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Comcast Announces 2015 Rate Hikes – Broadcast TV Surcharge More Than Doubles; New Regional Sports Fee

Phillip Dampier January 6, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

comcast highwayComcast Internet-only customers looking for speeds up to 100Mbps will pay Comcast an unprecedented $88.95 a month for a package containing the company’s Blast! broadband service with a rented cable modem.

The company has begun informing subscribers of the first of its 2015 rate increases that took effect in some areas on Jan. 1.

“We have worked very hard to hold down price adjustments, and there are no price changes for our Limited Basic ($16.10), Digital Preferred ($85.90) or Internet Essentials ($9.95) services,” said Bob Grove, Comcast’s vice president of public relations. “While we continue making investments in our network and technology to give customers more for their money, including more video across platforms, better experiences like X1 and faster Internet service, we periodically need to adjust prices due to increases we incur in programming, business costs and new technology. On average, nationally, the customer bill will increase by 3.4 percent.”

Some will pay more than others. Here is a sample:

  • Customers with DVR service face a $2 rate hike for the monthly DVR service charge, which now stands at $10 a month;
  • Digital Premier, which includes an assortment of premium movie channels, is rising from $131.75 to $140.35;
  • The hourly service charge for service calls is increasing from $33.80 to $35.80;
  • Each extra cable outlet in your home will cost a one time service fee of $33.20, up from $32.75;
  • Any pre-existing outlet in your home will now be charged a one time activation fee of $22.95, up from $22.05;
  • Service upgrades that require an in-home visit will be charged $28.45, an increase from $26.30;
  • The in-home wiring service protection plan that covers you in case of an inside cable wiring or service deterioration problem will see a price increase of $1 to $4.95 a month. Customers without the plan will now pay $35.80 an hour for service calls.

Cable television customers face an increase of more than 100% for the company’s Broadcast TV surcharge introduced in 2013. In most areas, the fee is rising from $1.50 per month to $3.25. A previously announced $2 increase in modem rental charges will raise the cost of using Comcast-supplied equipment including Comcast’s Gateway to $10 a month.

Comcast is also introducing a new compulsory regional sports network surcharge of $1 a month for all XFINITY TV packages starting with Digital Starter and higher tiers and XFINITY 450 Latino.

Customers with analog-only televisions using a DTA converter box to handle digital cable television channels on these older sets face an even more dramatic price hike. Customers that used to pay as little as $0.50 for Digital Adapter Additional Outlet Service will now pay $2.99 a month.

Premium channels such as HBO have seen price reductions, possibly in response to declining subscriber numbers. HBO drops to $15 a month and all other premiums decrease to $12 a month.

Comcast customers looking for the biggest bang for their buck should consider bundled service packages which discount Internet, television, and telephone service. Current customers should also consider letting Comcast know they are shopping the competition for a better deal. Ask them to lower your rates if they want you to stay.

4K Ultra HD Television Arrives Via Satellite; DISH Network Adding ‘4K Joey’ Set Top Box

4kjoey

That is DISH’s CEO banging the drum beside a panoply of kangaroos. (Image courtesy: Gizmodo)

The ultra high-definition, bandwidth chewing 4K television standard has arrived and like HDTV before it, the first place most Americans will get to sample the new standard is over satellite television.

DISH Network is planning to introduce HDMI/HDCP 4K television owners to its new 4K Joey this year — a souped-up set-top box that can handle the high demands of 4K video.

DISH is using a Broadcom dual-core chipset and 7448 ARM processor that can handle the next standard in high-definition viewing.

While DISH set-top boxes will be ready for 4K, many cable and DSL broadband networks in the United States will face difficulties handling the online video demands that 4K video will place on their networks. In tests, watching an average movie required a minimum of a maxed out 10Mbps broadband connection. Live programming, particularly sports, required considerably more broadband speed to keep up. Few DSL networks will be able to sustain more than a handful of customers attempting to stream 4K video before neighborhood nodes become overwhelmed. Even the DOCSIS cable broadband standard still relies on shared bandwidth, and a few video aficionados in the neighborhood could pose significant challenges and speed slowdowns for other customers in the area.

