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Comcast Internet-Only Customers Can Now Get XFINITY Flex Streaming Box for Free

Comcast internet-only customers that used to pay $5 a month for an X1-powered streaming video box with an X1 voice remote will now get their first box for free.

The XFINITY Flex Streaming Box, capable of streaming 4K video from Comcast’s own streaming video platform and supported streaming apps from services like Amazon Prime Video, Epix, Hulu, HBO, and Netflix, is Comcast’s solution for cord-cutters that might be thinking about switching internet providers or could be lured back to an inexpensive video package if the price is right.

The platform should be familiar to former Comcast video customers that used to use Comcast’s X1 set-top box, and includes access to Comcast’s large TV Everywhere on-demand content library, which includes over 10,000 free, advertiser-supported movies and TV series.

In fact, the only services not available on the platform are Comcast’s live TV streaming competitors like AT&T TV Now, YouTube TV, and similar services.

The first box is now bundled with internet-only service, with each additional box priced at $5/month.

XFINITY Flex is now bundled with Comcast’s internet-only service, with the first box available for free. (0:37)

Comcast NBC to Launch “Peacock” Streaming Service Next April; Free to Comcast Cable TV Subscribers

Phillip Dampier September 17, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Peacock No Comments

Comcast is planning to debut its new streaming TV platform under the NBC “Peacock” brand next April with a lineup of original shows starring well-known talent including Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, Christian Slater, and Ed Helms.

Peacock will most closely resemble the advertiser-supported Hulu platform, with 21 million Comcast cable television customers getting access for free. Comcast is reportedly also negotiating with other cable, satellite, and telco TV providers about bundling free basic Peacock subscriptions for their cable TV customers as well. Those who never subscribed to cable TV or cut the cord will be offered the option of a lower cost, commercial-filled subscription or a more expensive ad-free option, presumably at prices similar to what Hulu charges ($5.99-11.99).

Peacock’s subscription model is designed to protect Comcast’s cable TV revenue. For existing Comcast cable TV customers, giving ad-supported subscriptions away for free may add to the value proposition of keeping a cable TV subscription. By charging subscription fees to everyone else, Comcast is not ‘giving away the store for free.’ If it did, it could upset other pay television companies that are facing ever-rising retransmission consent fees and programming costs for Comcast/NBC-owned TV stations and cable networks including CNBC, MSNBC, and the USA Network.

Comcast is confident its long experience offering streaming TV Everywhere services including live streaming and on demand programming will mean it will not face the kinds of scaling mistakes other streaming services have had. Bonnie Hammer, the NBCUniversal executive appointed to run Peacock, believes the service’s deep content catalog, starting with 15,000 hours of NBC and Universal Studios TV shows and movies complimented with other acquired and original productions will give viewers plenty to watch.

“I’m not sure anybody else out there can do what we can do,” Hammer told the Wall Street Journal. “We expect to have great content and a great product [that] is really easy to use.”

In addition to scripted content, Peacock will also feature live and recorded news and sports programming from NBC.

Among the shows featured on the Peacock platform:

Original Drama Series

ANGELYNE (limited series)
Limited series based on The Hollywood Reporter feature that explored the identity of L.A.’s mysterious billboard bombshell.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Battlestar Galactica reboot.

BRAVE NEW WORLD
Based on Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World. The series envisions life in a utopian society that bans monogamy, privacy, money, and never discusses history.

DR. DEATH
Inspired by a podcast by the same name. Dr. Death follows the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch (played by Jamie Dornan), a rising star in the Dallas medical community who also emerges as a deadly sociopath. Duntsch’s successful neurosurgery practice gradually deteriorates into a horror show of permanently disabled or dead patients. Two fellow doctors, played by Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater, fight an entrenched medical bureaucracy designed to protect money-making doctors to get his practice shut down.

ONE OF US IS LYING (pilot)
Based on the novel One of Us Is Lying, the crime series follows the unfolding of events after five people spend an afternoon in detention, but only four leave alive.

UNTITLED REAL HOUSEWIVES SPINOFF (no details provided)

Original Comedy Series

A.P. BIO (Season 3)
Picks up where the original NBC TV series left off. When disgraced Harvard philosophy professor Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) loses out on his dream job to his rival Miles Leonard (Tom Bennett), he is forced to return to the small town Toledo, Ohio and work as an advanced placement biology teacher at the fictional Whitlock High School. Jack makes it clear to his class that he will not be teaching any biology. Realising he has a room full of honor-roll students at his disposal, Jack decides to use them for his own benefit: getting revenge on Miles. Eager to prove that he is still king of the castle, Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt) struggles to keep Griffin under control.

