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Comcast incorrectly charged 2,000 customers for exceeding data cap

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Illustration of a broken data meter.

Getty / Aurich Lawson

Comcast’s data-usage meter gave thousands of customers inaccurate readings for two months because of a software bug, causing the broadband provider to incorrectly charge about 2,000 users for exceeding their monthly data caps. Comcast has admitted the error and told Ars it is giving refunds and additional credits of $50 each to customers who paid data overage fees that shouldn’t have been assessed.

We contacted Comcast two weeks ago after we heard from a customer in Duluth, Georgia, who found that Comcast was recording major data usage on his account even when he wasn’t using the Internet. The customer, Michael, supposedly had exceeded his 1TB monthly data cap. But when he unplugged his modem overnight, Comcast recorded another 40GB of usage during a 15-hour stretch in which he couldn’t have used any data.

Our inquiry to Comcast and complaints from other customers on social media caused the company to investigate. A Comcast spokesperson told us what the investigation discovered yesterday.

Comcast engineers found that the problem began after the company started rolling out a new billing system in early August. The data meter was apparently still collecting accurate data, but the numbers were being reported in the new billing system incorrectly.

Comcast said it’s still trying to figure out if the bug is in the meter software, the billing software, or in the interaction between the two. What Comcast knows for certain, the spokesperson said, is that the problem was fixed when it rolled back to the previous version of its billing software.

Comcast’s statement to Ars said:

While updating our data usage meter to a new system, a software error occurred resulting in a small number of our customers being billed incorrectly. We’re very sorry for inconveniencing our customers and here’s what we’re doing to address it: We fixed the technical issue, we’re proactively crediting the accounts affected, and we’re giving those customers an additional $50 credit to make it right.

Comcast enforces data cap in 27 states

The back-end software upgrade was rolling out gradually, one CMTS (cable modem termination system) at a time, so the data-meter bug didn’t affect most customers. Comcast enforces a 1TB monthly data cap in 27 of its 39 states and charges $10 for each additional block of 50GB, up to a maximum of $200 per month. Customers can get unlimited data for an extra $50 a month.

Comcast told us that a couple thousand customers were incorrectly charged for overages, but the total number of customers who were given inaccurate data readings was likely significantly higher. That’s because the problem caused inaccurate readings in both directions, with some customers getting a number that was too high and others getting a number that was too low. Also, customers who had readings that were too high wouldn’t necessarily have been hit with overage fees because the readings might still have been under the 1TB cap, and Comcast allows two courtesy months before billing for overages.

Comcast said the inaccurate readings affected a fraction of 1% of its customers, but it declined to provide a more specific number. Because Comcast has 27.8 million broadband subscribers, a fraction of 1 percent could be tens of thousands of customers.

Comcast told Ars that it was able to identify the customers who were wrongly billed overage fees and is proactively applying the bill credits and $50 additional credits to those customers’ accounts. Customers don’t have to contact Comcast in order to get the credits, and the company will reach out to people who were inaccurately billed to explain what happened, Comcast said.

The problem wasn’t isolated to one state, as Comcast said it affected customers in states from the company’s central and western US divisions. Comcast doesn’t enforce data caps in the Northeastern US, where it generally faces stronger competition.

Comcast still has work to do. Even customers who weren’t overcharged might see inaccurate data counts or the words “not applicable” instead of a specific number if they check their accounts today. Some customers may see higher-than-actual data readings while others may see lower-than-actual data readings, Comcast said. But the company told us it will be able to update customer accounts with accurate readings for the August-September period.

Comcast also needs to figure out how to deploy its new billing software without triggering the problem again. Comcast said it purchased the software from a vendor and that it is supposed to be an upgrade over its current billing system.

While the company is still investigating the exact nature of the bug, Comcast told us that the bug “redistributed” the data counts in an inaccurate way, perhaps meaning that some people’s data usage was wrongly applied to other people’s Comcast accounts. The decision to roll back to the old software on October 2 gives Comcast engineers time to figure out exactly what happened and do further testing before attempting to reinstall the new software.

Customers have been discussing the problem on Reddit, Twitter, and a Comcast customer forum.

Some customers are already seeing changes in their data usage readings. Michael’s data usage readings went back to normal after a Comcast technician swapped his modem for a new one. That occurred before Comcast discovered that the problem was in its billing software, and it’s not clear why a modem switch would have had any effect on his problem.

