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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 cirrustelecom (1353617) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:37PM (#47769629)
    Maybe they are counting encapsulation?
    • Re:maybe (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dr.Zong (584494) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:46PM (#47769729) Journal
      I was going to say, ATM/PPPoE encapsulation is approximately 15% of total traffic. Bell Canada and all providers do that up here. 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.
      • 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.

        • 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: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward
            This is more like charging for dry goods by weight and including the weight of the container. Spillage is waste, ATM overhead is a necessary evil.
          • 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.

          • by mattack2 (1165421)

            But isn't this technically not "spillage at the bottling plant", but "packaging removed by the delivery men"? So it's almost spillage on your front door...

            That is, you're paying for the full weight of the package, including the container.. But when they deliver it, they remove the container and take it away.. So you did pay for delivery of the container, you just don't have it anymore..?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Noah Haders (3621429)
              my ups and postage is paid for by the ounce/lb, including envelope and carton. I'm not crying because I'm getting charged for shipping the packaging. well yes, i'm crying right now, but it has nothing to do with UPS.
          • Doesn't really matter though, you can't charge somebody for bandwidth used to move data, only the bandwidth the end user used.

            Says who?

          • Wrong analogy. It is like buying a 1/4 pounder* (where the 1/4 pound is raw weight). Something is lost to cooking (transfer). I'm sure At&t's lawyers already covered their butts. If you read the small print ATM/MPLS overhead is probably included in the bandwidth calculation. Mystery solved Scooby Doo.
            • by omnichad (1198475)

              When you buy a quarter pounder, there's a footnote on every sign and menu board that reads *Precooked weight. Where is AT&T's definition?

      • by green1 (322787)

        Bell Canada and all providers do that up here.

        Not "all providers up here", only those where you live, in Western Canada I'm not aware of any PPPoE providers.

      • Re:maybe (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tuidjy (321055) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:31PM (#47770101)

        This is exactly what's going on. The company I work for had this problem, at one of our warehouses (not AT&T, different provider, probably subletting from someone).

        The warehouse manager threatened his local rep with a law suit, they laughed at him. The company lawyer mentioned a class action law suit, they fixed our billing the same month.

        When we had to renew, the new contract spelled out that they will bill us for the 'resulting' traffic. It got signed without anyone from my department getting asked, but the funny thing is, months later, they are still billing us the old way i.e. without the overhead.

        As for the original poster - check your contract. If you have not agreed to pay for their internal overhead, you will get amazing results if you remind them that they are overcharging thousands of customers, and that they can be on the hook for millions, when a lawyer agrees to take the case for a percentage. If you have agreed to pay for the overhead... I doubt there is much you can do.

        By the way, I am an IT director ,not a lawyer, so don't go blindly follow my advice, either.

      • Why should we pay for ATM encapsulation? That is THEIR choice, not what people think they're getting when they ask for internet service.

        • It needs to be paid for one way or the other ... it's irreducible overhead to move the data you are asking them to move. You either pay for it with a lower effective cap or you pay a higher price per overhead-free byte. Six of one, half dozen o' the other. ...

          • by countach (534280)

            I don't buy it. A petrol station might have an irreducible overhead of evaporation in storage, but the point is when I fill up one litre or one gallon, that's how much I expect to get. If there is irreducible overhead, that's their problem.

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            Except it's not irreducible, it's an explicit choice to use ATM. Many variants of DSL (such as the VDSL2 that is all companies like Bell Canada deploy these says) don't require ATM. Of course, replacing outdated hardware with VDSL2 hardware has a cost too, but the companies should be (and are) doing that anyhow.

        • 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.
          • 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 Guspaz (556486)

        That 15% is far more from ATM (9.4% overhead) than PPPoE (0.5% overhead), and Bell Canada's newer services (VDSL2, GPON) are unaffected as they no longer use ATM.