PUNKY BREWSTER (pilot)
This continues of the iconic 80s sitcom about a bright young girl raised by a foster dad features Punky as a now single mother of three trying to get her life back on track when she meets a young girl who reminds her a lot of her younger self.

RUTHERFORD FALLS
A small town in upstate New York is turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) fights the moving of a historical statue.

SAVED BY THE BELL (reboot)
When California governor Zack Morris gets into hot water for closing too many low-income high schools, he proposes they send the affected students to the highest performing schools in the state – including Bayside High. The influx of new students gives the over-privileged Bayside kids a reality check.

STRAIGHT TALK
Straight Talk examines what happens when two opposing ideologies are forced into an odd coupling. The main characters will be challenged by one another, making the moral lines at which they once stood harder to define.

Original Unscripted Shows 

THE AMBER RUFFIN SHOW
A weekly show featuring Amber’s “signature smart-and-silly take on the week.” The show will de-emphasize talking with guests and spend more time on comedy routines.

WHO WROTE THAT
A docuseries designed to showcase Saturday Night Live’s comedy writers.

Original Made-for-Peacock TV Movie

PSYCH 2: LASSIE COME HOME
Based on the USA Network show Psych, Santa Barbara Police Chief Carlton Lassiter is ambushed on the job and left for dead. In a vintage Psych-style Hitchcockian nod, he begins to see impossible happenings around his recovery clinic. Shawn and Gus return to Lassie’s side in Santa Barbara and are forced to navigate the personal, the professional, and possibly the supernatural. Separated from their new lives in San Francisco, our heroes find themselves unwelcome in their old stomping grounds as they secretly untangle a twisted case without the benefit of the police, their loved ones, or the quality sourdough bakeries of the Bay Area. What they uncover will change the course of their relationships forever.

Legacy Shows in the Peacock Catalog

Bates Motel
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Cheers
Chrisley Knows Best
Covert Affairs
Downton Abbey
Everybody Loves Raymond
Frasier
Friday Night Lights
House
Keeping Up with the Kardashians
The King of Queens
Married … with Children
Monk
Parks and Recreation (exclusive, available Oct. 2020)
Parenthood
The Office (exclusive, available Jan. 2021)
Psych
The Real Housewives
Royal Pains
Saturday Night Live
Superstore
30 Rock
Top Chef
Will & Grace
100 Dias Para Volver (Spanish-language)
Betty in NY (Spanish-language)
El Barón (Spanish-language)
Preso No. 1 (Spanish-language)

Peacock’s Legacy Movies Catalog

American Pie
Back to the Future
A Beautiful Mind
Bourne franchise
The Breakfast Club
Bridesmaids
Brokeback Mountain
Casino
Dallas Buyers Club
Despicable Me franchise
Do the Right Thing
Erin Brockovich
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Fast & Furious
Field of Dreams
Jaws
Knocked Up
Mamma Mia!
Meet the Fockers
Meet the Parents
Shrek

Californians Complained More About Telecom Companies Than Wildfire Outages Caused by PG&E

More Californians are complaining to state officials about their cable television, internet, and phone service than the energy utilities implicated in causing deadly wildfires that left customers without power for days or weeks.

California’s Office of Senate Floor Analyses prepared a report for elected officials contemplating extending deregulation of the state’s top telecommunications companies. It found deregulation has not always benefited California consumers, noting that several companies have been fined for allowing traditional phone service to fall below required service quality standards. As service deteriorates, lawmakers have tied the hands of state officials trying to enforce what service standards still exist. The report found that the telecom industry has been especially good at covering itself through lobbying and litigation to isolate and disempower consumers seeking redress.

“Many companies, including telecommunications providers, include arbitration clauses in their contracts that limit a consumer’s ability to form a class with other consumers to seek remedies for unfair business practices related to contracts,” the report notes. “These clauses frequently limit consumers to a specified arbitration process that limits the types of remedies consumers can obtain for unfair business practices.”

Customers with unreliable phone service pursuing complaints on the federal level with the Federal Communications Commission have also been dealt a blow by the Trump Administration and its Republican majority control of the FCC.

“It is unclear what kind of remedies consumers can obtain since the FCC has adopted an order limiting its own ability to establish requirements for these services,” the report found.