Besides satellite, only fiber optic broadband will be ready to handle the practical requirements of streaming 4K video without significant upgrades.

dish logoDISH’s plans to stream video content over the Internet could one day also include 4K programming, but viewers are likely to run smack into usage caps and usage billing that ISPs are using to deter online video from gutting cable television revenue as well as further monetizing already highly profitable broadband.

Downloading just three 4K movies consumed 90GB and took more than a day to download, even with Comcast’s 100Mbps broadband service. In usage-capped markets, fewer than a dozen 4K movies would eat your entire monthly allowance. Each additional movie would subject Comcast customers to overlimit fees averaging around $6 per title.

Although DISH will offer a set-top box to handle 4K viewing, content producers are still waiting to see whether the public embraces the next HD standard before investing heavily in programming delivered using the new standard. DISH would only promise content from “several providers” would be forthcoming by the time the 4K Joey is released during the second quarter.

GreatLand Connections Has Few Employees, No Building; Yet Wants to Serve 2.5 Million Subscribers

greatlandGreatLand Connections, a new cable company with no headquarters building and only a handful of employees, is seeking permission to serve 2.5 million ex-Comcast/Time Warner Cable customers while saddled with $7.8 billion in debt the day its opens for business.

The entity, now administered primarily by a small executive team, will trade on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol ‘GLCI’ and would start operations in 2015. Tidbits about the planned cable operator were included in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, primarily concerning how shareholders and executives will be handled if the merger is approved.

GreatLand Connections was created to appease the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission that earlier expressed concern about any single cable operator exceeding 30 percent of the national cable television market. Spinning off 2.5 million customers in less desirable service areas keeps Comcast’s market share just under 30%, but the SEC filing reveals Comcast isn’t exactly kicking customers out in the cold and disinheriting them. Comcast shareholders will own and control 67% of GreatLand Connections. Comcast will also select six of the nine members of the Board of Directors at GreatLand, and the SEC filing includes an admission to shareholders that a conflict of interest could exist between certain executives and board members who have investments in both cable companies.

The new company’s large debt load — about five times the company’s estimated earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes, and certain other expenses, is designed to shield Comcast from having to pay taxes on the spinoff. GreatLand’s filing states the transfer deal and spin-up of its company will qualify as a tax-free reorganization transaction.

The initial debt load is considerably higher than what most other cable companies carry, which makes it likely subscribers will be asked to help pay it off in the form of higher rates for years to come.

Even without a single piece of office furniture in place, GreatLand could begin serving as one of the nation’s largest cable companies with an estimated value of $5.7 billion in less than a year.

(Clarification: This article was updated to reflect Comcast shareholders will own 67% of GreatLand after the transaction closes.)

Irish TV Venture in Talks With Comcast/Time Warner Cable for Nationwide Carriage Deal

Mhaoilchiaráin and O'Reilly launch Irish TV (Image: Picture: Frank Dolan )

Mhaoilchiaráin and O’Reilly launch Irish TV (Image: Picture: Frank Dolan )

Irish TV, focused on the Irish diaspora, is in talks with Comcast and Time Warner Cable to add its online channel to the national cable television lineups of both companies.

The network, not affiliated with Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) — Ireland’s public broadcaster, is a Mayo-based commercial venture that launched in May 2014, and can be viewed only in part on some PBS stations and via Sky and Freesat in Europe.

John Griffin, chairman of Irish TV, has committed to spend up to $18.9 million on the network. He has the money, having earned millions while growing London minicab company Addison Lee. He sold his interest in the venture to the Carlyle Group for $486.3 million dollars last year.

The vision behind the Irish channel, which features homegrown cooking, music, and sports entertainment, originated with its founders Pierce O’Reilly and Máiréad Ní Mhaoilchiaráin. They agreed to let Griffin run the network after concluding negotiations carried out in a London pub.

Each Irish county (North and South) will have its own half an hour slot on the channel called County Matters.

In August, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the country’s telecom regulator, began talks with Irish TV’s parent Teilifís Mhaigh Eo Teoranta for a broadcast license. Currently, the venture only operates in Europe because of a license issued by Ofcom, the British telecommunications regulator.