      • 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.
        • by omnichad (1198475)

          On my electric bill, there's a usage charge AND a delivery charge. But both charges only account for what's used behind the meter - not during transit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's like a trucking company adding the weight of the truck to the weight of the cargo. Encapsulation puts zero strain on the network and should not be counted, since almost everything goes back to an IP network once it reaches the DSLAM. Knowing what fuckers these guys are, I'm sure they count it too. However, you would need a lawyer to go through their contract.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:40PM (#47769657)
    According to this article: http://blog.ipspace.net/2009/0... [ipspace.net]
    • 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.
      • Well as long as they make is clear what they are measuring.
      • 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.

        this has no bearing on anything.

        tl dr, guy is upset because when ATT said he has a 150GB cap it's actually a 135GB cap. Yes, those are the games people play. My 25MPG car just gets 22MPG on average. My 2x4 lumber is actually 3.5" wide. that's the way that business works in America. people have their thumbs on the scale. Just internalize that you have a 135GB cap and call it a day.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Not it isn't. 2x4 is by standard 3.5 inches. 2x4 nowhere claims that it's 2 inches by 4 inches, it's just a name, but if you look up the size, it's required to be I think 3.5x1.75 or somewhere around there. 12 ounce drinks had better have at least 12 ounces in them. If it isn't, the manufaturer is commiting fraud and can be sued. If you go to a gas station, if their pump short changes you more than 1%, that's illegal. If you claim to sell a certain amount, you have to be within a tolerance or you have

        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @07:49PM (#47770635) Journal

          My 2x4 lumber is actually 3.5" wide.

          Only if it has already been dried and dressed, it comes off the greenchain at the sawmill as 2X4 (to within 1/16th of an inch), as it dries the dimensions change, dressing the timber takes an 1/8th of an inch off each side. If a lumber yard attempted to sell you undressed timber as 2X4 that was actually 3.75 X 1.75 then the weights and measures people would definitely be interested. Here in Oz dressed timber is now advertised with real dimensions not it's undressed dimensions The practice goes way back to the days when most buildings used undressed timber for structural purposes. These days carpenters don't normally build frames on site, it's all prefab frames and roofs that just bolt together, for that technique to work it needs the more consistent dimensions of dressed timber.

          Nobody is scamming you out of useful timber, the industry terminology is well defined and is not hidden from the customer. 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.

          • 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.

    • by CaptBubba (696284)

      This is exactly the cause. The ATM overhead is being counted by AT&T and it has been a problem ever since they started metered billing.

      Now they *shouldn't* be doing so because that is a bit like the water utility charging you for 11000 gallons when you only used 10000 to account for leaks in their system or the gas station saying you pumped 1.2 gallons for every actual gallon to cover the fuel used to bring the gas to the station, but until they are regulated like a utility and the appropriate regulato

      • I would have thought "weights and measures" was the appropriate authority, they are quite capable of enforcing fair and transparent measures on non-utility businesses such as petrol stations.
    • Also packet loss can add a percent of two under normal circumstances.
    • by nwf (25607)

      So, the answer is, contact a lawyer for a possible class action law suit against Comcast for deceptive billing. I'd bet this is just about the OP's only option, since most people would assume network overhead isn't counted. If it is, litigation is likely the only recourse.

      • by compro01 (777531)

        Doesn't Comcast have a "You're not allowed to file a class action suit against us. Hahahaha." clause in their contracts?

        • Doesn't Comcast have a "You're not allowed to file a class action suit against us. Hahahaha." clause in their contracts?

          Comcast having that in their contracts and it actually meaning anything to a court are two different things.

          Comcast has little reason to NOT put it in there, doesn't mean it would hold up.

          If you find a lawyer willing to file the case, it becomes the job of the Judge to decide if that clause means anything or not.

          • by compro01 (777531)

            No-class-action clauses have held up, all the way to the Supreme Court. See AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.

      • So, the answer is, contact a lawyer for a possible class action law suit against Comcast for deceptive billing. I'd bet this is just about the OP's only option, since most people would assume network overhead isn't counted. If it is, litigation is likely the only recourse.

        Hopefully his lawyer will say "Yes, by all means let's sue Comcast because AT&T is overbilling."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 ?

