Comcast just released a 2020 Network Performance Data report with stats on how much Internet usage rose during the pandemic, and it said that upload use is growing faster than download use. “Peak downstream traffic in 2020 increased approximately 38 percent over 2019 levels and peak upstream traffic increased approximately 56 percent over 2019 levels,” Comcast said.
But while upload use on Comcast’s network quickly grows—driven largely by videoconferencing among people working and learning at home—the nation’s largest home-Internet provider with over 30 million customers advertises its speed tiers as if uploading doesn’t exist. Comcast’s 56 percent increase in upstream traffic made me wonder if the company will increase upload speeds any time soon, so I checked out Comcast’s Xfinity.com site today to see the current upload speeds. Getting that information was even more difficult than I expected.
The Xfinity website advertises cable-Internet plans with download speeds starting at 25Mbps without mentioning that upstream speeds are just a fraction of the downstream ones. I went through Comcast’s online ordering system today and found no mention of upload speeds anywhere. Even clicking “pricing & other info” and “view plan details” links to read the fine print on various Internet plans didn’t reveal upload speeds.
Even after adding a plan to the cart and going through most of the checkout process, I could not find any mention of upload speeds. I got to the point where you have to enter credit card information to continue, so I initially stopped there. I later confirmed that Comcast’s ordering system will show upload speeds after it checks whether your credit card is valid, in the final page where you submit an order.
Deliberately keeping customers in the dark
I’ve long known that it’s difficult to find upload speeds on Comcast’s website, but I’m not sure exactly when it became virtually impossible. There were complaints about this very problem on Comcast’s customer support forums in 2020 and in 2019, though. “What is my upload speed now? No where in the world can I find documentation,” one customer asked. The answer was that existing customers can find upload speeds for their own plan in their account settings after logging in and navigating to the correct section.
But that does not help people who are signing up for service and want to find out what upload speeds they’ll get or compare upload speeds of different plans. Even the Xfinity.com comparison tool that lets you compare details of different plans doesn’t reveal their upload speeds. The absence of upload speeds from Comcast’s website is so thorough that it is clearly a deliberate attempt to keep customers in the dark. This gallery shows how the Comcast Xfinity website displays Internet plans without mentioning upload speeds and continues that tactic through nearly the entire checkout process:
Thankfully, the third-party website CableTV.com lists both download and upload speeds, showing that Comcast’s 25Mbps download plan comes with 3Mbps uploads; the 100Mbps and 200Mbps download plans both have 5Mbps uploads; the 300Mbps download plan has 10Mbps uploads; the 600Mbps plan has 15Mbps uploads; and the 1Gbps download (1.2Gbps in some areas) comes with 35Mbps:
Comcast’s website does list the 35Mbps upload speeds for the gigabit plan at this page, but I couldn’t find anything similar for Comcast’s other cable-Internet plans. Comcast also offers a fiber-to-the-home service with 2Gbps speeds both downstream and upstream. But Comcast’s residential fiber requires installation charges of up to $500, and the service costs $300 a month, which is more than three times as much as the gigabit-cable plan that has 35Mbps downloads.
Comcast, why did you make this so hard?
I contacted Comcast today with two primary questions: is there any way to find upload speeds on Comcast’s website before submitting an order for Internet service, and does Comcast have any plans to raise its cable upload speeds?
Comcast’s answer on where to find upstream speeds was as follows:
Our network report shows that, despite the growth in upstream traffic in 2020, patterns remain highly asymmetrical as downstream volumes were 14x higher than upstream throughout 2020. Our website reflects the way customers use the Internet with downstream overwhelmingly dominating usage, but upstream speeds are included in your cart and are visible upon check out when you submit your order.
Despite Comcast claiming that “upstream speeds are included in your cart,” I could find no evidence of this. Adding a Comcast Internet plan to the cart and then clicking the cart icon brought me to an ordering page that does not mention upload speeds. I confirmed this behavior on Xfinity.com in both Chrome and Safari.
I circled back to the Comcast spokesperson and asked what exact steps I need to take to make upload speeds show up in the cart. It turns out the upload speeds never show up in the cart at all unless you define “cart” to include the entire ordering process. Comcast told us the upload speeds will finally appear “when you are at the step when you review your order.”
