Why Does Everyone Hate Comcast?

16 Comments

How is this for bad timing? Just as Comcast (s CSCMA) is gearing up to finalize a closely scrutinized merger with NBC Universal, (s GE) it’s dragged into yet another net neutrality debate, this time focusing on allegations it tried to impose extra tolls on Netflix (s NFLX) video traffic.

Level 3 (s LVLT) is alleging that Comcast is trying to do away with the open Internet by demanding Level 3 pay it for transit. Comcast, on the other hand, is taking the stance that this is just business as usual. Even without taking sides, one has to wonder: Why is Comcast always the one that’s getting in trouble?

The answer, in short: Comcast has become the quintessential broadband bully — an image that is part outside perception, part self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s the list of missteps and allegations that shaped Comcast’s image:

Sabotaging P2P. Comcast’s first major brush with net neutrality advocates happened when the company decided to block its customers’ P2P file transfers in the summer of 2007. The company eventually changed its network management practices under pressure from the FCC, which nonetheless proceeded to impose restrictions on Comcast’s handling of P2P traffic. The proceedings included memorable moments like an FCC hearing that was packed with people paid by Comcast to “save seats.”

Killing net neutrality and neutering the FCC. Comcast went to court to fight the FCC order even though it had already implemented much of it before the commission had issued its demands — and won. The court ruling effectively crippled the FCC by restricting its authority over the Internet, and efforts to implement strong net neutrality protection in the U.S. haven’t been successful since.

Spying on its customers. It may have been just one of those ideas that would never see the light of day, but Comcast’s plans to use cameras to figure out who was watching TV at any given time didn’t exactly help the company’s image.

Capping customers’ bandwidth. Comcast was one of the first ISPs to institute a bandwidth cap in the summer of 2008, threatening customers who repeatedly use more than 250GB a month with account terminations. The step was followed by a public uproar. Guess what happened when Charter (chtr) introduced even lower caps half a year later? That’s right: Nothing.

Blocking Hulu. Wait, did they really do that? No, they didn’t. Hulu itself recently did, acting on behalf of Fox, (s NWS) as part of its retransmission fee dispute with Cablevision. (s CV) In fact, the incident, which briefly prevented Cablevision customers from accessing videos on Hulu, didn’t have anything to do with Comcast. Except maybe for the fact that a merged Comcast-NBC would be able to have Hulu institute similar measures at any time. Which kind of makes you wonder: Was Fox really just out to get more money from Cablevision, or did it try to influence the regulatory merger review of one of its biggest competitors?

Peddling cable modems. Lost in the uproar about Level 3’s allegations was another FCC complaint filed against Comcast yesterday: Cable modem maker Zoom (s ZOOM) is alleging that Comcast is trying to force its customers to lease or buy Comcast-provided cable modems by shutting out competing products though unnecessary tests and standards. From Zoom’s press release:

“These new standards, among other things, address a modem’s weight, labeling, and packaging as well as its physical appearance following the application of various substances, such as waxes. They also require a cable modem to suffer no degradation in performance at temperatures far in excess of those generally found in the United States and well above the requirement for electronics equipment such as an iPad or a personal computer.”

Merging with NBC. No one really doubts at this point that the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal will go through. Still up in the air, though, is the question of whether Comcast will have to agree to any stipulations regarding its online offerings. These could range from requirements to license NBC content to competitors to a forced divestiture from Hulu, of which NBC currently owns 32 percent.

The current conflict with Level 3 is only adding to the pressure, especially since Level 3 is busy using this to pit Comcast’s Xfinity online offering against Netflix, stating that “the fundamental issue is whether Comcast… has the right to unilaterally set a ‘price’ for access that effectively discriminates against competitors of Comcast’s cable and Xfinity content.”

It’s unclear what exactly the fall-out of the Level 3 dispute will look like — but it’s becoming more and more clear that Comcast’s ability to evoke strong emotions and influence consumers and regulators to action is phenomenal.

Image of the Comcast tower courtesy (CC-BY-SA) of Flickr user Kevin Burkett.

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16 Comments

Jake

I do not appreciate comcast increasing my monthly billing without proper notice. This happens every month, I have to skim through me bill too see where comcast is trying to fuck me this month. I cannot stand the constant nickel and diming that goes on with your company. You do not expect people to check their monthly bills so you think you can just charge whatever you want. Comcast is the most unethical company I can think of. You offer great new deals to you new customers and try to figure out the best way to screw out your existing customers. I would love nothing more that to switch to another provider but comcast is the only choice I have, that is probably why you try to screw people like me on a monthly basis. I will I could launch an ad campaign that shows what a terrible and irresponsible company that you are running. I have to call in every month to ask billing questions because you just can’t seem to charge me consistently. I hate this company with all of my heart and I hope that someday you realize your company’s national reputation. Trust me people know that “Xfinity” is the same as comcast, nice try with the name change but we all know what kind of shitty service we are all getting. Thanks for

THS

Comcast is currently preventing writers from unionizing after the writers signed cards and even held a secret ballot election with an overwhelming 97% of them voting in favor of WGA representation. Comcast, you union bust, you lie to the house judiciary committe, you deny worker’s rights, you’ve prevented your cable installers form unionizing for twenty years, you provide terrible customer service, you lie to customers, you cheat other companies including Tennis channel, you charge customers for services you do not provide, you are attempting to limit access to the internet at the same time you promise customers access to it…and oh yeah, you invented the Kardashians.