Trusting Comcast

This isn’t the first time Comcast has incorrectly counted data usage. In December 2015, we wrote about Oleg, a programmer from Tennessee who was accused of using 120GB of data while he was overseas on vacation. Comcast insisted that someone must have hacked into his Wi-Fi network and used the data. But when Oleg subsequently disconnected his cable modem for a week, Comcast’s meter kept counting data that wasn’t being used. Comcast finally admitted its mistake and said the company had entered his modem’s MAC address incorrectly into their billing system.

We detailed other problems in our September 2016 feature “Tales from Comcast’s data cap nation: Can the meter be trusted?” In one case, Comcast admitted to Ars that a “table display bug” caused inaccurate data readings for a customer.

The process of disputing data-meter readings is tedious and often infuriating for customers because Comcast offers no way for users to verify that individual data readings are correct. Comcast customer service reps are also quick to blame customers and insist that Comcast’s data meter is infallible, even when customers measure their own usage and find possible mistakes in the Comcast meter.

Michael Goldsberry, who has been helping his parents in Hinesville, Georgia deal with a Comcast data-meter problem, told Ars that Comcast offered his parents a credit after weeks of insisting that the meter readings were accurate and that his parents might have been hacked.

“What really gets my blood boiling is during the entire process, even with executive complaints filed twice, Comcast employees were extremely dismissive,” Goldsberry told Ars. Comcast employees took the position that “our stuff is right, and no, we’re not going to help give you metrics so you can determine for yourself if there is a problem,” he said.

“If [Comcast] wants to have caps, I think there needs to be better disclosure and tools for the employees, especially now we have proof that it can be horridly wrong,” he also said.

Michael, the customer from Duluth, Georgia, told us he had a similar experience:

The first couple of calls to customer service, the reps told me that their measuring of data is accurate and it must be that I’m using the data, or a faulty device. I told them that isn’t so, and they told me basically that I was wrong and tried to sell me a $50-per-month upgrade to unlimited data.

As we previously noted, Comcast incorrectly counted data usage in Michael’s home while his modem was unplugged. Michael told us that he continues to be a Comcast customer “because they are a quasi-monopoly and there isn’t much of a choice.”

Michael continued:

Comcast probably wouldn’t have such crappy customer service if they had real competition. Also, since they admitted that the data problem was their fault, they should never again tell a customer that it’s impossible for the data meter to be inaccurate. In essence, they put the burden on the customer to prove that the data is being measured improperly.

Government inaction

To assure customers that its meter can be trusted, Comcast has paid consulting firm NetForecast to verify the accuracy in a subset of customer homes for several years. We detailed NetForecast’s measuring process in our 2016 feature. The latest NetForeCast report found that Comcast’s data meter in 2018 undercounted customer usage by 1.5% on average.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts once claimed that Internet data is just like electricity and that customers who use more should pay more. But unlike regulated utilities, Comcast faces no government oversight of how it measures data usage.

The Federal Communications Commission abandoned its primary regulatory authority over broadband providers when Chairman Ajit Pai led a December 2017 vote to kill net neutrality rules and deregulate the industry. The FCC vote left it up to the Federal Trade Commission to prevent customer harm, but neither agency seems to be doing anything to ensure that data-cap meters are accurate.

“This seems like an issue that the FTC should look into,” Michael told Ars. “People just have to take [Comcast’s] word on how much data they use and are billed for, and Comcast has proven themselves to be irresponsible at this task.”



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Chinese State Television Vows ‘Retribution’ Against N.B.A.’s Adam Silver

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China Central Television, the state-run Chinese television network, said the N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver would face “retribution” for saying that the Chinese government asked him to fire a league executive who supported the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong this month.

The public threat was broadcast Saturday evening in a commentary, in which CCTV also said that “it is ugly for the president of an internationally influential sports league to openly make up a lie to discredit China.” The broadcast picked up traffic in Chinese media outlets like the South China Morning Post.

An N.B.A. spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident was the latest escalation in a feud that took the league by surprise early this month, when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, posted to Twitter and quickly deleted an image supportive of the demonstrators in Hong Kong.

On Thursday, speaking at the Time 100 Health Summit, Silver said that the Chinese government had asked the N.B.A. to fire Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.

“We said there’s no chance that’s happening,” Silver said. “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry pushed back on that characterization soon after, saying at his daily news briefing in Beijing that the Chinese government “never posed this requirement.”

That spokesman, Geng Shuang, had previously suggested that the N.B.A. take action, but, at a news briefing in the days after Morey’s Twitter post did not directly call for Morey’s dismissal.

“The N.B.A. has been in cooperation with China for many years,” Geng said. “It knows clearly in its heart what to say and what to do.”

