Saturday, March 23, 2013

ISP Meters Aren't Accurate

....And Many ISPs Simply Don't Care.

It has been about half a decade now that many have been pointing out that most of the meters used by ISPs to track and bill consumers for usage aren't accurate. Customers of Canadian cable operator Cogeco have long complained the company's meter is inaccurate when users can load it at all, and every so often the meter simply goes mad -- like last Spring when the meter was horribly confused by leap year.

For years users have noted in great detail how AT&T's DSL and U-Verse meters aren't accurate, and when pressed for details on how usage is tracked, AT&T has insisted their meter information is proprietary. Similarly, many pointed out how Suddenlink's usage meters were also inaccurate, with users being billed even when they had no power.

Only after a Broadband reports story did Suddenlink suspend their efforts to impose overage fees until they could correct the problem (they haven't yet). This kind of stuff has been going on for half a decade, without a passing glance from either regulators or the tech press. Even consumer advocates, usually on the front lines of these fights, haven't really zeroed in on the problem of unreliable meters.

With that important background understood, Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOM posted an interesting piece that talks to Peter Sevcik, president of NetForecast, a firm hired by ISPs to track their usage meter accuracy. His findings? Most ISP meters are completely inaccurate and worse -- the ISPs aren't particularly concerned about it, likely because they know regulators are totally asleep on the issue.

According to Sevcik, his firm was hired by seven ISPs to test their meters as those ISPs inch slowly toward caps and overage fees. Only two ISPs passed the test for meter accuracy and only one has publicized NetForecast's findings (Comcast). Sevcik isn't naming the five ISPs with inaccurate meters, but he notes that it's a significant problem. Because many of the meters often under-report usage, Sevcik says ISPs wind up not caring:

Also disturbing is the attitude that Sevcik has encountered at some clients with malfunctioning meters. “There’s a general sense by some people, ‘Eh, we under report so we give them a free pass, so why worry about that?’” Sevcik says. “I think one does need to worry because it ruins the overall veracity of the meter. It derails trust in the meter."

Time Warner Cable is a client, but it's unclear if they were certified -- and if so if it was before or after they faced massive user outrage over their attempt to impose metered billing in 2009. Cox is also a customer and has confirmed their meter was tested and certified as accurate.

Note that these are the ISPs that went to NetForecast to verify if their meters work properly. Many ISPs (as we see with AT&T, Cogeco and Suddenlink) aren't NetForecast clients and may or may not have bothered to even try to get outside verification of meter accuracy. The industry in a few days will insist this story isn't important because only X% of meters are live, but Cogceo, Suddenlink, Bell, Rogers and AT&T users plagued with issues likely have plenty to say about that.

It is important again to note that during the last five years as ISPs have rushed face first toward caps and overages without ensuring meter accuracy -- that the FCC has made not a single public comment on the issue of any kind. Perhaps the FCC felt that the previous five years of complaints have been too anecdotal in nature, but now you have a professional tasked with testing meter accuracy on the record stating that ISP meters aren't working.

You'd like to think that could finally get the FCC's attention.

As we've noted, the cable industry recently admitted that caps and overages aren't really about congestion. As any incumbent ISP earnings report shows they're also not about financial necessity, with carriers making very healthy profits with flat rate billing. The shift is solely about jacking up the price of already-expensive broadband on consumers and protecting TV revenues. It's price gouging made possible by too little competition.

The FCC has made it clear they don't really care about competition, high prices, price gouging, or the fact that caps can be used anti-competitively. Their broadband maps don't track price, and their policies never tackle competition. Perhaps at the very least they can pay attention to meter accuracy? ISPs want to bill like utilities without being regulated like them and regulators continue to be in a coma. That's a recipe for disaster.

Read more here....

ISP Meters

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