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Comcast Introduces $5/mo Flex Streaming Device for Cord Cutters

Xfinity Flex

Comcast today announced the launch of Xfinity Flex, a $5/month service targeting Comcast’s internet-only customers with a streaming set-top box capable of accessing Comcast-approved apps including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and other services.

Subscribers must have a Comcast-supplied internet connection, no video package, and an xFi Gateway (a cable modem/router combination that costs between $10-13 a month to lease). After the new service becomes available nationwide next week, those enrolling will receive a small set-top box comparable to a Roku capable of streaming 4K HDR video. Comcast also supplies its own voice remote, and bundles access to Comcast’s apps that manage in-home Wi-Fi, mobile, security, and automation services for easy access.

“Xfinity Flex will deepen our relationship with a certain segment of our Internet customers and provide them with real value,” said Matt Strauss, executive vice president of Xfinity Services for Comcast Cable. “For just five dollars a month, we can offer these customers an affordable, flexible, and differentiated platform that includes thousands of free movies and shows for online streaming, an integrated guide for accessing their favorite apps and connected home devices, and the ease of navigating and managing all of it with our voice remote.”

A closer look at the device and the fine print suggests customers may want to carefully evaluate whether Flex offers good value for money. Instead of buying a traditional streaming set-top box like Roku, customers can only lease the Flex box for $5 a month… indefinitely. Comcast is not including any programming with the box, just hardware to access streaming content already available, often for free, on other streaming or desktop platforms. Flex’s search function is supposed to make it easier to find programming across a wide number of services, but you will have to subscribe to each service independently.

Comcast also warns that using Flex will count against your monthly data cap.

The 4K capable Roku 3920R can be purchased from Best Buy for $39.99.

Comcast has also carefully designed the box to protect the cable company from any competitive threats. Competing streaming services like DirecTV Now, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, and other services are intentionally blocked, another example of life without net neutrality. The only available path to cable TV programming using Flex is to visit the ‘easy upgrade’ app that will sign you up for Comcast’s X1 cable TV service, presumably the one you cord-cut before you signed up for Flex.

The service is also designed to protect other cable companies from competition from Comcast. Only Comcast internet customers can purchase Flex service, so it is not available to customers of Charter Spectrum, Cox, Altice, or other cable operators.

The $5 subscription fee is also misleading, because you will also have to rent Comcast’s own xFi Gateway, which costs between $10-13 a month, instead of using your own cable modem. That suddenly makes Flex a $15 a month service that essentially just gives you access to a walled garden of the services Comcast approves of for around $180 a year (including the Gateway).

Comcast probably won’t attract a big audience for Flex because of all the restrictions it comes with.

Consider buying a streaming set-top box outright instead of living with Comcast’s restrictions and mandatory gateway fees. Shoppers can find basic Roku devices for purchase under $30, with more capable 4K-compatible devices starting at around $40.

Comcast Gives Up on Rescuing Cord Cutting TV Customers; No More Deals

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

Watson

Unhappy about your cable TV bill? Don’t bother complaining to Comcast, because the cable company is ready to tell you to take your business elsewhere.

New competition usually means those already in the business freshen their game, get creative, cut prices, or out-compete the competition with a better product. But Comcast plans to lose its restless cable television customers if they complain about the company’s prices for cable TV.

Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, told investors at the Deutsche Bank 2019 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach the company is done handing out retention deals with cut-rate pricing to keep cable TV customers from leaving.

“[Comcast is] simply not going to chase unprofitable video relationships,” Watson said, noting with the growing number of new streaming video competitors, more and more customers are calling looking for better deals and threatening to cut the cord. Watson says Comcast is prepared to let them.

“Because of consumer choice, because of all this competition, we’re just not going to chase video [customers],” Watson repeated.

Comcast’s new “we don’t negotiate” attitude with its customers isn’t groundbreaking in the industry. Satellite providers and some cable companies like Charter/Spectrum have largely stopped negotiating with customers as well.

Some cable operators have intentionally avoided significant video price hikes in recent years, already sensitive to the cord-cutting calls that increase after each rate hike announcement. Others hide rate increases in surcharges, often for local TV stations or regional sports channels. For some companies, giving customers a better deal may even make their video pricing unprofitable.

To compensate for tightening margins on cable television, most providers have been significantly increasing broadband pricing in recent years, knowing broadband is one service customers are least likely to drop as a result of rate increases.

Comcast and Contractor Paying $7.5 Million to Settle ‘Abuse of Technicians’ Class Action Lawsuit

Phillip Dampier March 5, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity 1 Comment

Comcast and an independent contractor the cable giant relied on to perform repairs and installations in northern California and Washington have agreed to settle a class action lawsuit on behalf of 4,500 technicians who claimed they were forced to lie about meal breaks they could not actually take and were underpaid $8.7 million dollars.

O.C. Communications of Elk Grove, Calif. and Comcast have jointly agreed to settle the lawsuit with a settlement payment of $7.5 million to provide restitution to thousands of contract technicians who were ordered to lie about their work hours and mandatory break times.

The plaintiffs claimed the contracting firm repeatedly ordered workers to claim meal breaks they were rarely allowed to actually take — forced to continue working at job sites to fulfill an unreasonable work schedule. The plaintiffs also submitted evidence that workers’ time cards were forged or manipulated to undercount work hours and paperwork showing reasonable work-related expenses went unreimbursed.

The plaintiffs claimed they were well on their way to proving O.C. Communications, hired by Comcast, flagrantly violated the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act and state laws governing wages and labor conditions in California and Washington.