The commentary on CCTV referred to the demonstrators in Hong Kong as violent mobs and said Silver showed he had problems in his character. It added that, “once someone’s morality goes wrong, he will receive retribution sooner or later.”

CCTV warned that, “Freedom of speech does not mean that it can be arbitrary nonsense.”

Morey’s tweet, on Oct. 4, caused an immediate backlash: Several companies in China cut ties with the Rockets, and CCTV chose not to broadcast exhibition games in Shanghai and Shenzhen between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets the next week. (The league was initially panned in the United States by politicians across the spectrum for not more firmly standing behind Morey, pushing Silver to release a new statement days later.)

In recent days, the Chinese government has sought to de-escalate the tensions at the rare intersection of sports, business, and international and domestic politics. Reporters at state-run news outlets were told more than a week ago to stop focusing on the N.B.A. issue.

The N.B.A.’s partnership with China is being threatened against a backdrop of far broader Sino-American tensions, including a 17-month trade war between the United States and China and growing disputes over security and technology issues. Beijing has worried that if the debate over Morey’s tweet continues to fester, the Hong Kong protesters may attract support from athletes around the world and potentially from their fans as well. Beijing officials have even begun to fret that the Hong Kong dispute may lead to calls for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Silver said at the TIME summit on Thursday that he was uncertain whether the N.B.A. would ever return to China, which the league has targeted for international expansion for decades.

And the issue does not appear to be disappearing for the league. During a preseason game in Brooklyn on Friday night featuring the Nets and the Toronto Raptors, at least 100 demonstrators showed up to express support for the Hong Kong protests, which have been going on for months targeting the central government in Beijing.

Protesters charge that the ruling Communist Party is trying to curtail civil liberties in the semiautonomous territory. Joe Tsai, the new owner of the Nets, inflamed the conflict soon after Morey’s tweet, when he posted an open letter on Facebook on Oct. 6, referring to the demonstrators in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement,” while also being critical of Morey.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Shanghai.



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College football winners and losers led by Wisconsin, Oregon in Week 8

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There are worse things than losing to Illinois. You could lose to Kansas, for example.

This isn’t to say anything positive about No. 6 Wisconsin’s 24-23 upset at Illinois, which maims the Badgers’ hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff, puts a dent in the perception of the Big Ten and removes every ounce of excitement surrounding that matchup with No. 4 Ohio State to end October.

That the Badgers are going to plunge in the next Amway Coaches Poll, issued on Sunday, is a justified reaction to what just occurred: they lost to Illinois. Wisconsin was a 30.5-point favorite. Illinois hadn’t beaten a ranked Big Ten team since 2007, a 28-game stretch that stood as the second-longest such streak in the Bowl Subdivision. (Behind Kansas, of course.)

Since opening the season with a win at home against Akron, which remains winless, Illinois had dropped games at Memorial Stadium to Eastern Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had pitched four shutouts in the year’s first six games, the first time the program had done so since 1930, and had allowed just 29 points, the fewest by any team through six games since Florida State gave up 29 points in 1993.

The Badgers hadn’t trailed all season — and didn’t trail Illinois until kicker James McCourt made a 39-yard field goal as time expired. (From the perspective of timing, if the game-winning attempt came with zeroes on the clock, did Wisconsin technically lead for the entire game? If so, the Badgers still haven’t trailed through seven games despite holding a loss.)

DESERVED LOSS: No. 6 Wisconsin didn’t play well and Illinois beat them

SCARY SCENE: Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner crashes on field 

BAD MOVE: Clemson player ejected after throwing punch at Louisville player

The loss has the secondary effect of hurting the reputation of the Big Ten, which before this weekend could tout overall depth — there were six Big Ten teams in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll — along with three teams still in contention for the national semifinals, with the Badgers joined by the Buckeyes and Penn State. Not that it would matter in the end: Ohio State won’t be held out of the pflayoff because Wisconsin lost to Illinois.

As of Saturday afternoon, the Badgers’ only path demands not one but two wins against Ohio State, one in October and the other for the conference championship in early December, along with the predictable sort of chaos that ensues across the Power Five during the year’s second half. It sounds doable, sort of, except that the team that lost to Illinois would have no chance against the Buckeyes.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:

Winners

Oregon

The 35-31 win at No. 23 Washington keeps the No. 12 Ducks very much alive in the playoff hunt: Oregon is now 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play, with the one loss coming on a neutral site against No. 11 Auburn. While he struggled against pressure, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert completed 24 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 21 touchdowns against one interception on the season, and showed why he’s viewed as one of top NFL prospects in the country.

