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

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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  • by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:38AM (#41978633)

    This idea will spread if corporations can profit it from it. Expect to see "proprietary" metering coming to electricity, gas, water, fuel and anything else that can be metered.

    And of course they would treat customers like that. The primary constituency that a corporation is focused on is the shareholders and they are deemed far more important than customers, who come further down the priority list. Customers are still more important than the corporation's rank and file staff though, if that offers any solace.

  • by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:26AM (#41978791)

    There might all sorts of traffic related to your router that you're not seeing. AT&T is likely metering your connection on their end, both in and out, and consequentially finding more overhead than you do related to signaling, headers, error correction, and so forth. They might additionally be metering ATM traffic or such instead of IP traffic -- aka even more network data.

    Methinks the support guy saying it is "proprietary" is a candid way of saying he has no clue of what is being measured - let alone how. Also, it seems conceivable that AT&T might be using different techs depending on the location, and this may very well result in different connections being metered differently or at different levels. This is not to say that they shouldn't be transparent on how they meter you and what they meter exactly. I just doubt your contract entitles you to a full disclosure of how they run their network -- which is indeed proprietary and subject to change without notice.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SkunkPussy ( 85271 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:29AM (#41978799) Journal

    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'm not really defending AT&T, just providing perspective.

    That said they should definitely be completely transparent about how they measure bandwidth.

  • A quick translation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:42AM (#41978835) Journal

    After several calls, they finally told me they consider the methodology by which they calculate bandwidth usage to be proprietary.

    I just want to be sure that people realise that this doesn't actually mean they consider the methodology by which they calculate bandwidth usage to be proprietary. It's just a lie because the person being asked doesn't know the answer, doesn't know how to find out and feels that it's the sort of thing that will shut the submitter up.

    Just a warning to those who might actually believe them.

  • Weights and Measures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aurizon ( 122550 ) <bill.jackson@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:03AM (#41978909)

    If AT&T is dispensing a measured quantity of anything, and you feel you are being cheated, make a complaint to the state bureau that deals with this. Look on a gas station pump and you will be able to find them.

    I expect they may not be doing this now, but a written complaint and their desire to build their empire may well cause the heavy hand of officialdom to descend on AT&T.

    There are studies to do, standards to settle and matters to enforce and little stickers to put on all measuring points. AT&T will quake in their boots, run and hide?

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by telchine ( 719345 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:18AM (#41978985)

    a gigabyte is a gigabyte.

    And a gigabyte can be either 1,000 MB or 1,024 MB ;-) obligitory xkcd link []

    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.

    Maybe you're just measuring the lean meat but your butcher is measuring the fat as well, or he's quoting gross weight and you're quoting net weight? Someone has suggested that AT&T may be measuring packet overhead and the article poster might not be.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:58AM (#41979195)
    I'm a long time AT&T customer. I'm going to explain to the OP what his situation really is. He can either accept the reality of it or go on his Don Quixote quest to be a one man army against AT&T.

    AT&T no longer wants to support their DSL service. So they do things to make it unpleasant for customers who can now get Uverse but have chosen not to do so. The DSL service drops constantly and I believe this is deliberately done to make people angry enough to abandon it. If you switch to Uverse, you will find that your completely unreliable DSL connection has been replaced magically with a completely reliable Uverse connection. Uverse also has much higher download limits. I've never even come close to using all of mine. The Uverse service is so much better and more reliable than their DSL offering that I would suggest you consider switching if you can. They are going to continue to make it painful for DSL customers who could switch but choose not to.
  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:08AM (#41979259)

    Including ATM overhead, and probably even just the AAL5 overhead, would probably be grounds for a lawsuit because that overhead is an artifact of AT&T's network design that is invisible to the user and out of the user's control. What would you do if a shipper charged you by the pound to ship a box and then also billed you for the weight of a hand truck that they decided to send along for their own convenience in handling your package?