“The gross settlement amount of $7,500,000 […] represents more than 86% of the approximate $8.7 million that we calculated in unpaid wages that would have been owed to all class members if each class member had been able to prove that he or she worked 2.5 hours off the clock in every workweek during the relevant time period,” the plaintiffs said.

The lawsuit was dispensed with through an elaborate mediation process involving both O.C. Communications and Comcast.

Comcast Brings Back “Free” Unlimited Data, If You Rent Their $15 Hardware

Phillip Dampier March 4, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Data Caps 1 Comment

Comcast is giving some of its customers a way to get back unlimited data for their home broadband connection without having to spend an extra $50 for an unlimited data add-on.

The cable operator is offering customers in parts of its Central Division its xFi Advanced Gateway — a combination cable modem and router — that comes bundled with unlimited data, xFi Advanced Security, and a Home Wi-Fi Assessment for an extra $15 a month. That amounts to $4 a month more than the cost of renting Comcast’s traditional xFi Gateway buys and also buys you a return ticket to unlimited internet service.

 

Comcast has also offered some new customers unlimited service in time-limited promotions, but this seems to be permanent, assuming Comcast offers it in your area.

The xFi Advanced Gateway with unlimited data appears to have quietly launched last fall, but so far it has not expanded to Comcast service areas outside of its Central U.S. division, which includes (Heartland) Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas, (Big South) Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, plus the state of Florida and the greater Chicago area. Comcast says it has 17 states in its Central Division, but we could not find a definitive list that includes the three other states not listed here.

Interested customers will have to contact Comcast to determine if their area qualifies for this offer.

If you are a Comcast customer already paying an extra $50 a month for unlimited data, this could save you a considerable amount of money, assuming you live in a qualified area and don’t mind using their gateway.

Kagan: Cable Company Wireless Is Designed to Trap You in a Bundle, Not Compete in Wireless Business

Comcast and Charter Communications have no real interest in competing head-to-head in wireless with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint. Instead, the two cable companies hope to trap you in a bundled package of services too inconvenient to cancel.

Jeff Kagan, a longstanding telecommunications analyst specializing in the cable industry, believes Comcast, Charter, and other cable operators entering the wireless business have no intention of being a serious competitor to the country’s four largest mobile companies.

“The goal of XFINITY Mobile [from Comcast] is to offer their customers another service and to create a sticky bundle,” Kagan said. “It’s not to lead the wireless wars. It’s not to increase their market share for traditional reasons. It is simply to create a sticky bundle to stabilize and grow their customer base.”

Kagan

XFINITY Mobile and Spectrum Mobile (from Charter), both require customers to be signed up for their respective internet services. If a customer cancels internet service, they will lose their mobile service. That could prove to be a major hassle for wireless customers, because they will have to properly port out their existing phone number(s) to another provider before dropping broadband.

Kagan believes cable operators will use mobile service to further strengthen their bundle by tying discounts to the number of services each customer takes through the cable company.

“Customers who use one service find it easy to switch away to a competitor,” Kagan said. “However, when they use multiple services and get a discount for the bundle, they become sticky and generally stay put. And the more services a customer uses, the larger the discount, the stickier they get and the less likely they are to wander.”

That is also likely to be true with Altice, which operates Optimum (Cablevision) and SuddenLink and has partnered with Sprint to offer cell service.

Sprint and T-Mobile, which are planning to merge, have repeatedly argued cable operators will be aggressive new players in the mobile business, giving the potentially combined carrier fierce new competitors. But Kagan doubts that will prove true.

“The problem is, the sticky bundle is not a low-cost solution,” Kagan offered. “With that said, the higher cost to the cable television companies is less than that of losing their customer base. So, the cost makes sense as simply a cost of doing business.”

The challenge cable operators face is that none plan to own and operate their own traditional cellular network. Comcast and Charter have partnered with Verizon Wireless to resell access to its 4G LTE network and Altice will rely on Sprint. Leasing access on an ongoing basis is likely to be more expensive that relying on your own network, but beyond offering Wi-Fi calling and experimental access to future 5G-type services in the emerging CBRS band, cable operators will remain almost completely dependent on their wireless provider partners, limiting their effective ability to compete.

Kagan believes the goals of the two industries are different. Wireless operators are trying to monetize their networks through usage, while cable operators are trying to find new services that will keep customers loyal and are willing to ignore monetizing their wireless side businesses to achieve that goal.

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  • Lon F: Scammed by Live Wave, ordered 23 Feb 19... have nothing yet and after reading, I don't expect much....
  • Phillip Dampier: Do you have a link or any other information about this we can take a look at? This is news to us and I have not seen it referenced before....
  • Robert Norwood: Hello! You are not going to replace what you get from cable with an antenna end of story. There is only one way to decrease your cable bill and get mo...
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  • Patrick Tasner: HughesNet will be offering both a 20 and 100 GB plan to NY Broadband residents. The NY customers will be the only ones in the US that have a 100 GB pl...
  • Paul Houle: Jim, I would love to be proven wrong but I am skeptical about LEO satellite service. There are a number of reasons why the math doesn't add up. Fir...
  • Kim: I am having this exact same problem. Our internet usage doubled in one month... not slowly grew... doubled! I have been fighting them about this fo...
  • Kenneth Thomas: My home is surrounded by trees, so even satellite signal did not get through. What a.antenna can you use...
  • Willem G Gentry: What did you exchange it for? I want to drop Spectrum, too. We generally used movie channels--HBO, MAX, EPIX not big sports people...
  • psychic99: I can confirm the one competitor pricing of 400/20 for 2 years, $45, $50 install fee. In Verizon FiOS area Amherst, NY. I currently pay $39.99 ($42....
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