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Firm That Tests ISP Meters: ISP Meters Aren't Accurate
And Many ISPs Simply Don't Care
by Karl Bode 12:31PM Thursday Feb 07 2013
It has been about half a decade now that I've been pointing out that most of the meters used by ISPs to track and bill consumers for usage aren't accurate. Customers of Canadian cable operator Cogeco have long complained the company's meter is inaccurate when users can load it at all, and every so often the meter simply goes mad -- like last Spring when the meter was horribly confused by leap year.

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For years our users have noted in great detail how AT&T's DSL and U-Verse meters aren't accurate, and when pressed for details on how usage is tracked, AT&T has insisted their meter information is proprietary. Similarly, we've pointed out how Suddenlink's usage meters were also inaccurate, with users being billed even when they had no power.

Only after our story did Suddenlink suspend their efforts to impose overage fees until they could correct the problem (they haven't yet). This kind of stuff has been going on for half a decade, without a passing glance from either regulators or the tech press. Even consumer advocates, usually on the front lines of these fights, haven't really zeroed in on the problem of unreliable meters.

With that important background understood, Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOM this morning has posted an interesting piece that talks to Peter Sevcik, president of NetForecast, a firm hired by ISPs to track their usage meter accuracy. His findings? Most ISP meters are completely inaccurate and worse -- the ISPs aren't particularly concerned about it, likely because they know regulators are totally asleep on the issue.

According to Sevcik, his firm was hired by seven ISPs to test their meters as those ISPs inch slowly toward caps and overage fees. Only two ISPs passed the test for meter accuracy and only one has publicized NetForecast's findings (Comcast). Sevcik isn't naming the five ISPs with inaccurate meters, but he notes that it's a significant problem. Because many of the meters often under-report usage, Sevcik says ISPs wind up not caring:
quote:
Also disturbing is the attitude that Sevcik has encountered at some clients with malfunctioning meters. “There’s a general sense by some people, ‘Eh, we under report so we give them a free pass, so why worry about that?’” Sevcik says. “I think one does need to worry because it ruins the overall veracity of the meter. It derails trust in the meter."
Time Warner Cable is a client, but it's unclear if they were certified -- and if so if it was before or after they faced massive user outrage over their attempt to impose metered billing in 2009. Cox is also a customer and has confirmed their meter was tested and certified as accurate.

Note that these are the ISPs that went to NetForecast to verify if their meters work properly. Many ISPs (as we see with AT&T, Cogeco and Suddenlink) aren't NetForecast clients and may or may not have bothered to even try to get outside verification of meter accuracy. The industry in a few days will insist this story isn't important because only X% of meters are live, but Cogceo, Suddenlink, Bell, Rogers and AT&T users plagued with issues likely have plenty to say about that.

It is important again to note that during the last five years as ISPs have rushed face first toward caps and overages without ensuring meter accuracy -- that the FCC has made not a single public comment on the issue of any kind. Perhaps the FCC felt that the previous five years of complaints have been too anecdotal in nature, but now you have a professional tasked with testing meter accuracy on the record stating that ISP meters aren't working.

You'd like to think that could finally get the FCC's attention.

As we've noted, the cable industry recently admitted that caps and overages aren't really about congestion. As any incumbent ISP earnings report shows they're also not about financial necessity, with carriers making very healthy profits with flat rate billing. The shift is solely about jacking up the price of already-expensive broadband on consumers and protecting TV revenues. It's price gouging made possible by too little competition.

The FCC has made it clear they don't really care about competition, high prices, price gouging, or the fact that caps can be used anti-competitively. Their broadband maps don't track price, and their policies never tackle competition. Perhaps at the very least they can pay attention to meter accuracy? ISPs want to bill like utilities without being regulated like them and regulators continue to be in a coma. That's a recipe for disaster.

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cpsycho

join:2008-06-03
HarperLand

Profit concerned

"Most ISP meters are completely inaccurate and the ISPs aren't concerned about it."