    I'd complain, and then the shipper would subtract the weight of the hand truck (20% of the weight of the box) and then mark up their per weight prices by 30% saying their had been an increase to the cost of doing business. Which is more-or-less what AT&T will end up doing if they need to adjust the way they calculate usage.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:35AM (#41979467) Homepage

    Agree. If you sell something it should be in a defined unit of measure, and it should be calibrated such that any errors are in the favor of the consumer. That's where the whole baker's dozen thing came from - bakers would include an extra piece of bread to ensure that any errors in their measurements would be more than compensated for. Back in those days if an inspector did a surprise scale test and you came up short you'd lose your hand, so bakers were eager to ensure they were in spec.

    I don't care what the unit of measure is, as long as it is defined. That said, it would be nice if we could actually all be metric - I was just shopping for phone cases and it is REALLY annoying when the phone dimensions are in mm and the case dimensions are in inches.

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tgd ( 2822 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:01AM (#41979667)

    Is 20-30% A realistic estimation of TCP headers?

    If the numbers are correct I would say that a significant portion below the tcp/ip layer is being counted.

    How much retransmit/error correction is there in DSL? I personally wouldn't think that's valid to charge, but the argument could be made.

    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.

    20-30% isn't realistic, but headers plus a mismatch between a MiB and MB measure would get you a lot closer. The poster also didn't mention if all of the traffic was being totaled in his calculations (TCP/UDP/ICMP,etc).

    He's also likely measuring traffic going *though* his router, not traffic coming *to* his router. ATT is measuring at their end, so he's likely being billed for the constant port knocking and vulnerability scanning that is going on.

    Does it add up to 20-30%? Maybe no. Is ATT collectively a bunch of shitheads? Absolutely. Is it safe to assume because they're a bunch of shitheads that they're deliberately mis-billing? Also so. And "proprietary" could VERY easily be a corporate policy of "don't tell them anything if you're going to tell them something that is inaccurate". And I wouldn't trust a call center worker to properly explain the byte-for-byte measurement of network traffic. Far better to say "no, its proprietary" than to only explain 80% of it, get 10% wrong and have Slashdot or Reddit get their panties in a bunch because a near-minimum-wage call center worker mis-spoke.

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by firex726 ( 1188453 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:14AM (#41979781)

    When I was with Comcast their door to door salesmen started accusing/harassing me for stealing cable.
    Of course at the time I did not have a cable box and no way to connect the coax to anything.

    Turns out, a previous tech had mislabeled the wires, and my Apt had two wires listed. Someone else was plugging in theirs but it was labeled in pencil, as mine.

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The Moof ( 859402 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:48AM (#41980489)

    Someone has suggested that AT&T may be measuring packet overhead and the article poster might not be.

    Overhead isn't 20-30%. Assuming a typical setup using mostly UDP/TCP/IP over a PPP connection, he's losing, at most, 48 bytes for every 1500. That's a whopping 3.2%.

    A more likely explanation is that someone's not measuring correctly (either the submitter or AT&T). It's feasible that AT&T is fudging the numbers. It's also feasible that the submitter isn't correctly monitoring traffic, such as only measure routed traffic and ignoring packets to the internet originating from the router, such as DNS, NTP, etc.

  • Re:Headers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @12:07PM (#41980703) Homepage

    And if they are doing so, that would be silly. There's a lot more capacity at the local DSLAM than there is upstream. Everyone has their own copper pair. Upstream usage is what should be subjected to a cap. The overhead of the last mile is irrelevant.

  • Re:Headers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MNNorske ( 2651341 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @12:16PM (#41980795)
    I can do you one better there. When I moved into one apartment I plugged my tv into the wall expecting to be hooked up to the building antenna. Instead, I found I had Comcast. So I didn't say anything and just enjoyed the service expecting it to go away when a tech realized it was hooked up. About three months went by and a Comcast tech showed up at my door asking if I'd like to have their service, I said no thanks. Sure enough a little while later my tv was no longer receiving Comcast and I was on the building antenna. Another three months goes by and another Comcast tech showed up at my door and claimed I was receiving Comcast illegally. I told him no I wasn't I only go the over the air channels, he looked rather confused. Less than an hour later my tv suddenly was receiving Comcast again. Mislabeled wires? Techs that don't know what they're doing? I'm not sure, but it was entertaining.

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