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AT&T Hardware Hacking The Almighty Buck The Internet

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

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 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.
  • 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.

  • Re:What to do? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:49PM (#47769745)

    A less drastic, but equally annoying solution might be to just turn it off for a month. See what they bill you then.

    "It was turned off" is a lot more likely to persuade a small claims court to your side than "I was overcharged by 14%, and here are the dozen esoteric ways I can prove it".

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:26PM (#47770057)

    I am a software developer and consultant. I download entire system images (4-8GB), client log files (gigabytes), daily system updates for a number of systems (more gigabytes). I download multi-terabytes per month. If I didn't have an unlimited business plan, I would be out of business. Just getting the headers for my system repositories is multi-megabytes per day per system - 3 Linux and 2 Apple, plus updates for 2 phones.

    Data caps are bogus and only serve to fuel the undeserved profits of AT&T and their ilk. I pay for bandwidth, not volume. The bandwidth automatically throttles the volume of data I can access, and if I need more, I'll happily pay for it, but nickle and dimeing me to death because I need to download more data than they want is not an option as far as I'm concerned.

    ISP's should be concerned about bandwidth, NOT the amount of data you use that bandwidth to access. That said, I understand that sometimes there is so much demand for available bandwidth that download/upload speeds slow down (my wife needs to upload data to the lab, and my download speeds to get the latest RHEL distribution slows), but this is a physical limitation of the pipe available, not an arbitrary limitation by the ISP.

  • Re:maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:31PM (#47770113)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:59PM (#47770291)

    Every internet contract that I have seen does say that they charge for all of the traffic including protocol overhead. It is my understanding that the charges are normally done with a logging setup similar to what was described in the article where they just dump the switch/router port traffic based on the MAC of the modem and/or your currently assigned IP(s). I do think it is completely wrong that you have no way of seeing this and I suspect that part of why they are not required to have a meter that you can read is because internet service is not a public utility unlike water, gas, and electric that are required to have meters that you can read. I agree that if you are charged for something based on usage then you need to be able to view not only the current usage, but also that you can review exactly how it is being measured and what is being measured.

  • Re:maybe (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @06:59PM (#47770295)
    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.
  • Re:maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @10:59PM (#47771661)
    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.

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