200 for the cable modem back then. They'd rent it to me for only $10 a month. I ended up keeping it for 6+ years well past the 20 months it took to pay it off. It's been a rollercoaster ride ever since. The speeds back then were uncapped and just amazing for the time. I was getting 7MB down and up. That didn't last long. Then the prices started to go up while the attention to service went in entirely the opposite direction. As a diehard gamer I wanted all the bandwidth I could handle so I finally opted for something called Comcast Pro. It was $95 a month for the fastest connection they offered along with a static IP address and the ability to use VPN and other options.

Somewhere during this period Comcast started raising the upper limits for the regular customers. I found out about this on a forum and wondered when this might happen in our area. I also noted that nothing was said about the "Pro" customers. Once it became obvious that our area was being upgraded I called the local Comcast office and asked about the changes to the plans. They informed me that while the regular plans were being upgraded, the Pro plan wasn't going to change at all. The strange part was that the new speeds being put in service for the standard plans were faster than what I was expected to continue to pay $95 for each month. When I pointed this out I was told that Pro customers would still get a static IP and they'd still look the other way if I used VPN applications and the like.

This was typical Comcast, at least for me. Pay more to get less. I immediately asked them to switch me over to the standard plan. Within weeks it must have become obvious to the company that Pro customers weren't happy because they called back to offer a new $10 "performance package" that would give us faster speeds than the standard plan. I've been on that plan ever since. Lately there's been talk that the performance package is going to be eclipsed by newer standard packages.

I won't be at all surprised to find that Comcast simple expects performance package customers to keep paying for less as well, until they find out, on their own of course, that they're better off in just having another plan.

I just don't understand Comcast's approach here of treating their premium customers this way time and again. As it stands now, Verizon's FiOS service is showing up all around me offering much better speeds for about half the price. I'm counting the days for it to finally be made available to my specific neighborhood so that I can start a new era of ISP service and bid Comcast farewell. I say farewell because the same sort of behavior moved me to drop them as my TV provider back in 1994 when DirecTV came along offering twice as much service for half the price. Isn't competition great when it works?