How to share internet costs with neighbors?
May 4, 2014 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I live in the one-bedroom basement apartment of a house (so there are 2 total apartments in the building). About a week ago, my soon-to-be new neighbor contacted me, said he was moving in with friends upstairs, and let me know Comcast had said they could only have one account per address (I already have Comcast wireless internet) and asked if they could share with me, offering to split the cost. He was also potentially interested in upgrading to a faster connection. I said we could chat about it after he moved in, which they have done (I've been letting them use my account the past few days). There are four people living in the apartment upstairs. Now that I've thought about it, I think splitting the cost two ways when there will be five people using it is unfair. I have one of two apartments, but it's not like I will be using half the internet. Is there something I'm not considering? How are these costs usually split when you share with neighbors? Should we be splitting it 5 ways, 2 ways, or something in between? (I also want to ask if they want to just take over the account and have me reimburse them my share, since I am moving in a few months--that's an ok thing to ask, right?)
posted by picardythird to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Track bandwith per device on the router and do the math?
posted by sammyo at 7:11 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do not do this.

Change the password now. Call Comcast and confirm - this story is bunk! Of course they'll put in more than one line. Geez.

I did this. Your neighbors won't pay. Someone will always be late, or outright not pay.
posted by jbenben at 7:13 AM on May 4, 2014 [36 favorites]

Yeah, call Comcast to confirm. I agree with your idea to switch the account to them and to pay them your share if you go forward, though.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:14 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did this once in the same situation (Comcast only allowed one account). There were three people upstairs, and we split the bill four ways (half is not fair). But it was a pain. A couple of times the modem had to be reset in my apartment when I was an hour away, and had to drive back. I wouldn't really want to do it again. Tell them if they want to split, that they should switch the account to their names and you'll pay them. Or they should just get internet from another provider.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:15 AM on May 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Plus, back when I did this, streaming was not so much a thing, and speed was an issue, but total data usage was not capped.

This will not end well. Get out of this mess.

Miss Manner's "That won't be possible" works nice here. Repeat without further explanation. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:15 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't let strangers into your life in this kind of ongoing way. It always leads to annoyance and drama. Just tell them that you called Comcast and that they're happy to put in two lines because they will be.

These people could do any number of illegal things on your Internet and you do not want to have to deal with the ramifications. Or they could just not pay. Or they could stream a lot of video and make your connection slow as a result. Or they could knock on your door to reset the router at 3am. Not. Worth. It.
posted by sockermom at 7:24 AM on May 4, 2014 [19 favorites]

Personally, I wouldn't do this, because there are a lot of ways this could lead to a number of issues for a very small benefit. Also, I think they're either lying or just wrong about Comcast not allowing more than one account per address, especially if they explained to Comcast that there are two separate apartments. If I were you, I would let them know that you've decided you don't want to split the costs, and give them a couple days to get their own account before changing the password.

Now if you do decide to do this, I definitely agree with splitting it five ways (or by however many people are using it). Splitting it two ways when there are four of them and only one of you seems very unfair. Frankly, between that and their comment about Comcast not letting them get a second account for the address, I would be really inclined not to trust them, because it seems quite possible they're trying to rip you off, although there obviously might be some more benign explanation.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:29 AM on May 4, 2014

Speaking purely costwise, you definitely want to divide it by the number of people. They will probably balk at this, which is your cue to call it off.
posted by michaelh at 7:31 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know they will be heavy users because of their interest in upping the speed.
posted by michaelh at 7:31 AM on May 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

When you say you have a basement apartment, do you have your own mailing address? Or are you basically actually housemates who just have an agreement to keep to your own spaces? But I'd definitely call Comcast before doing anything, usually sharing your internet with neighbors is explicitly against their agreement and can get your service cancelled.
posted by Sequence at 7:47 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming you have two separate addresses, right? Like '101 Main Street Apt. A' and '101 Main Street Apt. B'? Comcast will be happy to run two lines, especially since it means they get two payments per month instead of only one.

Put me down with the do not do this folks, for all the reasons noted: possibly slowing down when you want to use the bandwith, possible failure to pay on the part of any one or more of those four people, possibly letting them latch onto your private data, possibly downloading something the RIAA will sue you for since it's your account, etc. etc. etc.
posted by easily confused at 7:48 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

To answer Sequence's question, I use "BSMT" as my own mailing address. It is a separate apartment with a separate entrance, although I don't have my own mailbox. When I logged on to the Comcast site recently though, I saw that they had the service address without the "BSMT," so maybe that was the cause of them thinking it was one address.
posted by picardythird at 7:51 AM on May 4, 2014

Another vote for "don't do this" and Miss Manners' "that won't be possible". There are just too many ways for this to go sideways, and for me Internet is too valuable a utility to risk screwing around with. Let them work it out with Comcast. If you're feeling agreeable, call Comcast yourself, but that's where I'd draw the line.
posted by cgg at 7:52 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

OP, I had the same address situation--one mailbox, and technically one street address even though it was a separate unit. Maybe it varies by area, but in my case as well, Comcast wouldn't do a second line.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:52 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

usually sharing your internet with neighbors is explicitly against their agreement and can get your service cancelled.

