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AT&T

Ask Slashdot: AT&T's Data Usage Definition Proprietary? 562

Posted by Soulskill
from the patented-arithmetic dept.
stox writes "As many of you know, AT&T has implemented caps on DSL usage. When this was implemented, I started getting emails letting me know my usage as likely to exceed the cap. After consulting their Internet Usage web page, I felt the numbers just weren't right. With the help of Tomato on my router, I started measuring my usage, and ended up with numbers substantially below what AT&T was reporting on a day-to-day basis. Typically around 20-30% less. By the way, this usage is the sum of inbound and outbound. At this point, I decided to contact AT&T support to determine what exactly they were defining as usage, as their web pages never really define it. Boy, did I get a surprise. After several calls, they finally told me they consider the methodology by which they calculate bandwidth usage to be proprietary. Yes, you read that right; it's a secret. They left me with the option to contact their executive offices via snail mail. Email was not an option. So, I bring my questions to you, all-knowing Slashdotters: are there any laws that require AT&T to divulge how they are calculating data usage? Should I contact my state's commerce commission or the FCC to attempt to get an answer to this?"
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Ask Slashdot: AT&T's Data Usage Definition Proprietary?

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  • Headers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DevTechb (2772901) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:15AM (#41978537)
    Most likely you don't calculate TCP headers while AT&T rightfully does. That's why you get less bandwidth use.
  • Granted, contacting them may not actually help you in the short term, but bringing attention to this kind of nonsense is the best way there is to try and put a stop to it. Better yet, find someplace to publish a fully fledged and documented story with relevant emails and the like and THEN start getting some attention to it. This is something there certainly should be standards for, and the government needs a kick in the pants to realize that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:22AM (#41978567)

    Try the Consumer Protection Bureau. An aimless, foundering government office might get their attention.

  • by Ultra64 (318705) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:31AM (#41978609)

    "A 100 mbit fiber connection with no caps at all is around $100 a month here"

    The keyword being "here".

    "I think there are about 10 providers in this area competing with DSL, cable and fiber."

    I have one cable provider in my area, that's it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:38AM (#41978635)

    Government inspectors ensure that gas pumps are properly calibrated. A gallon is a gallon.

    The grocer's scale has to meet government standards. A pound is a pound.

    A byte should be a byte.

    AT&T saying their standard is proprietary is like the butcher arguing that he should be able to put his thumb on the scale when he is weighing your hamburger.

  • Re:Liars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neokushan (932374) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:01AM (#41978691)

    I'm going to go with this and assume that when the guy said "proprietary" he actually meant "I don't know and nobody I can talk to knows".

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:05AM (#41978711)
    Why are you defending this practice?
    Lets face it, once they have the infrastructure in place, they dont need to charge extra for it.
    Sure bandwidth costs may increase as usage increases, but so what.. they are charging for it.
    Why is everyone so complacent about this crap?
  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:08AM (#41978727) Journal

    As for for the original poster's question on law, I doubt there is any requirement, though if you challenge them in court, it would have to be revealed, or they have no evidence.

    I'm not digging into the Uniform Commercial Code right now because, well, I'm just not doing that right now.

    But I'm -pretty sure- that using an intentionally-different definition of a unit is illegal, whether someone is selling bushels of corn, heads of lettuce, pounds of rice, or gigabytes of data.

    A bushel is a bushel, a head is a head, a pound is a pound, and a gigabyte is a gigabyte.

    Any significant variation from these standards (and TFS's variation is certainly significant) should be carefully scrutinized, and either explained, corrected, or penalized as appropriate.

    Plainly, if someone sells me 1000 pounds of beef and as far as I can measure I only receive 750 pounds then that someone has got 250 pounds worth of explaining to do. I cannot imagine any circumstance under which this would be different for data transport.

  • Re:Liars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shipofgold (911683) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:11AM (#41978741)

    I will agree with this....having dealt with AT&T as a vendor, I would say their customer service people probably have no idea who in the company might be able to answer the question, so it easier to just punt and give the "proprietary" answer.

    Furthermore, I would guess they know which market the caller is coming from, and whether they are the only provider in the area. If they know you can't vote with your feet, they are much less inclined to make you happy.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xenx (2211586) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:45AM (#41978851)

    I can't see how one can reasonably include overhead that's suffered only on the first hop into the "traffic" measurement.

    It's easier to see if you're getting paid more for it.