  • DSL overhead (Score:5, Informative)

    by Omega Hacker (6676) <omega@nOSpAM.omegacs.net> on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:42PM (#47769679)
    http://pflog.net/dsl_overhead/

    Looks like they're counting ATM frames, not your IP traffic.
  • by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:44PM (#47769701)
    If you have Uverse, pay the extra 15 dollars a month for their most crappy TV service. The TV bandwidth is through the same series of tubes, and paying their 15 dollar a month television fee removes their ability to charge you for overages. But like all ATT services, be sure to manage your own DNS settings, as their default is so horrible that all my neighbors thought their "internet was down" when it was just a DNS server from hell.

    I don't actually know for sure that the TV vs Bandwidth thing is a fact, but I can tell you that I no longer get charged for overages, and my Router's stats tell me I am using more than ever, and the only change is I signed up for "limited basic" or whatever it is called + HBO (for HBO Go) and the TV receiver is sitting in shrink wrap in my closet.
    • by green1 (322787)

      I can't speak for AT&T's implementation, but where I live we also have a TV over DSL provider, and they can definitely tell the difference between TV traffic and non-TV traffic, and therefore can still see what your non-TV traffic totals up to if they want to bill for overage... the plus side is I've never heard of anyone actually receiving an overage bill, but they do reserve the right. This also means that they can limit bandwidth separately for TV and internet services, so for example you could watch

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I think AT&T isn't yet able to discern actual traffic. They still have not rolled out their bandwidth usage tool although the button for it has been there for at least two years. And I can validate my access as an authorized viewer for some tv channels by using my internet-only AT&T account. I could be wrong, but I suspect they just don't know how much traffic is being used by who and for what purpose.

  • I seem to remember a group of lawyers caught AT&T in the act of subtracting data from a phone that had been turned off and a class action suit ensued. Maybe do a google search on this and reach out to the same attorneys. It sounds like you have something with merit.
  • It sounds like you are watching traffic inside of your network, and not the interface between your edge router, and the ISP device.

    You could be missing many things; incoming traffic that your edge router drops, retransmissions between your edge router and the ISP device, and firmware/config updates for the ISP device.

    We really need more detail.

  • AT&T Billing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:45PM (#47769717)

    I have a friend who used to resell AT&T bandwidth as a whole sale reseller. He caught AT&T overcharging him. He joined with other ISP's and resellers and demonstrated AT&T was doing this to all of them. There was fairly good size money involved in this, north of $10 meg. They filed a class action lawsuit against AT&T. As all the contracts came up for renewal AT&T refused to renew the contracts. It took AT&T about 6 months to these ISP's out of business.

    AT&T is not your friend.

    During their investigation they found that AT&T uses for separate billing systems to collect the same usage data. They found that the systems use the same inputs but all yield different billing amounts. The highest amount can be up to 20% higher than the lowest amount. It turns out they simply select the system that yields the highest number that month and bill the customer.

  • PPPoE and ATM add overhead to about 16%.

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

    • by Yakasha (42321)

      PPPoE and ATM add overhead to about 16%.

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

      So then the answer to his question is: hire a lawyer to look over your contract and determine if the PPPoE+ATM overhead is considered their traffic, or yours.

      The next step after that is to simply dispute a bill and demand arbitration (since we all know that those contracts forbid lawsuits).

      Of course he could skip the lawyer and just submit a dispute/demand for arbitration. But, who pays for the arbitration? AT&T? Customer? "Loser"? Skipping the lawyer might end up costing even more $$.

  • The thing to remember about AT&T's DSL and Uverse data limits are that data coming down AND data going up count against that cap.

    So when you download that 4GB movie file, it counts, but when you use Dropbox or Carbonite, those uploaded files/data count against your cap too.

    • what about when I email a file to myself?
      • by Tuidjy (321055)

        You are kidding, I hope.

        Unless you are running an e-mail server on your own home network, of course it counts against your data cap.

        The file is encoded, transmitted to an e-mail server somewhere else, and stored there until your e-mail client retrieves it.

        A 10M file can easily count as 60M against your cap, depending on the encoding your client uses. x3 for the encoding, and x2 for the transmission.

        • Lies, base64 encoding (as in e-mail) only bumps it up to 4/3. Even when you add TCP, ATM, and all the rest you are likely to run into, it will only be about 1.5x.