STILL ALIVE: Oregon in playoff mix after road defeat of Washington

Virginia

Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers bounced back against Duke and made a case for returning to the Top 25. After dropping consecutive games to Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.), Virginia led 17-0 at halftime and 41-7 at the end of the third quarter in a 48-14 win. It helps to force turnovers: Duke turned it over five times while Virginia had five scoring drives of 40 or fewer yards. It still counts.

Virginia Tech

The Cavaliers’ Commonwealth Cup rival pulled of a 43-41 win against North Carolina in six overtimes, the longest game since the FBS enacted new overtime rules designed to shorten games that go into extra frames. Beginning this season, teams will begin attempting two-point conversions beginning in the fifth overtime. Exciting! Virginia Tech won on backup quarterback Quincy Patterson’s short scoring run in the sixth to move to a surprisingly positive 5-2 after losing early to Boston College and Duke. Painfully, UNC is 3-4 with the four losses coming by a combined 12 points: 24-18 to Wake Forest, 34-31 to Appalachian State, 21-20 to Clemson and 43-41 to the Hokies.

Baylor

Matt Rhule is moving to the front of the line for some end-of-year coaching accolades. Even after losing senior linebacker Clay Johnston, the heart of an improved defense and an All-America candidate, Baylor pulled off a 45-27 win at Oklahoma State to move to 7-0 heading into winnable games against West Virginia and TCU. After winning just one game in his 2017 debut, Rhule has the Bears in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl.

Iowa State

Since losing by a nose to Baylor on Sept. 28, Iowa State has rolled off three convincing Big 12 wins in a row against TCU, West Virginia and, on Saturday, Texas Tech. In doing so, the Cyclones have painted themselves as perhaps the second-best team in the conference, trailing only Oklahoma. (We’ll find out for sure when the Cyclones meet Texas.) The three-game streak, capped by Saturday’s 34-24 win at the Red Raiders, also helps to erase the sour taste of narrow losses to the Bears and rival Iowa.

Losers

Miami (Fla.)

Here’s a fun one: Miami lost 28-21 in overtime to Georgia Tech, which earlier this season lost to The Citadel and hadn’t come within 16 points of each of its first three opponents in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets aren’t very good, you see, even if the team’s struggles were expected under first-year coach Geoff Collins. The Hurricanes’ new coach, Manny Diaz, now heads into the home stretch at 3-4 with five games left. Of that group, four come on the road: Pittsburgh, Florida State, Florida International and Duke.

“This is a rebuild,” Diaz said after the loss, which is laughable. The Hurricanes won 10 games just two years ago and were 49-29 across the previous six seasons — not great, but not rebuild-worthy numbers — while the program had inked top-25 recruiting classes in three of the past four years. To call this a rebuild is a desperate and transparent attempt at spinning a season that has spiraled out of control.

Toledo

Meanwhile, in the MAC … Toledo has careened off the tracks in back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and Ball State, quickly transforming the Rockets from conference favorite to one of the more mystifying teams in the FBS. The loss to Bowling Green came as a heavy favorite. Saturday’s loss at Ball State might’ve been worse: Toledo gave up 374 yards rushing on 7.5 yards per carry, allowed 12.1 yards per pass attempt and had just 309 yards of offense in a 52-14 loss.

Missouri

Missouri lost 21-14 to Vanderbilt, which one week ago lost 34-10 at home to UNLV. College football is not supposed to make sense — and it rarely does — but this is particularly strange, given that Missouri had made a quiet case for the Top 25 while the Commodores were supposedly circling the drain under embattled coach Derek Mason. 



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Mustangs take off for 41-6 win with playoffs in mind – Sports – New Jersey Herald

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SPARTA — With its state playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Sussex Tech football team knows it can’t afford to take any opponent lightly during the final weeks of the season.

The Mustangs entered with a lopsided 5-0 record against Group 5 Bergen Tech since their program was reinstituted in 2008, but they could not afford to ease up with an opportunity for a power-point grab.

Instead, Sussex Tech went out and flattened the Knights, 41-6, behind its dynamic three-headed rushing attack of Brendan Hall, Bo Maroney and Austin Durham.

“You go back a couple of years ago, and the reason we even made the playoffs was a win over Bergen Tech and picking up those points,” Sussex Tech head coach Brian Stellingwerf said. “As much as we take this as a week-to-week basis, this was a real important one from a points standpoint.”

It was a much-needed result for the Mustangs, who entered the game outside the state tournament picture in 18th in the North, Group 2 United Power Rankings despite a 5-1 record.

