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:

a) http://www.macintouch.com/readerreports/internetservices/topic2445.html

b) http://discussions.apple.com/search.jspa?objID=c139&search=Go&q=comcast

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.

Please advise.


Steve Borsch

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.

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9 Comments

  1. Bob on January 3, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    I have had this exact same problem since April 2007. After researching I found that this affects nearly every comcast subscriber that uses Apple’s iChat.

    I understand that Comcast might want to block or at least shape traffic concerning bit torrent use (not my concern since I’m not a torrent user) but this approach has caused multiple headaches for me and my family.

    Worst of all, this could really give Apple an undeserved black eye as they promote iChat while having no influence over this particular area.

    I would recommend sending your article to comcastmustdie.com . Germano has participated in those forums and maybe you could reach out to him there as well. Good Luck!



  2. Chris Sotnick on January 21, 2008 at 6:40 am

    My email to Comcast:

    I am a grandfather of five, three in California and two in the UK. I have always been a Mac user (since the mid 1980’s) and teach DTP at Lake City Community College. I have used iChat since its inception and never had a problem until Comcasr took over from Time Warner.
    From what I have read, I am not the only one who suffers from Comcast filtering and messing with output on Broadband. My son who works for the Disney organization in San Francisco, tested my download speed (163 KB/s) compared to his (3215 KB/s) and my upload speed (27 KB/s to his (726 KB/s). Your technician informed me that all was well with Comcast and I should contact Apple. What garbage! The problem lies, dear Rick, with YOUR interference.
    I am in a quandary. I have already closed my cable TV account and gone to satellite because of insoluble problems. I want to see and talk to my family. Tell me what your company is doing to remedy this. I demand my money’s worth or my money back!
    This interference is BIG BROTHER at its worse.

    crsot



  3. J3 L U N T on January 27, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    WOW… great read! I have had the same issue as well. The past few months have been horrible. I get the connection and then all fails. Pixels, audio, etc… I did call tonight and rant and finally was offered a promo for 12 months @ $33 for the 8/768 package.

    I suggest everyone who is having this issue call and have their service upgraded for free. It is understandable where they are coming from but unacceptable to enact that on us. COMCAST needs to fix their issues by other means.

    Thanks comcast.



  4. Steve Borsch on January 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    @J3 L U N T: I have the 8/768 package and still have that issue. It’s so unusable that I’m using Skype video nearly all the time. It’s still a problem with Comcast.



  5. Shannon on February 5, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Hi there,
    Through reading your post I too was having the same issues. My sister uses comcast and we can chat just fine. My Aunt switched to Comcast and we had a barrage if issues. I contaced the executive customer service office through your link (Thanks!) and they were very helpful.

    I requested to remove the current Netgear Combo Wireless/Cable Modem and replace it with my own Motorola Surfboard SB5100. They hooked me in to the IT group and did it over the phone. Once the modem was running everything worked like a charm. I added my own Linksys WRT54G v2 (newer versions of this router are buggy) wireless router to the mix and still worked perfectly.

    It appears that at least in my case the Netgear router was a problem and IMHO a piece of garbage.

    Now I can iChat and screenshare with my sister and aunt with no problem.



  6. Dave on May 14, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    I used Comcast’s “chat with an agent” feature on their support site. I asked the agent to remove PowerBoost from my modem. He asked why, and I said, “iChat AV.” He went away for a couple of minutes, then came back and told me to reset the modem by holding in the reset button for ten seconds. He didn’t say what, if anything, he had done, and I didn’t ask, but now iChat AV works again, after months of frustration. I hope this helps.



  7. Jules on September 17, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Here’s what I think is a workaround for this problem: http://gallery.me.com/jfraser82/100187/iChat-20Port-20Forwarding/web.jpg



  8. John Faughnan on December 12, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    In our use of Google Video we’re seeing similar issues with Comcast devices. We get 10-30 min then nothing.



  9. Jeremy on December 24, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Wow, same issue! I am new to this and have spent 15 plus hours on a fix. To no luck. Would have been nice to be informed by Apple support when I called them or by Comcast. What a waiste of my time. My family is across the nation and we where excited to use ichat. At least some of you get some video. I get nothing. I am dropped before it starts. Crap!!!!!!!!!



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