Saturday, November 30, 2013

Comcasts bandwidth notice breaks everything

It was 2 days before the end of the month of November 2013 when I first approached the 300 gig bandwidth limit imposed by Comcast. My daughter has been watching a lot of Dr Who on netflix to try to get caught up for the Day of the Doctor and thats the only thing I can think of that is different than any other month. I’ve never come even remotely close before and certainly do not run any file sharing or other such systems here.

They alert you by sending you an email, but they also start actively filtering your web traffic and inserting code that creates a popup window in every browser session that you try to create. This window will not go away until you log into your comcast account and acknowledge the fact that they are about to start charging you extra.

This altering of the HTML code coming from every server is a huge problem. It will wreck havoc on the “internet of things” and other such devices that happen to communicate on port 80. All of a sudden my internet thermostats were not parsing the fact that they were connected to their service, my phillips hue bridge complained that it had lost internet connectivity, my iDevices would not load any web content at all. The HTML was so broken that I got only a white page with nothing displayed at all.

I finally resorted to rebooting my router and power cycling the hubs that the hue bridge was connected to all without an improvement in what was going on, yet some other things were working so I knew I wasn’t just offline.

I finally logged into my actual desktop computer and got the popup and was able to log into my account and turn it off. But you can’t opt out of the popups entirely, they are “required” for 100% of the usage, though you can turn them on for other amounts.

Net neutrality aside (bandwidth spent watching netflix or hulu counts against my usage, but bandwidth used watching their xfinity app does not, thats cheating Comcast) the implications of their ability to watch not just caching server logs of my html traffic but actually insert code into it, code that is malicious in how bad it is even if it’s purpose is not actually to do harm, is huge. They could alter anything, change what adds are being displayed, silently filter things they dont like. Forcing all port 80 traffic to have this popup inserted even when many devices making such connections dont have the ability to display any such popup and are not sophisticated enough to realize that their JSON or SOAP or XML or other documents have been totally corrupted by Comcast shows a real lack of thought went into this.

Obviously they wish to make sure you know that you’re about to be charged extra so that you can’t get mad at them later when I claim I never got their email. I wish to opt out of your corrupting the HTML data flowing into my home and yet I cannot.

Overall I’ve had very little difficulty with Comcast and the service. It is not overpriced, at least not by the standards of other internet service in America, and it has been reliable. But I will be watching as technology continues to render their privileges of easements to run their wires less important. When other ways of getting connected are available to me I will remember how you broke my house for no good reason and how you filter and insert things into the packets coming into my house.
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