An Irish television license will allow the venture to operate directly within Ireland and facilitate programming agreements with RTÉ that could bring more mainstream Irish television programming to American television.

Winning a carriage agreement with Comcast and Time Warner Cable would bring the network more potential viewers than there are citizens of Ireland itself.

 

Cable Is #1 in Profits: 41% Cash Flow Margin Tops TV, Movies, Music, and Publishing Industries

Phillip Dampier September 17, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 2 Comments

eyCable operators leveraged their near-monopoly on high-speed broadband and commercial business services to lead the entertainment and publishing industry in profitability, according to a report from consultant EY (formerly Ernst & Young.)

Cable companies now earn EBITDA (cash flow) margins of 41%, thanks primarily to their broadband divisions. Cable companies have managed to raise prices for Internet access, charge new fees to lease equipment, and monetize broadband usage with usage caps and usage-based billing while their costs to offer broadband service continue to decline rapidly.

“We are seeing that digital is very much driving profits now, instead of disrupting it,” said EY’s Global Media & Entertainment Leader John Nendick. “Companies are figuring out how to monetize the migration of consumers to a variety of digital platforms, and this insatiable demand for content is fueling growth throughout the industry.”

Just a few years ago, cable operators fretted that cord cutting of cable television packages and increased programming costs could take a major bite out of their profitability. But as telephone company broadband competition has waned, cable companies have been able to leverage their near-monopoly on high-speed broadband service with rate increases and usage-control measures that keep costs down and profits up. Customers have also been choosing higher-speed tiers with greater usage allowances at added costs, further increasing profits. The result is more revenue that more than compensates for the loss of profits from cable television.

According to EY, the cable industry will top everyone else in the 2014 survey of the sector. Cash flow margins for other related businesses: cable networks (37%), interactive media (36%), electronic games (29%), conglomerates (26%), satellite television (26%), publishing and information services (21%),  broadcast and network television (19%), film and television production (12%), and music (11%).

Cloudy Days for Bright House Networks Ahead? Comcast-Time Warner Merger Complicates Volume Discounts

(Original image: Musée McCord Museum - Re-envisioned by Stop the Cap!)

(Original image: Musée McCord Museum) — (Re-envisioned by Stop the Cap!)

Bright House Networks customers could face much higher cable television bills and a decline in technology upgrades thanks to a merger deal between two companies that should theoretically have no impact on them.

Bright House Networks has been an odd duck among cable companies since it was created from cobbled-together systems originally owned by Vision Cable, Cable Vision, TelePrompTer, Group W, Paragon and others. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Time Warner effectively ran the cable systems still owned by the Newhouse family. After the AOL-Time Warner merger, Advance/Newhouse decided to take back control of the management and operations of its cable systems, relaunching them under the Bright House Networks brand.

While the Newhouse family continues to assert its ownership and control of Bright House, it is highly dependent on Time Warner Cable to handle cable programming negotiations and broadband technology. That is why Bright House customers were sold “Road Runner” broadband service for many years – a brand familiar to any Time Warner customer. To this day, programming blackouts that affect Time Warner cable TV viewers usually also impact those subscribing to Bright House. Time Warner Cable also retains a minority ownership interest in Bright House.

Although the company is well-known in Indianapolis, Birmingham, suburban Detroit and Bakersfield, its presence is most recognized in central Florida, where it serves customers in Orlando, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Tampa Bay, and many points in-between.

Despite the fact Bright House serves more than two million customers and is the sixth largest cable company in the country, it is small potatoes to major programmers like Comcast-NBCUniversal, Viacom, Disney, and others. All the best discounts go to satellite television providers and giant cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Smaller operators pay substantially more.

That is where the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable comes in.

brighthouse1The federal government is likely to count Bright House’s 2.2 million customers as part of the Time Warner Cable family, at least as far as control of cable programming pricing is concerned. Despite Comcast’s voluntary commitment to keep its national share of the cable TV business under 30 percent with the merger of Time Warner, Comcast hasn’t taken seriously counting  the customers of the uninvited cousin – Bright House.