Despite my earlier reluctance to enter my credit card information for service I am not ordering, I finally did so to check whether this is accurate. I submitted my address, phone number, and credit card information, and I clicked “Next.” This triggered a step in which Comcast’s system checked to see whether I had entered a valid credit card. I accidentally entered a recently expired card number, so Comcast’s system “declined” my card and made me re-enter it. After I entered a card number that Comcast could charge, I finally got to this page, where the 300Mbps download-plan’s 10Mbps upload speeds are shown:
At this page, with Comcast having already verified your card, you can view upload speeds and decide whether to submit the order or exit the ordering system. The part of Comcast’s statement that upload speeds are “visible upon check out when you submit your order” is thus accurate. But refusing to tell a prospective customer what they’re paying for until after they submit credit card information is simply ridiculous. You can probably get upload speeds earlier by asking a Comcast rep in an online chat or phone call, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
Update: After digging through Comcast’s list of customer agreements, policies, and disclosures, I found a now-outdated network management page that includes download and upload speeds. It appears to be the newest such list available on Comcast’s website, but it was published on August 19, 2019 and the listed speeds don’t match Comcast’s current offerings.
No plan to raise upload speeds
Comcast did confirm to us that the upload speeds listed on CableTV.com are accurate. As for whether Comcast will increase those upload speeds any time soon, the company told us it has no plans to do so at the moment. “Over the years, we have consistently increased both upstream and downstream speeds,” Comcast said. “We offer a wide range of Internet service tiers with upstream speeds up to 2 Gig and will continue to evaluate usage, but [we have] nothing to announce about increases to our upstream speeds at this time.”
Comcast said in its new report that, in just four months during 2020, “Comcast’s network experienced almost 2 years worth of traffic growth.” That’s obviously pushing more people over the 1.2TB monthly data cap enforced by Comcast in most states, but Comcast says it has plenty of capacity to spare.
“Throughout 2020, Comcast continued to deliver above-advertised speeds to customers across the country, including in areas most affected by COVID-19,” Comcast’s report boasted. “The remarkable performance of the network during this time can be attributed to outstanding work by engineering and care teams, key technology innovations, and billions of dollars in strategic investment for many years before the pandemic began.”
Cable industry hasn’t delivered promised upgrades
The cable industry has been promising faster uploads for years without delivering, leaving cable upload speeds far behind those offered by fiber-to-the-home providers. Cable companies and lobbyists have hyped upgrades to DOCSIS, the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification used by the cable industry to provide Internet access over coaxial cables, saying new versions would bring gigabit-plus upload speeds.
Here’s how we described the situation in a previous article about Cox lowering upload speeds:
A “full duplex” update to DOCSIS 3.1 that was finalized late in 2017 was supposed to bring download and upload speeds of 10Gbps. The cable industry unveiled a “10G” marketing campaign in January 2019 to boast of the 10Gbps speeds that would soon hit field trials.
Even the DOCSIS 3.1 specification released in 2013 theoretically allows 10Gbps downloads and 1Gbps upload speeds. It does take a few years for network-hardware vendors to build and certify modems and then for cable companies to upgrade networks. But even now, cable ISPs offer upload speeds that are pitiful compared to fiber.
Comcast in October 2020 announced a “technical milestone” that can deliver gigabit-plus download and upload speeds over existing cable wires. But the technology has only been deployed in testing, and even the Comcast gigabit cable plan available to customers today still only offers 35Mbps upload speeds.
Upload bandwidth is not irrelevant
Comcast’s 2020 network report discussed percentage increases in overall Internet traffic without saying how much data is being used by Comcast customers. But we have stats on the US broadband industry thanks to a recent report from OpenVault, a vendor that sells a data-usage tracking platform that ISPs use to enforce data caps.
“Average upstream bandwidth usage in December 2020 reached 31GB, representing 63 percent growth over 2019,” OpenVault said. The growth in upstream usage was “particularly noteworthy for network operators who are challenged with managing upstream bandwidth on their network.”
Average usage in Q4 2020 including both downloads and uploads was 482.6GB, a 40 percent year-over-year increase, OpenVault said. While uploading still represents a small percentage of residential broadband use, possibly due in part to the upload-speed limits imposed by cable operators, both Comcast and OpenVault found that upload usage is growing faster than download usage.
Trying to find Comcast’s upload speeds today was a frustrating exercise for me even though I wasn’t purchasing Internet service. For customers, it’s much more exasperating. Upload speeds are more important for some customers than others, of course, but Comcast treats upload speeds as if users shouldn’t even care about them. One customer asked in a Comcast community forum in August 2020, “Is Comcast under the impression that customers only need to download data and upload bandwidth is irrelevant (like for WFH video calls, hello!). Please tell me how to get this info and better yet, update every plan info with upload speeds.”
No one answered the question.
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