They are only concerned when it is inaccurate in the customers favor. If it's in there favor, just means more profit.

FFH
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Re: Profit concerned

said by cpsycho:

"Most ISP meters are completely inaccurate and the ISPs aren't concerned about it."

They are only concerned when it is inaccurate in the customers favor. If it's in there favor, just means more profit.

Did you read the part in the story where the inaccuracies ARE in the customers favor. So your whole premise is invalid.
--
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.
elefante72

join:2010-12-03
East Amherst, NY
Not correct. If you have a contract with the ISP, and part of that contract includes variable charges, the method in which the variable charge is based must be disclosed including times. BTW, people say no contract, but technically if you have a service while you do not sign a term-defined contract, it is considered a month-to-month contract legally.

If the ISPs are charging or capping based upon usage and over-report that opens them up to fraud. Look at what is happening to Subway over their 11 inch foot-longers (in this case under-reporting but the same idea).

So if the meters under-report while that means they are inaccurate (likely due to cost to accurately report) that doesn't open them up to fraud.

If this study comes out, and proves over-reporting that ISP is now going to be in harms way.

The whole meter thing performs only two things:

1. Behavior modification - If there is a cap, people pay attention and if actions are punitive (slap on the wrist, throttle, your out) this will scare enough people to keep usage down and of course keep profits up.
2. Additional revenue stream - If you can charge people for usage (utility model) without lowering base pricing, this is icing on the cake.

The benefits of this are of course slower router upgrades or capacity upgrades, simply CapX outlay. Time Warner has managed to stay out of the meter game for now by jacking up modem fees--ancillary fees--while seemingly small can add $500-$1b to the bottom line every year. And of course due to "technology investment" that $20 modem sitting in your house lease fee will go up every year.

A Lurker
that's Ms Lurker btw
Premium
join:2007-10-27
Wellington N
I'm a Cogeco business user and my meter errs in my favour. Ages ago I tracked it for at least a year and it was always lower than my router. And I did a few specific tests where I would compare actual file sizes to make sure the router wasn't off.
ShellMMG

join:2009-04-16
Grass Lake, MI
Reviews:
·Frontier Communi..

Meters

When I was a Wildblue customer, one of the main time-wasters was keeping an eye on the usage meter to avoid major throttling. There were a few unpublished quirks, such as it taking up to 24 hours for usage to update on the consumption graph, but I think on the most part it was accurate. I can't remember if you could see how much bandwidth you used on a day-to-day basis, but when you've only got 7.5GB to play with you mind your MB's.

This study also is only on landline-based internet. What about the accuracy of wireless usage?

Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:39

Re: Meters

This study also is only on landline-based internet. What about the accuracy of wireless usage?

Also often inaccurate but sometimes for different reasons:

»Study: Carriers Inaccurately Track Wireless Usage, Overbill

NotTheMama
What Would Earl Do?

join:2012-12-06

1 recommendation

Funny

"Derails trust in the meter" ...when was trust in the meter instilled?

So, it under-reports usage by the customers and they get a "free pass" ...on some concept that should never have existed in the first place. Well, thanks, Mr. ISP person... your attitude makes me begin to think that you're not completely insane. (well, only sort of)
--
"Face piles of trials with smiles; it riles them to believe that you perceive the web they weave."
ISurfTooMuch

join:2007-04-23
Tuscaloosa, AL

Re: Funny

It might also have something to do with who at the ISP actually cares about the meters. I'm willing to bet that, while upper management and the investors may care, the technical people probably see the whole thing as one huge waste of time, and some of them may actually hate the idea, since they know what a big ripoff it is. In a situation like that, it isn't surprising that the meters under-report, and no one but the suits have any interest in fixing them.

Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:39

Re: Funny

It's also a money thing. One AT&T insider told me there's a lot of hemming and hawing over spending enough to get the meters to work properly. They want the revenue from metered billing, but they don't want to spend the case required to ensure they really work right. They know regulators won't do anything, so it continues.
ISurfTooMuch

join:2007-04-23
Tuscaloosa, AL

Re: Funny

Sooner or later, someone is going to get a big bill and, instead of going to the FCC, they're going to go to their state Attorney General and to the media, and this whole thing is going to blow up in the ISP's faces. The TV news will have a field day with a story like that, and some aspiring politician is going to want to make political hay by going after them with a vengeance.

Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:39

Re: Funny

I'm sure that's why some ISPs turned to this firm in the first place so they had data suggesting their meters were accurate. Amusing that only 2 out of 7 could pass the test, and that's among the ISPs who could even be bothered to go to an external source to confirm meter accuracy in the first place.

But yeah, I agree. The liability check will eventually come due on this.

whiteshp

join:2002-03-05
Xenia, OH

Re: Funny

This is really just an example of what is wrong with the very top of our government.

Honestly I think that political parties on the promise of dominant control of the most news media will push to make it illegal to compete with "any" deep pocket large monopoly incumbent. Incumbents will work under the table to set low caps for the majority of America for maximum profit and no regulation/competition. Controlled media will direct the rage of the unhappy directly back on the very people who would dare try and fix these issues as a unbreakable circle of corruption.

The democracy within our republic has been hijacked by a tidal wave of money that now feeds corruption passing laws to make it harder to ever try and stop corruption. My greatest fear is if they destroy access to independent media (they are working on it) to the majority public. There will be next to no way back to the Republic we once had.
--
--
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the corporations discover that money can elect representatives to vote themselves a monopoly, buy media to blame 'The Godless' and forced price inflation on the public.

chip89
Premium
join:2012-07-05
Independence, OH
Yup one day it's going to blow up and thir faces it's like holding a ticking time bomb until ....

TwiztedZero
Nine Zero Burp Nine Six
Premium
join:2011-03-31
Toronto, ON
kudos:5
said by ISurfTooMuch:

Sooner or later, someone is going to get a big bill and, instead of going to the FCC, they're going to go to their state Attorney General and to the media, and this whole thing is going to blow up in the ISP's faces. The TV news will have a field day with a story like that, and some aspiring politician is going to want to make political hay by going after them with a vengeance.

Try not to forget "Vertical Integration" , most of these incumbents own Media as well as the ISP's
--
----|- From the mind located in the shadows of infinity -|----
Nine.Zero.Burp.Nine.Six
Twitter = Twizted Zero
Chat = irc.teksavvy.ca
ISurfTooMuch

join:2007-04-23
Tuscaloosa, AL

Re: Funny

Yeah, but that can work both ways. A station owned by Comcast might love the opportunity to poke a stick in AT&T's eye, and the local reporter might not realize that Comcast is doing the same thing.
chuckkk

join:2001-11-10
Warner Robins, GA
And so what else is new? Give an inch, take a yard is the motto!
cramer
Premium
join:2007-04-10
Raleigh, NC
kudos:9

1 recommendation

DING. We have a winner.

As a former ISP engineer who did the accounting -- back in the days of dialup where your minutes on the modem was counted, I can tell you first hand there's little love for accuracy. I cared about overbilling people, but not so far as to add the rather complex logic to deal with the rare edge cases of login sessions spanning months. If the customer complained, I'd pull the logs and see it almost immediately -- translating my brain into perl was more work than "grep" and looking at the screen.

