Is Comcast intentionally ripping you off?

I am sure the first thought that goes through the mind of many when reading this headline is "of course Comcast is ripping me off!" Comcast is one of the most hated service providers in the U.S. They have some of the lowest customer satisfaction possible, their pricing tactics outrageous, service unreliable, and your relationship with them hard to cancel.

Now I believe I've figured out another way Comcast is ripping off their customers, and this one is blatant. I believe Comcast is selling you internet speeds that they know you won't achieve with the equipment they charge you to use.

See, twice now in the last two years, in two different Comcast markets, I've swapped out the standard Xfinity internet modem/router that Comcast rents to its customers, for my own equipment. Before each of these swaps, I was experiencing internet speeds much slower than Comcast advertised and that I paid for. After each of these swaps, I experienced the internet speeds that Comcast advertised and that I had paid for.

Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Last month, I decided to swap out the rented Comcast internet hardware for my own. Over the past 2 years at my girlfriend's apartment in San Francisco, I had been getting internet speeds of about 30mbps at best, with pretty poor coverage around the apartment. Instead of the Xfinity equipment that Comcast rents to us, I plugged in an old and inexpensive Motorola modem, and attached a Google Wifi router to that. Our internet speed went from 30Mbps at best, to just shy of 120Mbps, reliably. We pay for 120Mbps.

Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

So why did it go from 30Mbps to 120Mbps? The only difference is that we stopped using the Comcast Xfinity equipment and used our own.

Same thing happened to me in Portland in early 2015. I paid for 120Mbps but experienced 40Mbps-60Mbps on the Xfinity equipment rented to me. Then I switched to a cheap Motorola modem, and a cheap Western Digital router, immediately increasing my internet speeds to a reliable 120Mbps.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the Xfinity modem/router doesn't support the Xfinity speeds we pay for. If this is the case, this has to be a known truth at Comcast. If both of my conclusions are true, then this is fraud pure and simple.

Sure, I am only one person with two experiences, so thats not enough to conclude wrongdoing, but the technical side of this would be pretty easy to test and document. Then the only question is if Comcast knew it was doing this. I bet the average lawyer could prove this in court with ease.

What do you say, do we have a nice class-action on our hands?

The simple cause of city traffic with a nearly impossile solution

As an adult on the west coast of the US, I've been driving for many years. On the freeway, in the suburbs, in the city. While I'm lucky to live in a relatively low traffic major city, I've felt the experience of traffic frustration many times over. For the last couple of years though, I've been living in the heart of the city, and walking as my primary form of transportation.

I still own a car, but it sits in the garage nearly all of the time, with use about once per week. So, now I see the world a little differently. With my point of view as a pedestrian and my many years behind the wheel, I have led to a theory of what causes much (most?) of the traffic jams major cities experience.

Pedestrians. Pedestrians like me are why city streets experience traffic problems.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat in traffic where it took two, three, four, even five cycles of a traffic light before I got through an intersection. Only to be stuck at the next one. How many times have you turned a corner, often onto a major street, only to see a line of cars in front of you, barely moving?

Blame pedestrians.

See, nearly every traffic signal includes signals for pedestrians. They tend to indicate: walk, a warning not to walk, and then don't walk. Walk means go ahead and step off the curb and start crossing the street. Its often a green hand, green/white icon of a person, or event he word "walk." The next symbol is a countdown to the changing of the traffic flow. It is often indicated by a flashing red hand, or flashing red icon of a person. It means do not step off the curb, do not enter the intersection. If you are already crossing, you have a limited amount of time to get to the other side of the street. And of course, there is the 'don't walk at all' sign, indicating that you shouldn't be in the intersection at all, typically because of the oncoming traffic.

Unfortunately, pedestrians don't interpret the signs as I've described above, with three stages. My observations show that pedestrians look at those signs in a very binary way. Two stages. Cross, don't cross. The subtle difference between what is intended and how its interpreting is that much of the time, the signal is indicating not to step off the curb, but continue crossing if you already have. Yet, many pedestrians will continue to step off the curb as long as they think they can cross before the countdown is down, or in some cases they'll step off the curb as long as the countdown is still going, even if its down to 1 second before the signal changes.