Logistically and legally, Comcast would assume control of Time Warner Cable’s interest in Bright House if the merger is approved by state and federal regulators. That may be too much for regulators to swallow.

Because Bright House is insignificant to Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s marriage plans, Comcast could end up terminating the arrangement, which even Bright House acknowledged would put it “at risk of losing the material benefits such agreements provide, include possibly raising costs for its customers and hampering its ability to compete effectively—a result that would certainly not be in the public interest.”

The Newhouse family has evidently seen the writing on the wall, hiring Wall Street investment bank UBS to advise whether it makes sense to sell. If Bright House does decide to hang out a “for sale” sign, Time Warner Cable has the right to bid first. But by that time, if things go according to plan, it might be Comcast ultimately swallowing up yet another large cable system.

Comcast’s “Improvements,” Including Digital TV, Come at a High Cost for Customers

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Comcast has offered the Commission a vague preview of how it intends to improve cable television service for New York customers, but rarely discloses important details about the costs and limitations their “improvements” will bring.

comcast octupusWhile Comcast is excited about the proposition of transitioning Time Warner Cable customers away from the current mixed analog-digital platform to an all-digital lineup, Time Warner Cable customers have paid less and avoided costly, unwanted extra equipment as a result of the choices consciously made by Time Warner Cable.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have different philosophies about how to best deliver the bulging cable television packages most cable systems now offer:

  • Time Warner Cable adopted “Switched Digital Video” from BigBand Networks, a technology that lets Time Warner deliver only the digital signals that are being watched in a service group or node, instead of the entire lineup.[1] Since it is unlikely subscribers are watching every niche channel on offer, Time Warner has been able to reclaim unused bandwidth. As a result, customers using older cable-ready televisions can continue to access analog television channels without the use of a costly, often unwanted set top box.
  • Comcast has more aggressively chosen a  path to all-digital television service, moving most of their television channels to encrypted digital technology that requires a Comcast set top box, a less costly Digital Transport Adapter (DTA) designed for secondary-use televisions, or a CableCARD. Customers must choose one of these technologies, usually at an added-cost to access their cable television service.[2]

Time Warner Cable also began deploying DTA equipment in certain areas to free up additional bandwidth on its cable systems while still leaving most analog channels intact. The DTA boxes are supplied free of charge during an introductory phase lasting up to a year, after which a $0.99 monthly charge for each box is imposed.[3] (That fee has recently been raised in certain markets, including New York City, to $1.50/mo.[4] [5])

In contrast, Comcast customers were initially entitled to receive up to three no-cost DTAs to install on televisions not equipped with a Comcast set top box.[6]

comcast-cisco-dtaOn January 1, 2013 Comcast began informing subscribers a new $1.99/month “additional outlet service charge,” now applied for each DTA installed. [7]

Public officials in Eagan, Minn., responding to consumer complaints about the new charge, suspected Comcast was attempting an end run around the Federal Communications Commission’s prohibition of “excessive fees for cable equipment.”[8] The additional outlet fee was deemed by Comcast to be a service fee, not an equipment charge.[9]

Attorney Mike Bradley was hired by a group of suburban Minneapolis cable commissions to investigate the legitimacy of Comcast’s new DTA service charge. If the fee were classified as an equipment charge, Comcast would charge 50 cents per DTA based on rate forms filed with the Minnesota cable commissions he represents, Bradley told The Pioneer Press.[10]

For the average Comcast subscriber, the result was another rate increase in return for digital television service. Subscribers with three DTA’s now pay up to $5.97 extra per month in order to continue to receive the exact same programming on the same number of televisions within their household – a $25 annual surcharge per DTA, $75 if the customer uses three DTA’s, complained Eagan, Minn. Mayor Mike Maguire in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.[11]

Comcast’s fees, in addition to being well in excess of the actual cost of the equipment, will earn the company at least $550 million annually in new revenue – all for equipment that costs the company around $50 per unit.[12] Because Comcast is encrypting its lineup, even televisions equipped with QAM tuners, capable of receiving digital television signals without a set top box, will also eventually need the new equipment to unscramble television signals.