Sussex Tech knows it can only control what’s in front of it, so it went out and took care of business in dominating fashion on Saturday. A season ago, a 6-3 record wasn’t enough to make states and the Mustangs are desperate to prove they belong this season.

“Last year we came up short in those couple of games, so this year we can make it,” Hall said. “We can get in there, and they’re a Group 5 so we get a couple of power points from beating them. We all just want to make a stand and show what we’ve been working toward the last four years.”

Now, another chance for a key win comes against Immaculate Conception (4-1) next weekend.

“It feels good because it makes the team practice harder too,” Maroney said. “We have good practices knowing that we have to get the win and there’s no excuse. Next week we’re going to focus up in practice and hope for the best.”

Behind their stout offensive line, the Mustangs rushing trio worked patiently to knife through the Bergen Tech defense early on. It took all of 14 offensive plays — all rushes — for the Mustangs to build a 28-0 cushion early in the second quarter.

Sussex Tech’s backs made light work of the Knights defense. Hall led the way with 108 yards and two scores on eight carries, Durham ran four times for 66 yards and a score and Maroney finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on four rushes.

“We have three different guys, we can spread it out and all of us do something different, but also similar,” Hall said. “Bo just runs harder, Austin’s so fast, so we’re all mixed together and it’s good for us.”

On the second play of the game, Maroney cut to his left, saw an opening and sprinted 44 yards untouched into the end zone to make it 7-0.

After three plays netted the Knights minus-8 yards, the Mustangs quickly chewed up a short field. On the fourth play, Hall stumbled through a hole but gathered his footing and stormed 33 yards into the end zone.

And on the next series, it was Durham’s turn.

A hand-off from Mustangs quarterback Aiden Smith went to Hall, but Durham came surging across from the right, grabbed the misdirection sweep and took off for a 44-yard score to make it 21-0 Sussex Tech at the 2:11 mark of the first.

Hall broke away for a 65-yard touchdown in the next series to make it 28-0.

“You definitely saw a complete effort from all three backs today,” Stellingwerf said. “You go into halftime and each of those guys are talking about blocking for each other, they’re not even talking about their bigger runs.

“It’s a different atmosphere with the way that these guys play together. Each one of them pulling for each other and it’s such a big difference you see us come out on offense.”

The Mustangs first-team defense did its job as well, coming away with three takeways, including a fumble recovery and interception by Sean Hall.

The other turnover resulted in a wild touchdown to give the Mustangs a 35-0 lead before halftime. Mustangs senior linebacker Joe Martinez leapt to intercept a wobbly pass by Evan Nicholas in front of two Bergen Tech players and pitched the ball off to Ryan Kinkead for an 80-yard sprint to the end zone.

“Our defense, we’re something special,” Maroney said. “We always move around pre-snap and we got a stud linebacker Joey Martinez. The kid is selfless as you saw, he got a pick and tossed to our buddy Ryan so he could get the touchdown. He’s just an animal.”

The Mustangs had 225 yards on 15 carries in the opening half, while Bergen Tech could only muster 23 yards on 18 rushing attempts in the opening 24 minutes.

The Knights lone touchdown did not come until there was less than a minute to play and Sussex Tech’s first-team squad was off the field.

“Our defense has been flying around all year,” Hall said. “We fly to the ball, all hats to the ball, and we just keep coming every game.”

A year removed from a postseason snub, the Mustangs have been working hard to erase that disappointment.

And since its lone loss to Morris Catholic in Week 4, Sussex Tech has driven forward, beating three opponents by a combined score of 120-20. And now the Mustangs move on to another important matchup next week.

“When you look at what happened last year, that’s always fresh in our minds,” Stellingwerf said. “Winning out was something that was said right from that Morris Catholic loss; each week getting that win and picking up as many points as we can and staying focused on that. On Monday, these guys will come back in and we’ll get back to work.”

Sussex Tech 41, Bergen Tech 6

BT;0;0;0;6;– 6

ST;21;14;6;0;– 41

First Quarter

ST — Bo Maroney 44 run (Bo Maroney kick)

ST — Brendan Hall 33 run (Maroney kick)

ST — Austin Durham 44 run (Maroney kick)

Second Quarter

ST — Hall 65 run (Maroney kick)

ST — Ryan Kinkead 80 interception return (Maroney kick)

Third Quarter

ST — Ryan Marshall 2 run (attempt failed)

Fourth Quarter

BT — Francis Gargiulo 20 run (kick failed)

Records: Bergen Tech 3-4, Sussex Tech 6-1



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