Comcast: No iChat, No Choice
Since I rarely use Bittorrent and have experienced just a few issues with using Skype (and none with Vonage) services over my Comcast High Speed Internet connection, the confirmed accusations of Comcast’s packet shaping have been troubling but haven’t yet personally affected me and — like most of us with so-called “broadband” (which others outside the US laugh at in terms of speed) — we have no choice in high speed providers unless we want to go dog slow with some flavor of DSL or go back to using a modem.
In a bizarre twist, what has affected me is a quite useful product (iChat) and I’m growing madder by the day: Using Apple’s iChatAV in a session with video or screen sharing starts off just fine but within minutes deteriorates and becomes unusable (pixelated video, audio dropouts, slow response with screensharing).
iChatAV is incredibly useful since my 81 year old Dad, my sister and other family members have it and I can easily perform remote management of their machines through simple chat. It’s so laughingly easy that it has taken me minutes to teach someone how to use audio and video chat or to share my screen — or ask to share theirs so I can troubleshoot some difficulty they’re having — and thus I can sprinkle my knowledge around as needed and help my loved ones out (without getting in the car and driving over or flying).
I’m not the only one that is having this issue as evidenced by this Macintouch thread here (look at October 2007 comments on) as well as this long one in the iChat AV forum at Apple’s site. There are numerous fixes people have tried (throttling iChat’s bandwidth; rebooting the modem; opening a window and shouting) which sometimes works and mostly doesn’t.
After the jump, you’ll see the note I just wrote to Rick Germano, the SVP of Comcast Customer Service and a link to a page you can use to also send Mr. Germano a nice note…although he and his executive cronies at Comcast probably sit around at cocktail parties guffawing over people having issues with their service, “Oh yeah….so what are they gonna do….switch!?!” (Insert a bunch of lit-up guys howling with laughter here).
Here’s the webform note I just sent to Mr. Germano (you can send your own here):
To: Rick Germano,
Subject: Comments for Rick Germano
Date: December 30, 2007
I’m not receiving the service I’m paying for and would appreciate honest feedback and a roadmap for Comcast resolution.
The issue is surrounding Apple iChat performance degradation that has seemingly occurred after rollout of Speedboost and incorporating Sandvine’s network management services. Normally I’d just switch to Skype and use that for one-to-one communications, but I support several family members in disparate geographies and iChat’s interface and ease-of-use is perfect (especially since I can perform remote management of their systems with some new screensharing features built-in).
This degradation occurs after several minutes of use. The video becomes horribly pixelated and audio drops out and it becomes unusable.
Have I engaged your support organization? Yes, I’ve had technical support assist me and a short time ago filters were changed at the cable box at the curb as well as I was provided with a new modem. I upgraded my home service to 8mbps down and 768/up in order to ensure my communications would be good (two other family members have Comcast 6/384 with no other processes running or family members accessing the internet so it’s crystal clear it’s a Comcast bandwidth management issue).
As I’m certain you’re well aware, I am not alone in my dissatisfaction with this specific iChat problem as evidenced by these two links below:
In addition, as a well-read technology blogger and influencer I’m well aware of the concerns about Comcast packet shaping with Bittorrent and other services, but I’ll digress if I get into these issues.
Suffice to say that I will remain with DirecTV vs. moving to Comcast cable since my trust level is so low. I’m actively seeking alternatives to Comcast High Speed Internet for the same reason. Immediately after sending this note I intend to blog about this and enter the online conversation that is growing in its intensity and avarice.
I’m paying Comcast $70 per month for home service and about $100 per month at my office which is less than two miles from my home. What’s ironic is when my wife and I use iChat over that short distance and with these two robust and high speed connections, the exact same degradation problem occurs.
So why don’t I just switch?
Even though our upscale development is 14-16 years old, cable internet is really the only option. I started off in the early 1994 with ISDN service (128kbps) and migrated up to naked DSL (just a copper line installed) with a local ISP providing internet service. Then my community rerouted some roads and expanded a highway and I was suddenly 13000 feet from the Qwest Central Office making my DSL inoperative.
If I wanted some flavor of DSL I could get it now (some changes in the technology give me access), but the top speed I could get is 768kbps for about $40 per month. Why would I want to choose a considerably slower service? I wouldn’t and no one else would either which is why Comcast has us by the short-hairs and is so incredibly unresponsive.
Satellite is a joke unless you’re in the middle of Bumphuk, Egypt and have no other option. A T1 line is 1.5mbps symmetrical but would set me back about $350 per month (NOT doing THAT!). EVDO is $70 a month and portable, but too slow and single machine dependent.
This post is already way too long to get into a rant about the lack of broadband leadership in our government, telecommunications policy and so on. But I’m looking for alternatives if you have one and, most importantly, am interested and willing to join a class action lawsuit since I’m not receiving the service I’m paying for from Comcast.
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.