[1]http://www.cedmagazine.com/news/2009/09/time-warner-cable-serves-up-sdv-in-n.y.,-dallas,-l.a.
[2]http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/cable-tv/how-bill-will-change-with-digital-migration
[3]http://www.cedmagazine.com/news/2012/01/time-warner-cable-wraps-up-all-digital-conversion-pilot-in-maine
[4]http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2013/04/were-converting-analog-signals-to-digital-across-the-new-york-region/
[5]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/residential-home/support/faqs/faqs-tv/basictvencryption/what-will-the-digital-adapter-cost.html
[6] http://www.twincities.com/ci_22617153/comcast-fee-plan-cause-confusion-controversy
[7]http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/cable-tv/how-bill-will-change-with-digital-migration
[8]http://transition.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Cable/News_Releases/nrcb4009.txt
[9]http://stopthecap.com/2013/02/21/comcast-calls-1-99-charge-for-digital-adapters-a-service-fee-to-avoid-fcc-complications/
[10]http://www.twincities.com/ci_22617153/comcast-fee-plan-cause-confusion-controversy?IADID=Search-www.twincities.com-www.twincities.com
[11]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9008/pioneerpress/yourtechweblog/Eagan%20-%20Sen%20Klobuchar%20ltr%20re%20Cable%20Rate%20Concerns%203-5-13.pdf
[12]http://cisco-news.tmcnet.com/news/2011/04/25/5464600.htm

Comcast’s Much-Touted “X1” Platform Includes a Steep $99 Installation/Upgrade Fee

psctest

The most expensive set top box you will ever rent.

The most expensive set top box you will ever rent.

At all three public informational meetings, a Comcast representative promoted the benefits of Comcast’s new X1 set-top box/platform which can provide enhanced features and integrate with the Internet to provide more detailed programming information and social media interaction.

The Comcast representative did not mention that customers must pay up to a $99 upgrade fee for the privilege of renting Comcast’s X1 platform.[1] That is well in excess of the cost of an entire month of cable TV service.

Time Warner Cable does not charge an upgrade fee for its set top boxes, including the latest models.

[1]http://www.multichannel.com/news/content/comcast-details-x1-upgrade-fee/356207

How Comcast’s Volume Discounts Will Kill Cable-TV Competition

psctest

You can still read a book instead of everything else.

You can still read a book instead of everything else.

Allowing Comcast to dominate New York’s cable television marketplace will deter future competitors from entering the market, particularly for television programming.

One of the arguments made by proponents of the merger is the possibility of decreased wholesale television programming costs won through volume discounts available to the largest nationwide providers. Unfortunately for consumers, Comcast has already declared customers will not benefit from those discounts in the form of lower cable bills.

A prospective new entrant considering providing cable television service will face competition with Comcast without any benefit of volume discounts on programming.[1] That makes it unlikely a provider will offer a competing television package.

This is not a theoretical problem.

In Ohio, independent cable company MCTV discovered that while large cable operators like Comcast were benefiting from volume discounts, it faced contract renewal prices more than 40 times the rate of inflation.[2] Cable ONE, owned by the Washington Post, had to drop more than a dozen Viacom owned channels for good because it could not afford the asking price.[3]

MCTV president Bob Gessner reminds us of just how concentrated the entertainment business has become, noting that nine media companies (Comcast is one of them) now control 95% of all paid video content consumed in the United States.[4]

MCTV’s survival plan includes membership in the 900-member National Cable Television Cooperative, the only way smaller providers can pool resources and win discounts of their own. It is no longer effective as mergers and acquisitions continue to consolidate the cable and telco-TV business. All 900 NCTC members serve a combined five million customers. Comcast has 21 million, DirecTV: 20 million, Dish Networks: 14 million, and Time Warner Cable: 11 million.[5]

media_consolidation

AT&T confesses it cannot compete effectively with Comcast and other larger competitors for the same reason. AT&T’s solution, like Comcast, is to buy a competitor, in this case DirecTV.[6]

