Comcast’s Domain Helper Service Makes Lives Crappier

Comcast’s new “Domain Helper” is a service that serves up custom error pages when you mistype a domain name. For example, I typed in the nonexistant domain name, www.hwehresdfa.co, and was redirected to this page served by Comcast:

Comcast "Domain Helper" Error Page

At its best, the services like this try to determine what you may have been looking for and provide links to relevant content. That is something that could be considered valuable.

However, in practice, that’s not what Comcast is doing. Instead, they’re serving up ads for their other services (as if I don’t get enough crap in the mail, phone calls, etc. from Comcast about those services already) AND attempting to redirect consumers to sites other than the one they were clearly looking for when they made the typo.

For example, here’s a forced Comcast error page for the typo “www.amazon.co”:

Comcast Forced Error Page for www.amazon.co

Notice that the first result in the middle of the page is not a link to amazon.com but an ad for a bookstore in Australia that sells books about the Amazon. Comcast is attempting to profit from people in the United States who mistype a popular book store’s trademarked name by misdirecting them to Australia through an ad.

This is not helpful. The error pages take longer to load than the ones my browser uses, irrelevant ads are served, and Comcast tries to shove their phone and TV services down my throat once again.

At a high level, the service sucks a few seconds of time out of millions of Comsact customer’s lives in an attempt to generate a few cents per click from ads.

It turns out that you can opt-out of the service you never asked for in the first place by filling out this form. Comcast’s solution to the problem they’ve created is to ask their customers to crawl on the floor to find the number listed on their cable modem. (No not that number. Not that one either. That one.)

I called Comcast to ask them about their new forced ad network. They said they informed me that they were going to start forcing ads on me at my useless comcast.net email address (Tip: Never use an email address associated with your Internet service provider). They suggested I log in to the account I’ve never used in order to read the email they sent. That doesn’t seem particularly helpful.

I asked if they could turn off the service while I was on the phone. Surely, they know the MAC address of the cable modem they’re renting to me. They refused.

I asked if they would give me a discount on my service to make up for the intrusiveness, dealing with opting out of a service that was forced on me, etc. No, they would not.

Since Comcast was unwilling to undo what they’ve done, I figured I’d share my frustrations here. If you figure out a way to get Comcast to maintain their Internet service at or above the level we agreed to when I started paying them, please let me know.

Comcast, here’s a quick tip on what “services” are: They’re things that provide value. Hijacking my Internet experience does not increase value. So take away the “service” or cut my costs. And stop bastardizing terms like service by using them for something that’s the opposite of what they are.

27 thoughts on “Comcast’s Domain Helper Service Makes Lives Crappier”

  1. @Aaron, I’ve considered OpenDNS but why should I have to fix what Comcast broke?

    @ryanol, I believe Yahoo is the ad network powering Comcast. Pay per click ads on search results make more sense to me since people are actively seeking an answer to a problem. When used by Comcast, they are designed to confuse people into clicking on something other than what they intended.

  2. Thank you! I just noticed this a few days ago, and it’s driving me nuts. And seriously, I have a comcast address? I didn’t even know I did.

    I’m paying them $60 a month for the honor of getting their crappy cable modem that shuts down and needs to be manually rebooted at least 3 times a week. Pretty sure I’m getting no where near the speed they promised me, either. Glad to see they found another way to grab a few bucks off of me.

  3. the irrelevant ad is most likely the result of an online marketer snatching away a few clicks via a typo. Any ppc’er out there would be fool not to pump a spreadsheet full of relevant mistypes into their campaign.

    Since I don’t believe comcast sells ppc they must be a search partner of either google or bingoo!

    I do hate that though, I get the qwest ones at work.

  4. Here’s some more background: http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Comcast-Finally-Launches-DNS-Redirection-103386

    Comcast is being remarkably open about this (which isn’t saying much). Shit, there’s an opt-out link. Fucking remarkable man!

    Last “Upgrade” they subjected me to had no such feature.

    Funny thing is in minneapolis we have it easy. The markets where comcast has 100% monopolization must really be a trip. (In the Portland market I heard they just come to your house with some crisco and Ruffies)

  5. @robin marty – yeah we all have one, whether we use it or not.

    I occasionally need to call Comcast and they ask “What is your Comcast email?”

    I’m like huh??? and just give them my address or whatever…

  6. I’ve preferred to choose my own DNS for some time; doing so gives the cable company one less data source about the sites I’ve browsed.

    Reminds me of AOL a decade or so back, when installing one of their “free” disks instantly re-branded browsers as being “from AOL.”

  7. For the original author as well as anyone else in this thread that may have issues opting out. We have deployed an updated opt-out solution that you can complete from our customerCentral application. There is no longer a form to fill out and detailed instructions are located here (Available only from the Comcast network): https://dns-opt-out.comcast.net/help-index.php

    There is also an online chat feature off the main page that you can talk to an HSI agent and you can request the customer representatives use GrandSlam (our internal application for support) to opt-out as well.

    Thanks

  8. FYI, you can turn off this stupid feature if you log in the comcast website. Look under User & Settings and then “My Devices” and there’s a little “edit” button. Incredibly annoying but does turn it off.