Here's your answer. You tell them no because it could get your service cancelled and change your service address to Apt: BSMT. Then arguing with Comcast about being a separate residence or not is up to your new neighbors.
posted by winna at 7:53 AM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

don't let the neighbors push you around. change your password immediately. split your address, e.g., 221-a and 221-b baker street. if one of the neighbors is into child porn, and federal agents come through your door at 3.a.m. with flashbangs and guns pointed at you, you will remember this comment.
posted by bruce at 8:05 AM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Telling them to put it in their names since you will be moving soon is a much better idea. Pay them 1/5 of the monthly fee. Do not put in for deposit or set up fee. If they don't like it, then they can use a different internet provider. There is no reason why you should allow them to share your internet but, since you already let them start it, changing it over to them would be much more diplomatic than bumping them all together.
posted by myselfasme at 8:08 AM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Okay, given that, I think that in official terms--according to, for example, the post office and Comcast--you guys aren't neighbors, you're housemates. I don't know how you go about getting both these places to recognize that it's a separate apartment, but I think you need to figure that part out.

I don't actually think that the concern here should be that there's going to be FBI busting in in the middle of the night, but if at all possible, it would be better to have things separate so that if they did something that, for example, violated the terms of use and got the account cancelled, it wouldn't leave you without internet. You didn't sign up here for the housemate sort of concerns about sharing, you leased what you expected to be your own apartment, so it's a good idea to make the effort to avoid entering that situation.
posted by Sequence at 8:09 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume this is a rental? Ask your landlord how all the previous tenants handled this. If their lease promises them cable and internet access capabilities then the utilities should be in the landlord's name, not yours. Also definitely contact Comcast and find out if this alleged conversation ever happened.

In the entire history of the universe no good has ever come of splitting utility bills with total strangers.
posted by elizardbits at 8:29 AM on May 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have this set up. I used to be one of the roommates in the upstairs apartment. Then I moved to the downstairs 1-br apartment. To stay on the network upstairs, I paid 1/5 (there are 4 people upstairs) upfront for the year. If you decide to go this route, absolutely split it by person and not apartment. And ask for the whole year upfront, or maybe 6 months as a trial period. Do up your bandwidth though. Ours is really slow, but I don't mind much.

I'm friends with these guys though, and not sure I would do the same with strangers.
posted by greta simone at 9:20 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, you might want to hang a second mailbox out front.
posted by adamrice at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2014

123 Any Street
Apt #1
Your Town, XX 00000

123 Any Street
Apt #2
Your Town, XX 00000

Comcast will absolutely do this.

They do for me at a house I own where the first floor is one apartment and the second floor is another. Two boxes on the house. Two unconnected, accounts in the house. When either tenant moves out the other is not effected at all, and vice versa.

IMHO Comcast is a P.O.S. company that is rife with laziness, greed and horrible customer service, but they are not in the business of coming up with ways to NOT create accounts and take your money. :-)
posted by sandra_s at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I totally agree that you shouldn't do this. Way too many cons and not enough pros. If you do do it, though, look for a router with the ability to throttle bandwidth per IP or MAC address. If they're torrenting something, it could slow your internet to a crawl (as well as drop you in hot water). If they only want to pay half, they only get half the bandwidth. If they pay 4/5ths, they get 4/5ths, etc. Don't define it as use, define it as availability.

Still, though, do this and you'll regret it. Right now you have all of the power - change your password and they're screwed. If you end up paying them, they can change the password and screw you.
posted by Solomon at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, for what it's worth, I did this with my neighbors and it was fine; we split it by apartment (3) not by number of users (4) and that was also fine; we didn't even *have* to do it (we all had separate apartment numbers), we were just a bunch of cheap bastards. I watched all the Netflix and Amazon I cared to and I never had any problem with it.

But if you don't want to, then that's fine too. The people upstairs can just keep calling Comcast (or the city, or the post office, or the landlord, or whatever) until they get a useful response. NB: are you sure your apartment is, like, a *legal* apartment? I have lived in plenty of two-family houses where we were just "first floor" and "second floor" and our cable and utilities companies had no problem with that, so the situation seems a little weird.
posted by mskyle at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did this once and it worked fine, but I already kind of knew the guy who had the internet in his apartment. We split the cost two ways (we both lived alone -- I think if you do this, they should pay most of the cost) and never had any trouble, and I screwed Comcast out of a lot of extra money they could've been making. That was extremely satisfying.
posted by jabes at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Comcast has some of the dumbest, most clueless awful phone support reps of any company I've ever dealt with. Several times I've had to just hang up on someone and call back because they said something so clueless I realized they'd never be able to successfully help me.

This is exactly the type of thing I've just called them back on, and had the next person just go through the normal process like it isn't anything weird at all.