I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud, or a grumpy old man, but there is a practical implication here. Those signs are set as such in order to allow cars, trucks, buses, and bikes to have an opportunity to turn right or left. As long as pedestrians are in the intersection or stepping off the curb, traffic cannot turn. When they can't turn, they do not move. When they don't move, traffic backs up. On and on and on it goes.

So, to ease traffic we need to clear the way for traffic to turn. To do that, we need pedestrians to follow the signs, and thus following the law. Easy, right?

Nearly impossible.

I think about this problem nearly every day that I walk to and from work, and I haven't landed on a reasonable solution. Hand out traffic tickets to pedestrians? Install physical barriers at crosswalks? Shame pedestrians for stepping off the curb when they shouldn't? Change the symbols on the signals? None of these options seem to have both the intended result while also being practical/realistic.

It appears that the solution employed by some cities, at select major intersections, is to place a traffic officer in the middle of the intersection with white gloves and a whistle. I always thought that they were there to direct vehicle traffic. Now I realize that they are there to direct pedestrian traffic. Stopping them from entering the intersection so that vehicles can make their turns, reducing traffic down behind them. It seems to work, but its not practical at the large scale. Traffic on the streets of downtown Portland is terrible during rush hour. The city would have to deploy dozens of officers, give days a week, to manage these intersections. Not a good use of police officer time, if you ask me.

So, do you agree? Are pedestrians a significant reason city streets experience traffic? Are there ways to solve this problem, which are both effective and practical? Let me know over on Facebook or Twitter, using the links below!

I wonder how a firm like IDEO would approach the solution?

From the Archives: Thoughts on the Law

The following was originally published on my Blogger blog space, in early 2013. While I don't claim to be a legal expert, I do claim to be a common sense citizen that understands the law. That being said, I still hold the following beliefs.

Recently I've noticed what may be an increasing irreverence of the law. Specifically are two very different but interesting examples.

First, the uproar over the suicide of Aaron Swartz. Not the uproar about his death specifically, but the blame that Swartz supporters are levying on others. If you are unfamiliar with the Aaron Swartz story, here is an overly simplified overview. Swartz is an internet celebrity and internet/technology advocate. He (allegedly) hacked into the MIT computer network, downloaded proprietary research from JSTOR, and then freely distributed JSTOR's property on the internet. He was charged with at least 6 felonies and faced anywhere from 6 months to 35 years in jail. He committed suicide recently, and his family reports that he took such an unfortunate and permanent action because he was so distraught over the legal action pending against him. Many Aaron Swartz supporters (and lovers of the internet for that matter) are blaming Aaron's death on the legal system.

This blows me away. Apparently some people have a hard time separating their affinity from things like logic and reason. Like it or not, breaking into a private computer network and stealing property is a crime! Swartz (allegedly) broke the law! If someone broke into your company, stole your valuable property, and gave it away to strangers for free, would you not expect them to be prosecuted?

Another example comes from my home state of Oregon where a county sheriff has warned the Obama administration that he will not enforce any new gun laws or regulations that he believes violate the Second Amendment. Yes, you read that correctly, he will not enforce the law. The problem here is that it is not a sheriff's job to decide what is or isn't law. That's why they are called law enforcement, not law makers.

Our country has arguably the most fair, transparent, and civilized legal system. The people elect representatives, who create laws, enforced by the legal system, and ultimately ratified or shot down by the courts (specifically, the Supreme Court). There are fair, transparent, and civilized ways of challenging or changing the law. If society doesn't like something, they can change it. Swartz had every opportunity to a fair trial and full defense. Sheriffs and the citizens of their counties have a voice through their elected representatives and via elections.

Why do supporters of the internet and information freedom believe they get to unilaterally decide what is a crime or isn't? Would they have cared so much if Swartz wasn't an internet icon or if it were their property broken into and stolen? Why does a sheriff think he can ignore the law of the land and interpret the constitution on his own?

What happened to the rule of law and civility? This is a scary trend and I hope it does not continue.