I could not give you numbers on the accuracy of the totals, but I can prove they're only ever possibly under reported -- syslog messages get lost, they don't end up duplicated. Other than the rare "over" billing due to a session being counted in the next month, there's no way any "extra time" can appear in the system.
en103

join:2011-05-02
Reviews:
·Time Warner Cable

1 recommendation

Time to regulate meters

Just as it is done for other metered services:

- Water meter
- Gas meter
- Electricity

Similarly, many retailers fall under weights and measures:
- Gas station
- Grocery store (scales)

Why should these folks be able to just make up a method:
Eg. AT&T 'adding' their last mile ATM overhead to your billed data at an overhead of an extra 10%.
elefante72

join:2010-12-03
East Amherst, NY

Re: Time to regulate meters

That is not as easy as it sounds. W&M for the items you speak of are regulated under state law, and the internet is not so simple.

Theoretically they could meter at the users router (most accurate) but the regulations would be killer to enforce and likely vary from state to state and the way the political wind blows.

In my beautiful state W&M is an extension of the Dept of Agriculture, so imagine talking to the Ag guys about packets.

The cost for regulatory compliance would be enormous, so be careful what you wish for.
Joe12345678

join:2003-07-22
Des Plaines, IL

Re: Time to regulate meters

at the user router does not count over head, ARP traffic, data resends, data being sent to your modem even when it is off.
kevinds
Premium
join:2003-05-01
Calgary, AB
kudos:3
Reviews:
·Shaw
Its not what we wish for, it is what the ISP wishes for.

I see no reason if an ISP wants to bill per kb or mb, that weight & measurements takes a role in confirming accurate measurements are happening.

Department of Agriculture, sure.. the ISP is charing me per bushel (MB) of data, can we please confirm the ISP is actually delivering a bushel (or MB).
--
Yes, I am not employed and looking for IT work. Have passport, will travel.

Rambo76098

join:2003-02-21
Columbus, OH
Interesting factoid for the day: other random department within the department of agriculture (Ohio): Theme park safety and inspection. Makes sense, right?
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

When metering was heralded as necessary to prevent the looming Internet meltdown, ISPs always claimed the data limits were generous enough that only a small portion (2% seems to stick in my mind) of customers would incur new fees.

If true, is it possible that there's little interest because the vast majority of us never reach a limit where we feel the pain? If so, the problem won't get fixed until a critical mass of customers are affected. Only then will enough noise will be generated that the meters will have to be regulated and proven accurate by ISPs and, just like gas pumps and supermarket scales, they'll have to be periodically certified. There will also have to be surprise checks to catch potential tampering between certifications cycles.

Unlike gas pumps and supermarket scales, regulators should be able to automate the certification process. Perhaps they could use a Nielsen-like approach where they distribute 10,000 "premises meters" to carefully selected HSI customers. Those customers then submit their ISP measurements which are then cross-checked with the on-premises results. As long as regulators periodically move the devices, it seems far-fetched to believe ISPs would invest in discovery and deception.

buzz_4_20

join:2003-09-20
Limestone, ME

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

Far fetched... Have you seen the lengths that companies will go through to make/save a buck.

You should look that the ridiculous hoops that Apple uses to avoid paying taxes.

Or ANYTHING the RIAA/MPAA does.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

As long as the device is passive (as in a traffic sniffing switch that sits between the ISP CPE and customer equipment) and it doesn't speak over the network but simply responds to a customer-initiated HTTP GET to provide it's status, I don't see how the ISP could detect the meter.

Of course if the reporting is then submitted by the customer using a specific regulator web site, the ISP could see who reports numbers. This issue is eliminated by having the meter provide a form that allows the ISP measurements to be entered and when a button is clicked, the meter and the client measurements are pushed into the client paste buffer as an encrypted XML document. The customer would then use HTTPS to login to a popular web mail site, paste the buffer in an e-mail and submit it to the regulators. Because millions use popular web mail sites and HTTPS hides the conversation, a breadcrumb trail cannot be discerned. To defeat this, the ISP would have to bribe their way to acquiring a trusted root certificate and alter their DNS to route web mail traffic through a special proxy. The proxy becomes the HTTPS endpoint for clients and enables them to monitor e-mail for bread crumbs. However, we're really far-fetched and to what end?
Wilsdom

join:2009-08-06
The charges have nothing to do with the cost of providing service so the whole concept is groundless.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

Nothing is priced solely on the cost of providing service. When you buy a plane ticket, does it cost the airline more if you fly in a window, middle or aisle seat?