So yea, my point is that I don't think they're lying at all, I think it's way more likely they just talked to a really stupid person at Comcast who didn't know how to punch this into the system and was just reading from the popup on the screen zombie style. Definitely try the "unit b" thing too, and then just stick "a&b" $2 stickers from office max or whatever on the mailbox.
posted by emptythought at 12:02 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also did this before, and we split it by apartments (two) rather than users (three). I barely knew them, rarely spoke to or saw them, but they paid their share on time and it was fine.
posted by sm1tten at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If their lease promises them cable and internet access capabilities then the utilities should be in the landlord's name, not yours.

Like your case, in the house I'm living in, the basement apartment is standalone but not a separate address. We handle this currently by having the utilities, including internet (not Comcast), in one renter's name, and then adjusting the prices we each pay for rent appropriately. It's even noted non-bindingly in our rental agreement (which then goes on to say something like "This arrangement is acceptable to the lesser, something something as long as the lesser receives $X total each month and the utility bills never go unpaid.")

Also, while our base rent price is based on a per-unit (not evenly, though, as one unit is smaller), all utilities are per-person. I've always found that to be fairest.
posted by solotoro at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If Comcast won't do it (and I'm with those who say they will), are there no other ISPs in the area your neighbors (or you) could use? AT&T or somebody more local?
posted by sageleaf at 3:26 PM on May 4, 2014

When I had Comcast in a basement apartment with my landlord upstairs, Comcast refused to run two different lines to to the house. We were forced to share an account. My girlfriend, who lives in a large house with two separate apartments, Comcast refuses to run two separate lines. So, this is not a canard. Comcast generally refuses to run separate lines if the apartments are part of one house.

That said, of all the group houses I've seen that had a separate renter in the basement, the rule has always been to split the cable/internet among the total number of users. I'd recommend getting the highest-bandwidth package available to you. The good news is you should experience such savings that you'll practically get free HBO.
posted by General Malaise at 4:18 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

In any situation where I've ever shared internet, the split is by the number of people, not properties or rooms. If some of the people are children, I could see splitting it by number of adults as also being fair.

Regarding billing situations, yes, I think your suggestion of letting them take over the account has the least possible problems for you. It lets them upgrade to the faster connection they want, it gets you off the hook of worrying about them failing to pay you, etc.

It's a fair thing to ask - what's the worst thing they can say, 'no we don't want your internet after all?'
posted by Ashlyth at 2:42 AM on May 5, 2014

The problem here is that Comcast is saying they won't give them a cable line. That is an issue that they need to work out with Comcast. They need to fight that out with Comcast.
posted by spaltavian at 7:23 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's an entirely different angle to your situation (and Comcast's seemingly bogus response). It might be worth your time to check with the people (city? county?) who manage the local 911 service to see whether they show one address or two. Here's why. . .

When we moved into our home in 2011 and wanted phone service, AT&T's website kept telling me the address did not exist. This was despite the fact that the house was built in 2006 and had been receiving mail, electric and natural gas service since then. It turned out that the builder/developer had never completed the process of having the address added to the 911 "master" list, and because the previous owners (apparently) used only cellphone service, no one noticed the error. Understandably, AT&T needed to make sure that the 911 folks actually had the address before they installed service that someone might use to dial 911. (Duh!) Once someone said, "Hey, here's your problem" it was a quick fix.

Could it be that the 911 "master" list shows only a single address, and that's what Comcast is relying on to say there can only be one account? If so, this could be a problem far beyond merely this kerfuffle involving Comcast.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:15 AM on May 5, 2014

Update: The situation worked itself out. My neighbor texted me and said they had all talked and decided to go with another provider. Which is great, because (especially after all the responses here) I really did not want to share and was getting nervous about the uncomfortable conversation.

Thanks everyone for all the responses!
posted by picardythird at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised at how negative the response is to this question. Why give the big providers more money than you have to? I'm all for sharing with neighbours!

I've split interent with many neighbours over the past 7 years or so, and it's never been a problem. We upgrade to the fastest, unlimited internet plan we can get, and we split it by the number of people.

We keep the router in a common part of the house, so any of us can re-set it as needed.

In my current housing situation, there are 5 people. 3 use the net just for surfing, and the other 2 stream a lot more, so those 2 people each pay an extra $10/month (we mutually decided this was fair by a private email vote). I subtracted that $20 from the total bill, then divided the remainder by 5. We each pay 1 share, and the 2 heavy users pay 1 share +$10. If someone sublets or leaves for a while, they remain responsible for their share. If a guest stays for a long time, we split by one extra share for the duration of their stay.

I'm the building super, and the bill is in my name. Every 3-4 months I get around to divvying it up, and everyone pays me within a week. When people move out, I always know in advance as they have to give me notice in order to do so; I just get them to pay their last month in advance.

In 7 years, only one of about 20 housemates has stiffed me, about $50. But I knew he was a jerk from day one- just couldn't avoid living with him because Reasons. Other than him, everyone else was great about paying.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:05 PM on May 6, 2014

Oh, I didn't clearly state, in all my split situations the sharers have lived in 2-3 different apartments in the same building. I'd try to make sure to share a beer with everyone once in a while too, to keep relations cordial.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2014

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