Comcast, she’s at it again…

Just got the latest Comcast TOS patch with my bill (an adhesion contract officially titled, “Notice From Comcast Regarding Changes To Your Comcast Agreement For Residential Service” (try saying that three times fast)), stuffed inside of a cheerful note about their commitment to happy cheerful customers. What it actually entails is left intentionally vague, but it appears Comcast is trying to set itself up the legal ability to torpedo competitors’ VoIP equipment, and add/REMOVE functionality, via unauthorized firmware “upgrades” to customer-owned equipment. Sure, I would like to believe that they have my and other customers’ best intentions at heart, and just want to log in in the middle of the night and update our Linksys router firmware for us so that russian h4x0rz can’t store up to 256KB of kiddie porn in the flash ROM, but my experience is that contract-change stuffers are seldom in the customer’s interest.

Dan Kusnetzky at ZDNet got the new stuffer and also had concerns about the “downloads” and other rights asserted to open up and tinker with customer-owned equipment, including computers, voiding warranties as they go. While I agree with his guess that they probably just want to maintain their own equipment (e.g. Cable Cards) inside customer-owned cable boxes and TVs, there’s no reason to write such terms so overbroadly as to cover a wide spectrum of unauthorized, and potentially hazardous, modifications to customer-owned computers, access points, VoIP boxes and other equipment.

The actual stuffer is reproduced below. It’s lengthy! The important bits are in red, and my comments are in italics.

Customer Equipment.
Customer Equipment consists of software
or services that you elect to use in connection with the Services
or Comcast Equipment (the “Customer Equipment”). You agree
to allow us and our agents the rights to insert cable cards and
other hardware in the Customer Equipment, send software and/or
“downloads” to the Customer Equipment and install, configure,
maintain, inspect and upgrade the Customer Equipment
and
Comcast Equipment. You warrant that you are either the owner
of the Customer Equipment or that you have the authority to give
us access to the Customer Equipment. If you are not the owner
of the Customer Equipment, you are responsible for obtaining any
necessary approval from the owner to allow us and our agents
access to the Customer Equipment to perform the activities
specified above.

Comcast has no responsibility for the operation or support,
maintenance, or repair of any Customer Equipment including, but
not limited to, Customer Equipment to which Comcast or a third
party has sent software or “downloads.”
So, if Comcast bricks your expensive HDTV trying to perform a remote ‘upgrade’, boo hoo, better luck next TV. You acknowledge and
understand Comcast Digital Voice Service (“CDV”) may not
support or be compatible with non-recommended configurations
including but not limited to multimedia terminal adapters (“MTA”)
not currently certified by Comcast as compatible with CDV
;

Ah yes, now I remember Comcast’s stance on ‘Net Neutrality and the use of competing VoIP services on its network. A “Multimedia Terminal Adapter (MTA)” is the technical name for a VoIP box. I wonder why and how they are sending “downloads” to arbitrary third-party equipment? This might work as Apple’s ‘update’ for jailbroken iPhones.

Customer Equipment, including, but not limited to, non-voice
communications equipment, including certain makes or models
of alarm and security systems or devices, certain medical
monitoring devices, certain fax machines, and certain “dial-up”
modems; rotary-dial phone handsets, pulse-dial phone handsets,
and models of other voice-related communications equipment
such as private branch exchange (PBX) equipment, answering
machines, and traditional Caller ID units.

For Video and Comcast High-Speed Internet (“HSI”)
Customers. You agree that by using the Services, you are
enabling and authorizing Comcast, its authorized agents and
equipment manufacturers to send code updates to the
Comcast Equipment and Customer Equipment, including, but
not limited to
customer-owned cable modems and customer-owned digital interactive televisions
with CableCARDs, at any time
it is determined necessary to
do so as part of the Services. Such code updates may
change, add or remove features or functionality of any such
customer-owned equipment or the Services.

For HSI and CDV Customers. You can find Comcast’s current
minimum technical and other requirements for HSI
customers at http://www.comcast.com/Support/Corp1
/FAQ/Fag Detail2205.html and for CDV customers at
www.comcast.com/cdv/faqs. These requirements may be
located at an alternative site if we so notify you. To use CDV,
you will need a MTA that meets our specifications. In some
areas, we may permit you to use CDV with an MTA that you
have purchased. Depending on availability in your area, you
may have the option to install the MTA yourself or have
Comcast install it for you. You agree to keep the MTA plugged
into a working electrical power outlet at all times.

…and what if I don’t? Not that I expect them to do so (anymore than I expect to use “Comcast Digital Voice”), but this clause technically gives Comcast the power to terminate a customer’s account and levy damages against them for breach of contract if they inadvertently kick the plug out of the wall. (Or, for suitably perverse readings, have their power go out…)

Whether a
cable modem, gateway/router, MTA or other device is owned
by you or us, we have the right, but not the obligation, to
upgrade or change the firmware in these devices remotely or
on the Premises at any time
that we determine it necessary
or desirable in order to provide Services to you in accordance
with our specifications and requirements.