Deregulation has not stopped Californians from trying to get help from the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), however. The CPUC’s Customer Affairs Branch recorded 1,087 complaints about the state’s phone and cable companies in January 2019, compared with 677 complaints against the state’s energy utilities and 53 lodged against water utilities.

The CPUC’s Customer Affairs Branch reported communications-related complaints were significantly higher than other utilities. (Image: California Office of Senate Floor Analyses)

“Despite the occurrence of wildfires in which utility infrastructure was implicated, complaints regarding energy utilities remained largely consistent between November 2018 and January 2019,” the report found. “The data indicates that the communications sector generates a greater number of complaints to the CPUC than other utility sectors on average, and a much greater percentage of those complaints are for customer issues over which the CPUC has no regulatory jurisdiction.”

Earlier this year, California’s largest investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), filed for bankruptcy protection after estimating it was liable for more than $30 billion in damages from recent wildfires. An investigation found equipment owned by PG&E was responsible for starting the worst wildfire in California history. The November 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. Yet the Customer Affairs Branch received fewer complaints about PG&E than it received regarding AT&T, Charter Spectrum, Frontier, Cox, and Comcast XFINITY.

Unintended consequences of deregulation have also caused several high profile scandals among telecom companies in the state. Some of the worst offenses were committed by cable and phone companies that further traumatized victims of catastrophic wildfires. An effort to implement new consumer protections for fire victims forced to relocate met fierce resistance from cable and telephone industry lobbyists. Some of those same telecom companies continued to bill wildfire victims for months for service at addresses that no longer existed. AT&T even billed customers that died in the fires.

A recent San Francisco Superior Court decision (Gruber v. Yelp) also found another consequence of deregulation. A judge ruled The California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) does not apply to calls made or received on “digital” phone lines better known as Voice over IP (VoIP). The judge found that since the CPUC does not regulate VoIP calls, and such calls are not legally defined as a traditional phone call, CIPA cannot apply.

More than six months after devastating wildfires swept across the North Bay in 2017, AT&T was still billing customers that died in that fire. KGO-TV reports. (3:31)

After promising to never again erroneously bill wildfire victims, AT&T did it again to those traumatized by the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and wiped the town of Paradise off the map. KOVR in Sacramento reports on one family pleading with AT&T to stop billing them for landline service at an address that no longer exists. (2:15)

What’s Eating Your Comcast Data Cap?

Comcast has put its proverbial finger to the wind to define an “appropriate” data cap it declares “generous,” regardless of how subjectively random that cap happens to be. Although 1,000 GB — a terabyte — usage allowance represents a lot of internet traffic, more and more customers are finding they are flirting with exceeding that cap, and Comcast has never been proactive about regularly adjusting it to reflect the reality of rapidly growing internet traffic. That means customers must protect themselves by checking their usage and take steps if they are nearing the 1 TB limit.

If you do exceed your allowance, Comcast will provide two “grace periods” that will protect you from overlimit fees, currently $10 for each extra 50 GB allotment of data you use. Another alternative Comcast will happily sell you is an insurance policy to prevent any risk of overlimit fees. For an extra $50 a month, they will take the cap off your internet plan allowing unlimited usage. But $50 a month is close to paying for your internet service twice and is indefensible considering how little Comcast pays for its customers’ internet traffic. It is just one more way Comcast can pick up extra revenue without doing much of anything.

Customers that do regularly break through the 1 TB data cap often have a guilt complex, believing they have no right to complain about data caps and should pay more because they must cost Comcast a lot more money to service. In fact, Time Warner Cable executives broadly considered internet traffic expenses as little more than a “rounding error” to their bottom line, according to internal emails obtained by the New York Attorney General’s office. Managing customers’ data usage is far less costly than network plant upkeep, the regularly increasing costs of video content, and expenses related to expanding service to new locations.

One VentureBeat reader investigated what chewed through Comcast’s data allowance the most, and it wasn’t easy:

Xfinity pretends to make this easier for you, but that’s a load of horsesh*t. Its X-Fi app claims to give you usage stats for your connected devices — only nothing appears up-to-date. The phone I was using to look at the X-Fi app doesn’t even appear on the connected-devices list. You also have to look at each device individually. I saw no way to sort a list of devices by data usage, which would obviously help a lot.

Some of the biggest data users are connected households, where multiple family members use a range of devices, often at the same time. Customers with multiple internet-connected computers, video game consoles, and streaming devices are most at risk of exceeding their cap.