  9. What nonsense. When I saw this page for the first time I was sure I’d gotten infected with adware somehow so I checked all my IE browser addins. But then I checked Firefox, and Chrome, and got the same result!

    Thanks for the detailed explanation of what Comcast is doing. This is not an “informational” page – all the links are run through Overture so this is a marketing play, pure and simple.

  10. The latest addition to this Comcast scam is when you log into your account and search for the domain helper service listed in “my devices” it ISN’T there and calling tech support to find out why gets you a “sorry we don’t know and it will take 72 hours to figure it out.”

    thanks Comcast.

  11. It was simple. I noticed this service the other day and it was annoying me. I prefer to have Google say “Did you mean…?” So, I did a quick search to make sure I wasn’t hijacked, and found this site. I picked up the phone, dialed 1800comcast, and pressed 1 for trouble with my service, then pressed 2 for Internet. I then was asked what the trouble was (by the computer) I said Disable Domain Helper. It said it would put me through to an Op. They answered, and I said I am called as I would like you to opt me out of the Domain Helper Service as I do not need it. I was ready to tell them I could not bed down to read any modem number, but it did not come to that. They put me on hold for a minute, and he came back and said please allow up to 24hrs for this service to be removed. I said thanks. So I guess it all depends on whom you reach. I was fully prepared to fight for them to do it and not make me do it.

  12. @Michele, it sounds like they’re getting better at solving the problem they created.

    As you mention, it really is annoying to have Comcast hijacking my Internet experience by serving ads rather than then truly helpful error pages they’re replacing. If I make a typo in a web address, normally I can just fix the typo. But with Comcrap hijacking the error page, they rewrite the URL, making what should be a matter of switching two characters into a more painful task. It doesn’t make me like Comcast.

  13. I hope they get SUED for this. This is seriously, hacking!!! I’m on my 2nd time of opting out. What a JOKEEE, damn i’m pissed.

  14. Hey, I thought I was having a problem with the Domain Helper interfering with data downloads (turned out to be something else) but in the process of sorting it out, I found another way to opt out on your own. It turns out that Comcast has DNS servers that do Domain Helper and servers that do not.

    A list of the opt-out servers: http://dns.comcast.net/dns-ip-addresses2.php
    (There’s also a list of the opt-in servers and other DNS-related information)

    Granted, you have to ‘get under the hood’ and manually enter the servers yourself, but that’s not too much of a problem for most people, I’d think. I switched my network over to the opt-out servers and can confirm that unknown URLs come back with the standard browser ‘address not found’ message and not the Domain Helper page.

    Enjoy! And Happy 2010!

  15. Please help!!! I opted out months ago, yet every time i accidentally misspell a URL I still get redirected to the Domain Helper.

  16. Same here. I opted out but still get these stupid useless redirections which are more like hijacks!

  17. mindy & Ahem!,

    I had the same problem too. After opting out, you have to reboot your modem and any router you might have in order for the changes to take place.

  18. The odd thing is that this only happens when I try to get to Hu|u, and only sometimes. It even happens when I G00gle Hu|u’s site, and click on the link. Usually, clearing my cache, etc. will get me back on track.

    I just called this week and the representative finally told me that I was just repeating myself, and eventually came to the conclusion that I had a computer virus, because Comcast doesn’t have any such page (as you have pictured, and as I have seen waaaay too many times). I got frustrated, I was tired – so I just told her that maybe she missed a training update, and that since we were going in circles, I’d ring off.

    I do have to say that in my experience, Comcast seems to take the cake for giving evidence of inept, ill-trained, misinformed, and inconsistent customer service.

    Ugh. Sorry that this turned into such a rant.

  19. Heck if I had to use Comcast I’d rant too. We’re staying in a house with Comcast and all it’s taught me is to fight like hell to avoid ever using Comcast. I keep getting the page from hell on links that have always worked. They are not just correcting errors, they are causing errors.

    Comcast is the anti-Google. Google finds things and occasionally gets paid for it, Comcast loses things you know perfectly well how to find and occasionally gets paid for it.

  20. I’m a professional network administrator. I have two homes, one in TW territory (cable modem) and the other (just moved in about a month ago) in Comcast territory (cable modem). When I travel from one home to the other, I take my wireless router and notebook computer with me. In TW territory, I have no problems at all. When I use the same hardware (and os/software) on Comcast, I kept having problems browsing the web. The only unknown (good/bad?) device in the comcast house was a new Zoom brand cable modem that I bought to use with comcast. I was having such frequent (but intermittent) problems with browsing the web, I was starting to suspect I had a bad cable modem . . .

    Before I got motivated enough to look into the matter, I finally made my first typo and noticed that Comcast was hijacking my web browser.

    I quickly reprogrammed my router to use public DNS servers. Since then, I have not noticed any problems browsing the web in my (comcast) home.

    The Domain Helper service apparently interferes with normal Internet usage when you do NOT make typos, also. Either that, or comcast’s DNS servers suck, whether they are redirecting you or not . . .

  21. Pingback: Comcast’s Domain Helper = Annoying DNS Hijack | Kevin Sung

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