Even though Karl wrote a few lines at the end of the article regarding justification, the core topic and my comment are about the accuracy of the meters and why nothing is being done to address them. Whether or not the metering and commensurate fees are justified is irrelevant to my comment.
Wilsdom

join:2009-08-06

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

Competition usually keeps the price in line with cost. Of course companies informally agree not to get in a pricing war, and monopolies form, but there is a limit. Yes, the meters could be made accurate, but it's like if your electric meter measured how many times you turn the lights on and off. What agency is going to test such meters, the Department of Clowns and Jokers?
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

Go back to my original post (the one to which you first replied) and review the threads it created. In one of them I provide a suggestion as to how automated meter testing could be accomplished.
maubs

join:2010-02-26
Farmington, IL
Reviews:
·AT&T Midwest
I've been over the limit every month since it was implemented in my area (June 2012, I think). We're cord-cutters and watch streaming media from Netflix, Hulu, BBC and ITV, and I have a daughter who streams YouTube and Spotify. Our 150GB limit for a 6Mbps connection just isn't enough for our monthly needs. In summer months, we went over the 150GB limit and the 200GB 2nd limit.
Overall, this has increased my $70 per month AT&T DSL bill (including the required landline) to $80 or $90 per month. It's simply a deceptive price increase.
(edit) I might add that there is NO competition in my area for ISPs. No cable, and severely capped wireless or satellite aren't really options.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: Do Overage Fees Affect Large Percentage?

I have no doubt some are already feeling pain and are not the classic "file trader" (assumed pirate) scapegoats. However, since nothing is being done to address meter accuracy, I can only assume we have not reached a critical mass of those calling for meter regulation.
Expand your moderator at work

ChuckcZar

@teksavvy.com

Packet loss accounts for a great deal of bandwidth In Canada

With all the oligopolies in Canada the infrastructure is among the worst in the world even worst than many third world countries for internet. It's sad but this is what it's like to be an internet subscriber in Canada. Yes a true dedicated line works if you go with an independent company but the cost in Canada still seems to be a lot higher than that in America.

Xpangler

@rr.com

About Those Faulty Broadband Meters: None of Them Are in Use

»www.multichannel.com/blogs/bit-r···-are-use

FLATLINE

join:2007-02-27
Buffalo, NY

Stupid

Metering bandwidth is completely stupid, wasteful, and greedy. Trying attach a value to something that has no value. You can sell connectivity but you can't sell mega bytes. Its about as stupid as carrying around a bunch of pennies all day thinking your going to use them. Is it really worth it? No

•••••••

murph12

join:2003-12-30
Jackson, MI

theft....no other way to say. They steal.

theft....no other way to say. They steal.
Expand your moderator at work

Selenia
I love Debian
Premium
join:2006-09-22
Fort Smith, AR
kudos:2

AT&T Wireless

Very inaccurate meter. It, too, is always in my favor. I tested my device for accuracy by pulling files of various sizes over wifi and 4G. Usage always roughly equalled file size(plus small protocol overhead). At the end of the month, AT&T is always anywhere between 100MB to 1GB below my measurements for a given month. I still set it to turn off 4G 200MB below my cap and keep month to month readings to cover my ass, though I never hit that shutoff. I been measuring for over a year now and AT&T almost always under reports by typically 300-500MB(outlying months were the 100MB to 1GB range I gave previously) . I don't care as long as they don't overcharge me, which my personal meter was setup to ensure.
--
A fool thinks they know everything.

A wise person knows enough to know they couldn't possibly know everything.

There are zealots for every OS, like every religion. They do not represent the majority of users for either.