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AT&T Hardware Hacking The Almighty Buck The Internet

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About Repeated Internet Overbilling? 355

Posted by timothy
from the hey-these-guys-did-it-to-me-too dept.
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T has been overbilling my account based on overcounting DSL internet usage (they charge in 50 gigabyte units after the first 150). I have been using a Buffalo NFinity Airstation as a managed switch to count all traffic. As you may know, this device runs firmware based on dd-wrt and has hidden telnet functionality, so I am able to load a script to count traffic directly onto the device. I have an auto-scraper that collects the data and saves it on my computer's hard disk every two minutes while the computer is running. While it is not running, the 2 minute counters accumulate in RAM on the device. Power problems are not normally an issue here; and even when they are I can tell it has happened. The upshot of all this is I can measure the exact amount of download bandwidth and a guaranteed overestimate of upload bandwidth in bytes reliably. I have tested this by transferring known amounts of data and can account for every byte counted, including ethernet frame headers. AT&T's billing reporting reports usage by day only, lags two days, and uses some time basis other than midnight. It is also reading in my testing a fairly consistent 14% higher whenever the basis doesn't disturb the test by using too much bandwidth too close to midnight.

AT&T has already refused to attempt to fix the billing meter, and asserts they have tested it and found it correct. Yet they refuse to provide a realtime readout of the counter that would make independent testing trivial. I've been through the agencies (CPUC, FCC, and Weights & Measures) and can't find one that is interested, AT&T will not provide any means for reasonable independent testing of the meter. It is my understanding that if there is a meter and its calibration cannot be checked, there is a violation of the law, yet I can't find an agency that can even accept such a claim (I'm not getting "your claim is meritless", but "we don't handle that"). If indeed they are not overbilling, my claim of no way to verify the meter still stands. My options are running thin here. So that my account can be identified by someone who recognizes the case: 7a6c74964fafd56c61e06abf6c820845cbcd4fc0 (bit commitment).
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Ask Slashdot: What To Do About Repeated Internet Overbilling?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:41PM (#47769671)

    Have you thought that probably AT&T use PPPoA (point to point over ATM) that basically cause an overhead of 15% between your IP traffic and the traffic actually happening on your DSL line ?

  • by onproton (3434437) <emdanyi&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:46PM (#47769725)
    Does it matter? In my opinion, the fact that they can't provide evidence of usage that could be independently verified is absurd.
  • PPPoE and ATM add overhead to about 16%.

    Yup your paying for the encapsulation that never leaves their network.

  • by Lowen_SoDium (1338503) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:47PM (#47769733)
    Thats all fine and good except, ATT shouldn't be charging for the overhead on their internal network. The reason that the meter their network usage is to limit how much upstream bandwidth they need, not because the DSL network is saturated.
  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:07PM (#47769899) Homepage Journal

    Most places I've seen measure with encapsulation, because it's easier. The problem's not with the meter, it's with the small print

    The problem actually is with the meter, if you're not allowed to see the meter.

    "We're going to charge you based on this gas/electric/water/phone meter, but you have no way to verify the reading" is something the PUC wouldn't accept other than in the case of "the Internet".

  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:14PM (#47769963) Homepage Journal

    I thought everyone knew this, or were able to google it especially if they are able to upload something like DDWRT to their router. Perhaps I had too much faith.

    especially in AT&T if nobody he's ever spoken with about the issue knew enough to mention encapsulation. It doesn't sound like he's a dope, just possibly missed this factor. Somebody there could have simply asked him, "are you counting the overhead of PPPoE and ATM?" and then his post may have been entirely different, if it even existed at all.

    With millions of home users and thousands of techs, the onus should not be on the customer base to understand how the vendor's product works internally.

  • by Sowelu (713889) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:17PM (#47769991)

    That's "average" for you. If a majority of households use it mainly for email and Facebook...

  • by spire3661 (1038968) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:22PM (#47770033) Journal
    Dude, thats less than 5 GB a DAY. Thats nothing on the modern internet. I can go through that just uploading my surveillance videos to my offsite. Our infrastructure needs SERIOUS upgrades to handle these loads. Stop asking this question, start asking yourself why you think thats a lot of data, because it isnt.
  • Re:maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:46PM (#47770215)

    Doesn't really matter though, you can't charge somebody for bandwidth used to move data, only the bandwidth the end user used. Imagine if you went to buy milk and bought a gallon but were charged for 1.25 gallons because of spillage in the bottling plant. Not legal. Not even a little. You have to work that cost into what you charge for a gallon, and then charge for the gallon the end user buys.

    I say the sane thing to do about this is class action lawsuit personally. Don't charge for something you didn't supply, it's illegal, plain and simple.

  • Re:Force of Law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by soren42 (700305) <[j] [at] [son-kay.com]> on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:53PM (#47770265) Homepage Journal
    This is the type of approach most of us "law hackers" (aka "armchair attorneies") would try as a next step. The flip side (and the down side) is that AT&T will never allow the actual issue to appear before a judge. They will:

    - parade out yours terms of service agreement as a contract and request sunmary dismissal
    - cancel your service
    - bury you in motions: change of venue to their HQ state (which is likely in those terms of service), dismissal insufficient standing — you're not an expert, you hacked your gear to obtain incorrect figures, et cetera

    At the end of the day, they can simply outspend the average user, and it's in their best interest to do so. Lending any sort of credibility to such a lawsuit would expose them to similar suits from other users — up to a potential class action. The lawsuit will never even make it to anyone technical for review of it's merit. They have an in-house legal team and many firms on retainer to deal with just such suits.

    It all sucks, but that's the real world view for the little guy in our legal system.
  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @07:00PM (#47770299) Journal
    I think people are missing the point of TFA, why are the "weights and measures" people not interested? If it was a greengrocer with a rigged scale he would be in handcuffs explaining himself to a judge.
  • Overhead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrYak (748999) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @07:02PM (#47770321) Homepage

    Imagine if you went to buy milk and bought a gallon but were charged for 1.25 gallons because of spillage in the bottling plant.

    Or to be more similar: you got charged 1.25, because they determine the price by weighting it and thus are also weighting the glass milk bottles and the hard plastic crate carrying them.
    And when you ask them why you don't get the same amount of gallons that you measure in your kitchen and on their bill, they just answer "No, everything is okay, our bill is 100% right.". Without ever mentioning that you need to take that overhead into account. Without you having any way to check it or control the milkbottle+crate weighting process neither.

  • Re:maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jrumney (197329) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @08:25PM (#47770859) Homepage
    When the electricity company bills me, they bill me for the electricity metered at my premises, not for the overhead that is used by the grid. Why should Internet providers be any different? Yes, technically the ATM packets are coming into the premises, but they are part of the network overhead, not what is used by the customer.
  • Re:maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jrumney (197329) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @08:29PM (#47770893) Homepage
    They are not interested because they do not understand what is happening. They ask the industry experts they have access to, and they will all give the telco side of the story. It needs someone to sit down with them over a beer and explain it in terms they can understand.
  • by ShaunC (203807) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @09:29PM (#47771201)

    The point of TFA is that comcast's network metering methods are hidden from customer scrutiny and nobody at weights and measures seems to give a damn.

    The best part of your comment is that TFA is regarding ATT's practices, and has nothing to do with Comcast. Yet even someone in Australia knows how fucked up Comcast is, and has mistaken another carrier for Comcast because the story is about ripping off a customer. If that doesn't show the incredibly awful nature and reputation of Comcast, I'm not sure what does. It's too bad the FCC won't see this thread.

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