For CDV Customers. In order to use CDV, you are required
to provide certain equipment such as a phone handset or
equivalent, inside phone wiring and outlets, and an electrical
power outlet. If you live in an apartment or a similar multi-
tenant dwelling, you may have to provide a cordless phone
as well. If we do not have access to the inside phone wiring
in your home or if you are installing CDV yourself without the
assistance of a Comcast technician (“self-installation”) where
we make that option available, you will need to plug a
cordless phone into the MTA in order to use CDV throughout
your home. CERTAIN MAKES AND MODELS OF CORDLESS
PHONES USE THE ELECTRICAL POWER IN YOUR HOME. IF
THERE IS AN ELECTRICAL POWER OUTAGE, THE
CORDLESS PHONE WILL CEASE TO OPERATE DURING THE
OUTAGE, PREVENTING USE OF CDV VIA THE CORDLESS
PHONE. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CONNECT CDV TO INSIDE
PHONE WIRING YOURSELF. In order to use online features
of CDV, where we”make those features available, you are
required to provide certain hardware, such as a personal
computer, software, an Internet browser, and access to
the Internet.

CUSTOMER EQUIPMENT – LIMITATION OF COMCAST’S
LIABILITY

CUSTOMER EQUIPMENT MAY BE DAMAGED
OR SUFFER SERVICE OUTAGES AS A RESULT OF THE
INSTALLATION, SELF-INSTALLATION, USE, INSPECTION,
MAINTENANCE, UPDATING, REPAIR, AND REMOVAL OF
COMCAST EQUIPMENT, CUSTOMER EQUIPMENT AND/OR
THE SERVICES
. Most probably, the “downloads”. Equipment failure due to botched or interrupted firmware updates is among the most common consumer electronics failure modes, and is in fact the very origin of the verb ‘to brick’. EXCEPT FOR GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR WILLFUL
MISCONDUCT, NEITHER COMCAST NOR ANY OF ITS
AFFILIATES, SUPPLIERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, OR
CONTRACTORS SHALL HAVE ANY LIABILITY WHATSOEVER FOR
ANY DAMAGE, LOSS, OR DESTRUCTION TO THE CUSTOMER
EQUIPMENT
. IN THE EVENT OF GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR
WILLFUL MISCONDUCT BY COMCAST, ITS SUPPLIERS,
EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, OR CONTRACTORS, WE SHALL PAY FOR
THE REPAIR OR REPLACEMENT OF THE DAMAGED CUSTOMER
EQUIPMENT (AT OUR SOLE DISCRETION) UP TO A MAXIMUM
OF $500. THIS SHALL BE YOUR SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE REMEDY
RELATING TO SUCH ACTIVITY.
• For HSI and Video Customers. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT
YOUR COMPUTER OR OTHER DEVICES MAY NEED TO BE
OPENED, UPDATED, ACCESSED OR USED EITHER BY YOU
OR BY US OR OUR AGENTS, IN CONNECTION WITH THE
INSTALLATION, UPDATING OR REPAIR OF HSI OR VIDEO
SERVICES. THE OPENING, ACCESSING OR USE OF YOUR
COMPUTER, OTHER DEVICES USED IN CONNECTION WITH
YOUR COMPUTER, OR YOUR VIDEO DEVICES MAY VOID
WARRANTIES
PROVIDED BY THE COMPUTER OR OTHER
DEVICE MANUFACTURER OR OTHER PARTIES RELATING
TO THE COMPUTER’S OR DEVICE’S HARDWARE OR
SOFTWARE. NEITHER COMCAST NOR ANY OF ITS
AFFILIATES, SUPPLIERS, OR AGENTS, SHALL HAVE ANY
LIABILITY WHATSOEVER AS A RESULT OF THE VOIDING OF
ANY SUCH WARRANTIES.

Comcast Equipment. You agree that except for the wiring
installed inside the Premises (“Inside Wiring”), all Comcast
Equipment belongs to us or other third parties and will not be
deemed fixtures or in any way part of the Premises. Comcast
Equipment includes all software or “downloads” to Customer
Equipment
This makes determining legal ownership of the hardware, where Comcast-owned firmware is burned onto the customer-owned device, a legally sticky issue or Comcast Equipment and all new or reconditioned
equipment installed, provided or leased to you by us or our
agents, Including but not limited to, cabling or wiring and related
electronic devices, cable modems, MTA, wireless
gateway/routers, CableCARDs, and any other hardware. You agree
to use Comcast Equipment only for the Services pursuant to this
Agreement. We may remove or change the Comcast Equipment
at our discretion at any time the Services are active or following
the termination of your Servlce(s). You acknowledge that our
addition or removal of or change to the Comcast Equipment may
interrupt your Service. You agree to allow us access to the
Premises for these purposes. You may not sell, lease, abandon,
or give away the Comcast Equipment, or permit any other
provider of video, high speed data or telephone services to use
the Comcast Equipment. The Comcast Equipment may only be
used in the Premises. At your request, we may relocate the
Comcast Equipment In the Premises for an additional charge, at
a time agreeable to you and us. YOU UNDERSTAND AND
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IF YOU ATTEMPT TO INSTALL OR USE
THE COMCAST EQUIPMENT OR SERVICES AT A LOCATION
OTHER THAN THE PREMISES, THE SERVICES MAY FAIL TO
FUNCTION OR MAY FUNCTION IMPROPERLY. You agree that you
will not allow anyone other than Comcast employees or agents
to service the Comcast Equipment. We suggest that the Comcast
Equipment In your possession be covered by your homeowners,
renters, or other insurance. You will be directly responsible for
loss, repair, replacement and other costs, damages, fees and
charges if you do not return the Comcast Equipment to us in an
undamaged condition.

One Response to “Comcast, she’s at it again…”

  1. AplusWebMaster says:

    Pls check PM’s @ cexx.org – data corruption problem in progress since 05.14.2009 – cell # given incorrect…

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