Kimberly Smith

I was thrilled to be rid of Comcast and get FIOS. When the federal govt required all cable companies convert to digital and cable companies provide FREE boxes to the last of the converts, that was a joke! I called comcast, the ONLY cable service provider allowed to provide cable services in my city, and they gal said they would gladly send out the FREE converter box. Fine… Until I went to cancel my service once FIOS became available and I turned in my equipment (converter box, power cord & remote – as noted on my slip). They suddenly tacked on a $15 fee that had not been on my bill over the past 15+ months; all my bills showed paid in full as I overpaid each bill by rounding up to the next dollar. So I called to inquire about this $15 charge and they came back and said that was for when they mailed out the FREE converter box. I had NEVER been advised there would be a fee; in fact the gal I spoke to originally said there would be NO CHARGE. Well, here was the charge…and I was pissed! I challenged them on the charge and refused to pay it. I was NEVER given the option to go pick up my converter box at no charge, I was NEVER advised there would even be a charge for them to mail out my converter box, and I have 15+ months of bills showing my bill PAID IN FULL. You can’t add on a charge OVER A YEAR AFTER THE FACT. (So illegal!!) Comcast reluctantly agreed to “waive” the charge, I paid my final bill and thought I was done with them. Nope! 55 days later I am getting phone calls from Comcast wanting to know where my equipment was… Excuse me? I turned it into the local office “at no charge”… They had the call to accuse me of not turning in my equipment. I called the toll free number, got a guy named Rich, gave him the receipt number, told him I was saddened that Comcast couldn’t get their shit together, gave him the date the equipment was turned in and informed him if their company contacted me again in any way I would be contacting our state’s Attorney General’s office, and promptly hung up. HOW ARE COMPANIES LIKE THIS ALLOWED TO DO BUSINESS IN THE U.S. AND STAY IN BUSINESS WITH ALL THE ILLEGAL PRACTICES THEY CONTINUE TO PRACTICE ON A DAILY BASIS?

Dave

The goverment should acquire Comcast assets. It’s not as if this private enterprise is innovating or allowing others to innovate. The goverment would create opportunities for entrepreneurs by providing a nationwide open broadband network.

Neil in Chicago

I’m stuck with Comcast for cable internet because they have a monopoly contract with the town I’m in.
I had a bad connection.
After a year and a half, five (5) cable modems, two (2) different (coax to the pole) cables, many hundreds of overtime minutes going six levels though voice menus to talk to drobes who asked me to repeat the information the machine had recited to me when it answered, and a dozen or twenty service visits, I wrote a paper letter to the CEO, Cc’d to the guy in city hall who oversees the contract, and son of a gun! Some guy came out with a cherry picker, went up the pole for a couple of minutes, and fixed the bad connection.

I have no idea why anyone might not feel warm fuzzies about Comcast.

Jeremy

Comcast has terrible customer service; they are poorly trained, arrogant and not given the knowledge to actually fix anything.

They act like a regulated old-school utility.

David H. Deans

Janko, you said “Why is Comcast always the one that’s getting in trouble?” Perhaps it’s testing the nation’s laws and the will of the American government to uphold them.

Apparently, when a dominant U.S. service provider attempts to leverage its position in the marketplace then the U.S. DOJ eventually takes acts. See the Carterphone decision and the AT&T MFJ case for the historical perspective.

David H. Deans

Janko, you said “Why is Comcast always the one that’s getting in trouble?” Perhaps it’s testing the nation’s laws and the will of the American government to uphold them.

Apparently, when a dominant U.S. service provider attempts to leverage its position in the marketplace then the U.S. DOJ eventually takes acts. See the Carterphone decision
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carterphone and the AT&T MFJ case http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modification_of_Final_Judgment for the historical perspective.

Michael Wolf

Part of their problem is their network is inferior to those with switched fiber to the home networks like FiOS, so Comcast has to use nook and crook tactics to maintain its eroding market share and establish precedent for future monetization (like charging tolls). They’re getting killed in head-to-head FiOS neighborhoods, mainly due to people are smart and want faster/cheaper, and so expect more of this to come as they’re networks will remain inferior despite efforts like DOCSIS 3/channel bonding and marketing spin like Xfinity.

pb1994

Cable providers (and all ISPs) need to be re-classified as common carriers.

Peter

Abysmally poor customer service. Crap, expensive cable packages. Arrogant management. Plenty of reason to hate Comcast and hope, pray, clamor for options to cut the cord forever.

Ed Hands

I’m really surprised to see their notoriously poor customer service not mentioned in this list. Their apathetic, incompetent, and sometimes negligent customer service is the stuff that legends are made of. A simple google search will bear this out. (And a fun read too.) You don’t get to the bottom of the list without being something special….

James Waldrop - HostMyCalls Hosted PBX Service

Comcast has created its own bad press. A few years ago, they threatened to block or rate limit any VoIP that was not their own. We never encountered any problems with our VoIP service over their network, but restrictive announcements of this nature has created a public image of restrictive practices.

aerialpeople

Just get red of Comcast. I have Netflix and an amplified HDTV antenna from localtv4free and I get more programing as well as local news and major networks. More than cable offers at $9 per month. Local stations for free.

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