          A worst case there and back is more like ever so slightly above 30 than 60. To get 60 on an e-mail you would need to bounce it between a totally stupid number of mail servers to get the mail headers to become 30MB.

        • by mcmonkey (96054)

          And if you're using email to transfer a 10M file, you should be banished frmo the internet.

  • If they are overcharging you or miss-measuring, this could be a consumer protection issue and possibly your State Attorney General or possibly the U.S. Attorney's office could help you. But you're going to have an uphill battle all the way, just like Slashdoters roll their eye's every time a judge makes a crazy ruling in technology related cases that's clearly wrong because they don't have a good grasp of the technology involved you're going to be speaking a foreign language to these people and you're going

  • There are typically four or five ISPs that will serve any area. Many of them are not well advertised. Some of them sublet from the major providers. Find one you can tolerate, contract through them... and try to avoid metered internet plans because they're all bullshit.

  • by nblender (741424) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:14PM (#47769967)

    If it's not the ATM encapsulation overhead as many others have rightly suggested, have a look at the traffic... I had similar concerns with my ISP... I have a Cisco switch between my local firewall and my cable modem... I set one port to monitor mode (copy all packets to a write-only switch port) and captured all of my internet traffic for a number of months... I then analyzed the .cap file and discovered a ginormous amount of SMB advertisements and arp who-has from other cable customers... For those few months, it was on the order of about 10% of my traffic... My ISP has been threatening to bill for over-usage for years so I was gathering data to throw back at them in the event that I ever received a bill. I haven't ever received a bill for over-usage and so haven't pursued the matter.

    • by niado (1650369)

      If it's not the ATM encapsulation overhead as many others have rightly suggested, have a look at the traffic... I had similar concerns with my ISP... I have a Cisco switch between my local firewall and my cable modem... I set one port to monitor mode (copy all packets to a write-only switch port) and captured all of my internet traffic for a number of months... I then analyzed the .cap file and discovered a ginormous amount of SMB advertisements and arp who-has from other cable customers... For those few months, it was on the order of about 10% of my traffic...

      From what the submitter said, all that garbage would be included in his traffic calculations. I would put another vote in for encapsulation.

      Your findings are a good illustration of the value of a local firewall between your LAN and the ISP's network. Who knows what kind of icky traffic is rolling around out there.

  • Waltz to your local PD and fill out a complaint for criminal fraud. You probably will have to push a bit but they may have no choice other than to investigate and those charges may well rock Att"s world. If that fails file a suit in court. You might claim loss of use and enjoyment of your home. A lawyer may help. But realize that ATT must mount a response and sanity may rule the hour as mounting that defense will cost ATT a fortune. Quickly settling with you may prevent them from having to pr
    • 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.
  • get the ball rolling on court action for a giant class-action lawsuit by explaining to your AG that you're tracking them, and they're consistently lying on your bill. also start engaging the power of the press by calling your local newspaper, promising them a scoop.

  • by Forever Wondering (2506940) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @07:00PM (#47770303)

    sonic.net has no datacaps and no "artificial" speed limits. [Note: I'm not affiliated with them--just a very happy customer since I switched in March].

    Of course, I'm assuming that when you said "CPUC" that means California PUC. If so, go to http://www.sonic.net/ [sonic.net] and enter your AT&T landline number. They will tell you how many feet you are from the sonic CO. Then, go to http://www.dslreports.com/foru... [dslreports.com] to see what your likely speed with sonic will be.

    I'm 5000 feet to the sonic CO, so I got 1.3 megabytes/second [2x AT&T's elite service]. sonic is also cheaper. And, tech support couldn't be more pleasant or helpful.

    In fact, when you post a tech question to a sonic tech forum, you might just get a response from Dane [Jasper]--the sonic.net CEO

  • AT&T keeps adding "insurance" charges to our bill without asking. They make up odd excuses to keep adding it back after removal, something like, "Oh, you said, 'Are you sure', I thought you said, "You insure us".

    Reminds me of the browser Spam Bar prompts: "Are you sure you don't want to not add the Ask Tool Bar? _Yes _No"

  • Here's what you should do: nothing at all. Life is too short and there are better battles to fight.

We want to create puppets that pull their own strings. - Ann Marion

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