  • Re:Headers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:03AM (#41978901)

    They can charge for whatever they want to.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:05AM (#41978915) Homepage Journal

    it kinda sucks if the customer is shafted for retransmissions done because of poor cabling by the isp.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ByOhTek (1181381) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:11AM (#41978947) Journal

    Yes, but the question is, is the packaging included in the measure, especially if it is necessary packaging? Usually, the packaging isn't tared on weighted stuff, and volume stuff tends to measure the volume of the packaging (not the items shipped/bought/etc). So, there are options on measuring or not measuring the data overhead of the transport layers, that could affect price.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kincaidia (927521) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:39AM (#41979075)
    That's not accurate. They are selling you a service by a standard measure, and that should be an absolute measurement. When you buy gasoline, you are buying a fairly exact amount, and the pumps are regularly measured to ensure they're providing the stated amount. If the petrol station started using their own "proprietary" measurements? GTFOOT.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:00AM (#41979213)

    from the shops and you get half a pound of flour, then that's just because it's their shop. You can't even cry monopoly, there's competition.

    Except that would be illegal. Short measures and false advertising are ILLEGAL for a commercial entity selling to customers.

    AT&T offer (for example) a 20GB a month cap. If they cap at 14GB, they have broken the law.

    If AT&T want to cap at 14GB a month of data, then they can just ADVERTISE a 14GB cap. But they can't advertise a 20GB cap and cap below that. It is false advertising and illegal.

  • Re:Headers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lengel (519399) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:10AM (#41979275)

    A bushel is a bushel, a head is a head, a pound is a pound, and a gigabyte is a gigabyte.

    Except when it's a gibibyte. Chances are his router uses 1024 bytes per KB, and AT&T are using 1000 bytes per KB.

    No wonder it is proprietary information.

    Except by my math, this only accounts for a 2.4% difference.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:22AM (#41979345)

    The OP could probably contact the Bureau of Weights and Measures, this is the sort of thing that they exist for. Namely to assure customers that if they buy X pounds of Y that they aren't getting (X-1) pounds z ounces of Y where Z isn't equal to 16.

    This isn't like that BS suit against the HDD manufacturers for using the SI unit for their HDD capacities, this is potentially a legitimate complaint.

  • by langelgjm (860756) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:23AM (#41979347) Journal
    My guess is that phone personnel you speak with are just instructed to tell you that something is "proprietary" whenever they don't know the answer, don't want to look it up, or don't want to bother someone who does know.
  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Omega Hacker (6676) <omega.omegacs@net> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:30AM (#41979423)

    Yeah but if someone gives you a bag containing 1000 pounds of (minced) beef, then you empty the beef out and some of the beef is stuck to the insides of the bag, and you throw the bag away you can't claim that you didn't originally receive 1000 pounds of beef.

    I think you've got that wrong. If they're measuring DSL overhead, error correction, etc then the proper analogy would be:

    Somebody sells you a crate of apples they claim is 1000 pounds. What they neglected to tell you was that the crate itself weight 200 pounds, and they included that in their calculation. You only got 800lbs of actual apples.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jameshofo (1454841) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:38AM (#41979501)
    Exactly, but charging you whatever the market will bear, and not telling you what your actually paying for are two completely different things. He's being charged for a service, and he reasonably (SHOULD) have a right to understand how he may be over or under committing his connection to the service level he's selected and being provided. If they're dangling the bait of "you may go over and we'll charge you more money than you ever wanted to spend, or we're going to downgrade your service because we want more money" then it could just be the provider padding the numbers, now I'm assuming he's in the US and is not subject to taking what the grand master has allocated him he should have some kind of recourse.

    That being said, TCP/IP overhead accounting for 20-30%? If you utilize your connection regularly I'd be shocked, but it really depends on a lot of factors, there's no numbers on his actual throughput, so was sitting idle all month with just a windows PC checking for updates to Java, flash and windows every 5 minutes and whatever mallware he inevitably has, sure. Maybe he's on an ADSL that has a bunch of ATM overhead that goes on even if he's not transmitting, so there are legitimate reasons, but one would reasonably suspect you have a right to know that your actually being charged for that!
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:45AM (#41979549) Homepage

    You're missing the point. Network data is digital - you can measure EXACTLY how many bits are being sent to the modem, which I'd consider the point of demarcation since the consumer loses all control at that point. If their count doesn't match up, then what's to stop your electric company from saying that they use a proprietary definition of "kilowatt"?