Video Games Consoles/PCs

The biggest data consumption does not come from gameplay itself. It comes from frequent software updates, some exceeding 50 GB. If you play a number of games, updates can come frequently. In the case of the VentureBeat author, 17% of daily usage came from the home’s primary desktop PC. Another 12% was traced to the family’s Xbox One. An in-home media server that also runs Steam and auto-updates frequently was also suspect.

Streaming Devices

If you are not into video games and do not depend on cloud storage or large file transfers to move data back and forth, streaming set-top boxes and devices are almost certainly going to be the primary source of your biggest monthly data usage. Video resolution can make a difference in how much data is consumed. If you are regularly approaching or exceeding your monthly cap, consider locking down maximum video resolution for streaming on large televisions to 720p, and 480p for smartphones. Some streaming services offer customized resolution options in their settings menu.

Autoplay, also known as the ‘binge’ option can also consume a lot of video when a service automatically starts playback of the next episode in a series. Some people switch off their televisions without stopping video playback, which can mean you watched one episode but actually streamed six or more. Check the streaming software for an option to not autoplay videos.

Remember that cable TV replacements like DirecTV Now and YouTube TV will continue streaming live broadcasts until you stop them. Do not just switch off the television. Many live/linear TV apps will prompt you every few hours if you have not changed channels to make sure there is someone still watching. If you do not respond, streaming will stop automatically.

Cloud Storage Backups

When customers report staggering data usage during a month, cloud storage backup software is often the culprit. If you are new to cloud storage backup services like Dropbox or Carbonite, your PC may be uploading a significant part of your hard drive to create a full backup of your computer. This alone can consume terabytes of data. Fortunately, most backup services throttle uploads and do not automatically assume you need to backup your entire hard drive. Many offer options to limit upload speed, the total amount of data that can be uploaded each month, and options to selectively backup certain files and folders. 

Your Wi-Fi Network is Insecure

In areas where data caps are pervasive, those who want to use a lot more data and do not want to pay for it may quietly hop on your home Wi-Fi network and effectively bill that usage to you. This is most common in large multi-dwelling units where lots of neighbors are within range of your home Wi-Fi. The best way to reduce the risk of a Wi-Fi intrusion is to create a password that is exceptionally difficult to guess, using a mixture of special characters (!, ^, %, etc.) and mixed case random letters and numbers. Although this can be inconvenient for guests, it will probably keep intruders out and prevent them from running up your bill.

It is unfortunate customers have to jump through these kinds of hoops and compromise their online experience. But where cable and phone companies lack competition, they can charge a small fortune for internet access and still feel it is appropriate to cap usage and ask for even more money when customers “use too much.”

Comcast Premium Customers Lose Cinemax in Favor of Comcast-Owned Hitz

Comcast premium subscribers began seeing Cinemax dropped from their lineup this morning, replaced with Comcast’s own premium movie network Hitz.

The cable company announced back in May it was replacing AT&T/WarnerMedia-owned Cinemax with its own movie channel beginning this summer. Summer has arrived.

Hitz will save Comcast an undisclosed amount of money over what AT&T was charging the cable operator for the lesser-watched cousin of HBO. Cinemax was launched in 1980 to focus on movies, and so will Hitz. Comcast says its new movie channel will feature at least 200 major movie titles, all available on-demand, with fewer HBO also-rans. Linear TV viewers will see at least three versions of Hitz on their lineup, replacing five Cinemax networks. They are dubbed Hitz, Hitz2 and Hitz3. The new movie channel is included in XFINITY Premier, Super and certain other TV packages.

Cinemax fans who want the channel back will still be able to subscribe, but only on an a-la-carte basis for $12/month.

Comcast offers this FAQ:

What is Hitz?
Hitz is a new on-demand movie service that includes more than 200 titles from a variety of top studios. This selection will rotate over time.

Where can I find Hitz?
The easiest way to find Hitz is by saying “Hitz” into your X1 Voice Remote. Hitz can also be found in the Networks section of the On Demand menu. You can also see current Hitz movies in the On-Screen Guide – frequently near other movie services.

Why are you doing this?
Most of the movies on Cinemax also air on HBO. By offering Hitz instead, we’re delivering customers a better variety of content.

How can I watch Cinemax original content?
While Cinemax is no longer included in the adjusted packages, it is still available to purchase on its own for $12 per month.

Should I pay a different price now that I am no longer receiving Cinemax?
While Cinemax is no longer included in these packages, we believe the new lineup offers a better value. Most of the movies on Cinemax have also aired on HBO. By offering Hitz instead, we’re delivering a better variety of content.

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