Frontier Communications faced a similar problem after adopting Verizon FiOS franchises in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest after purchasing Verizon landline networks in several states. When Frontier lost Verizon’s volume discounts on programming, Frontier’s solution was to begin a marketing campaign to convince its fiber customers to abandon the technology and switch to one of its satellite television partners.[7]

[1]http://www.fiercecable.com/story/comcast-twc-deal-will-squeeze-programming-and-technology-vendors/2014-02-13
[2]http://stopthecap.com/2014/06/05/independent-cable-companies-unify-against-cable-tv-programmer-rate-increases/
[3]http://online.wsj.com/articles/viacom-60-cable-firms-part-ways-in-rural-u-s-1403048557
[4]http://stopthecap.com/2014/06/05/independent-cable-companies-unify-against-cable-tv-programmer-rate-increases/
[5]http://stopthecap.com/2014/06/05/independent-cable-companies-unify-against-cable-tv-programmer-rate-increases/
[6]http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-02/dish-or-directv-need-deal-most-in-at-t-love-triangle-real-m-a.html
[7]http://stopthecap.com/2011/08/16/frontiers-fiber-mess-company-losing-fios-subs-landline-customers-but-adds-bonded-dsl/

Comcast/Time Warner: We Dare You to Compare – ‘Our Regular Retail Prices Are a Secret’

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One of the most difficult questions you can ask a customer service representative of either Comcast or Time Warner Cable is what their regular price is for service. As a Buffalo News reporter discovered in August 2013, Time Warner Cable refused repeated attempts to ascertain the non-promotional price of its broadband service.[1]

merger benefitsMaking a direct comparison between the prices charged by Comcast and those of Time Warner Cable require unnecessary perseverance made even more difficult by the fact Comcast only serves a tiny portion of New York State.

Both companies offer promotional deals to new customers as well as those threatening to cancel service, but those prices fluctuate wildly and eventually expire.

Time Warner Cable has made it even more difficult this year by completely eliminating the most popular plans from its retail price list: bundled service packages known in the industry as “double-play” (two services) or “triple play” (three services).[2]

A Time Warner Cable spokesman told the Los Angeles Times the company is required by regulators to provide pricing information for only some of its fees, and Internet rates are not one of them.[3] This year, Time Warner kept the size of its broadband rate hikes to itself. It is much the same for Comcast.

Both cable companies make a point of telling the news media that these prices, including installation, reflect the “rack rates” and that “most customers will pay less […] after cutting a deal for their programming package.”

ratehike1In 2011, Time Warner Cable raised some of its “rack rates” by up to 51.1 percent.[4]

That makes a rate comparison for television service difficult because the retail rates often do not reflect reality. But beyond rates, regulators need to understand Comcast television packages are very different from what Time Warner Cable customers are used to finding.[5] While Time Warner Cable bundles the vast majority of networks into a Standard TV package, Comcast offers a more extensive variety of packages. While at first glance this may seem to allow customers to better customize a package to meet their needs, Comcast has also taken care to break some of the most popular networks out of lower-cost packages and force customers to choose cable television packages costing much more to get them back.[6]

Sports fans and those who enjoy networks like Turner Classic Movies will have to pay Comcast $87.89 a month for its “Digital Preferred,” package[7], just to get back channels already included in the standard Time Warner Cable TV packages we are familiar with in New York.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $147.49 for the most bare bones TV, phone, and broadband package, $154.99 for the most popular package without premium channels, and $164.99 a month for a bundle that brings along a similar lineup to what TWC offers, along with Starz.[8] Comcast’s nearest equivalent to Time Warner Cable’s $200 Signature Home service costs $239.99 a month and offers no better Internet speeds than what Preferred Plus customers get.

[1]http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region-whats-the-big-secret-about-pricing-20130805
[2]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/support/account-and-billing/topics/retail-rates.html
[3]http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/17/business/la-fi-lazarus-20140318
[4]http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/27/business/la-fi-lazarus-20111227
[5]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/tv/digital-cable-tv.html
[6]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/digitalcable.html
[7]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/TVChannelLineUp.html
[8]http://www.comcast.com/shop/deals-dealfinder

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