    The answer of course is the bureau of weights and measures, and the solution for ISPs who want to play games is to introduce them to a level of bureaucracy such that they'll be wondering how they ever let it happen.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:47AM (#41979561)
    Yes but they check the gas pumps because in the past crooked gas stations with rigged pumps were common. People noticed and now something is done about it. It should be no surprise that businesses in other industries are cheating that same way. Will the customers catch them often enough to get the regulators to act on it? I don't know but I don't think enough of the customers are likely to know the difference.
  • Mail them (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Necroman (61604) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:49AM (#41979575)

    Why not mail the executive office? Stop being lazy and gather all the info on it that you can. Once you hit a wall or have sufficient data, publish your findings.

    If they are doing something weird, I bet you could take then small claims court over any overage charges you end up receiving.

  • Re:Headers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by swalve (1980968) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:05AM (#41979705)

    Lets face it, once they have the infrastructure in place, they dont need to charge extra for it.

    That argument is bologna. The infrastructure is never "in place". It's always being improved or repaired. And even if it really was static, where did the money come from to put it in place? I don't know what this stuff costs, but I do know it is expensive. They have to amortize the cost of the equipment purchase over the length of the useful life of the stuff. They have to pay the billing and customer service people. They have to pay for their downlinks. They have to save up money to pay for the next round of upgrades.

    I'm sure they charge more than they *have* to, but it is folly to think that it is free once the wires are all plugged in and the power is turned on.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:14AM (#41979789)
    They shouldn't. You should get a 1.5mb connection and pay less. It will serve your needs well. I should get a 30MB connection and pay for it. It will serve my needs well. We should BOTH get the bandwidth we paid for, even if we cap it out. The problem isn't the customers, the problem is ISPs selling 30MB connections for $20/month and then setting a cap so low I could hit it in under an hour. They're doing this to attract customers with high speeds at low prices, but once they have the customers they're refusing to let them use the product they rightfully purchased because they only charged the customer enough to support 1/10th the speed they promised. This problem will not be solved by the ISPs... they are locked into a price war. The FCC needs to step in a setup rules for speed/caps, etc... They need to test ISPs and make sure they are delivering what they are offering. This "up to 20Mb!" and then getting less than 1Mb nonsense needs to end.
  • by zarmanto (884704) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:37AM (#41979991) Journal

    They won't go "Well, we won't supply you any more" and get a new customer, they'll take you to court for the money.

    Well... no. They'll just suspend your account for non-payment until you pay.

    And that's part of the problem... the service provider ultimately has the upper hand, since the customer needs that internet connection a lot more then the service provider needs the remaining $7. As such, the reality is that pretty much any customer who tried that kind of stunt will panic and promptly pay up as soon as they realize that their internet has been shut off.

    This service provider advantage is also why utility companies (gas, water, electricity, etc.) can so easily get away with charging outrageous "reconnection" fees, just to flip a switch and turn you back if you should happen to miss your payment date for some reason. As such, it's that much more important that the service provider be held accountable for their system of measurement. A "proprietary" system of measurement just doesn't hold water.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RulerOf (975607) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:02AM (#41980633)

    Lets face it, once they have the infrastructure in place, they dont need to charge extra for it. Sure bandwidth costs may increase as usage increases, but so what.. they are charging for it.

    That's the obnoxious thing. See, they sell you a connection; let's use an LTE-Wifi puck as an example. They say "speeds up to 25 Megabits per second," then they turn right around and give you a completely different number but disguise or attempt to justify it as a different metric altogether, such as "5 Gigabytes per month."

    Those are both measurements of bandwidth. All they did was move the scale. So let's even out the units:

    • (5 gigabytes) / (1 month) == 1.99368468 KBps
    • (25 megabits per second) / (1 kilobyte per second) == 3200 KBps

    However:

    • 3200 KBps != 1.993 KBps
    • Conclusion: Someone's lying.

    When you attempt to solve a problem with bandwidth by restricting transfer, all you do is alter the actual bandwidth that someone is paying for, while simultaneously shoving into the customer's hands an extremely effective method for automatically increasing their bill. This creates massive incentive to never use the service at all, which increases the quality of service for those that do use it, and generates significantly more profit than increasing capacity to compensate for actual usage. As a bonus, since the service is faster, it's easier for the less conscious to run up their own bills. Win-fucking-win-fucking-win. For everyone except the customer.

    It's just fucking wrong. Transfer caps are an artificial construct that do not actually address the problem. While they can work in theory, the fact that networks slow down in spite of the fact that they exist goes to show that they're a titanic pile of bullshit. They comically generate the money needed to address the actual problem with the service but they will stay around forever. Because fuck the customer.

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