Tag Archives | Comcast

In (Reluctant) Defense of Cable TV

The New York Times’ Matt Richtel and Brian Stelter have a nice story today on the threat posed to traditional cable TV by free and low-cost Internet TV. Despite the growing sophistication of Web service, Americans still haven’t  started cutting the cable cord in droves. Richtel and Stelter point to popular content that’s not available (legally) online–such as American Idol and True Blood–as a primary explanation for cable’s continued viability.

I’ve been writing about the idea of dumping cable for a long time and am instinctively drawn to it…but I haven’t done it. In our household, we’re heavy watchers of Netflix on Demand via a Roku box. We also watch Hulu and occasionally partake of movies and TV on iTunes and Amazon on Demand. But we still consume plenty for Comcast Xfinity cable TV. (For that matter, we also buy DVDs, and I’ve been known to pull out VHS tapes.)

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Could Comcast Derail Obama’s Broadband Agenda?

President Obama has made broadband a key part of his telecommunications agenda. To get there, he has tasked the Federal Communications Commission with the responsibility to make changes to Internet regulations and promote his “National Broadband Plan,” an ambitious effort to reform the industry and expand broadband access across the country.

There’s an elephant in the room however, and it’s name is Comcast. The telecommunications company is challenging the FCC’s authority on Internet regulation in court, and if successful it could seriously inhibit the agency’s efforts to move its plans forward. Comcast’s beef goes back to 2008, when the FCC censured the company for its bandwidth-throttling efforts against BitTorrent and others.

If the court rules in Comcast’s favor, the FCC may lose the necessary powers it requires in order to shift spectrum from television companies to wireless providers in order to advance broadband access. The agency also has other options, including reclassifying Internet service under more tightly regulated telephone service laws, but even that isn’t fraught with trouble.

Telecommunications companies would no doubt be unhappy that they wouldd be required to share lines with their competitors, and we all know that probably means lawsuits. It would also mean Internet providers would have to accept quite a bit more regulation then they’ve been used to. More lawsuits. All in all, the Comcast case really seems to hold the key to Obama’s broadband plans.

Personally, I find it sad that it has come to this to decide whether this country really gets serious with high-speed Internet access. I know among the more conservative readers on here, government regulation is not very popular. But its a simple fact in this capitalist society that the almighty dollar is what companies are most interested in. Regulation does put a crimp on profits, and I believe nobody can really argue that.

We’re getting to the point where the Internet is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity. At that point, regulation of the industry is necessary in order to ensure that it is accessible by all, rather than only where it is the most highly profitable. Of course, its not going to be as profitable for a company to offer Internet access in rural North Dakota as downtown Los Angeles.

But should access be determined by geographical location, or potential profit margins? Therein lies the argument. And now it appears a court case in Washington, DC could possibly set the course of broadband access for years to come.


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Xfinity: New Name for the Same Old Comcast?

Comcast, the nation’s dominant provider of cable TV and broadband services, has apparently decided it doesn’t like its 40-year-old moniker. The company isn’t changing its corporate name, but it’s announced plans to rebrand its consumer services–TV, Internet access, and phone–as Xfinity. (The name has already been in use for the past six weeks for Comcast’s subscriber-only Internet TV service.) The Xfinity name will be rolled out to eleven cities next week, with more to come as the year progresses.

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Okay, Is Now the Time to Dump Cable TV?

A year ago, I toyed with the idea of getting rid of cable and doing all my TV watching online. In the end, I kept Comcast–partially out of lethargy, but mostly because (A) cable is still a much better source of news-related programming than the Web, and (B) I’m very comfortable with my TiVo.

Reason (A) still strikes me as a significant argument in favor of keeping cable. With reason (B), however, I may be at a crossroads. My TiVo HD, which never worked very well, now isn’t working at all–it crashes every few minutes. I’m still trying to troubleshoot it, but I suspect that the drive is bad and will need to be replaced. That’ll require an investment of money and time, and while I may go through with it, I’m also flirting with the notion of retiring the TiVo and giving up cable.

News remains the biggest argument against doing so: I still like the idea of having CNN, CSPAN, Fox News, MSNBC, and other newsy outlets readily available. On the other hand, some of this stuff is available in podcast form–albeit after a delay–and it’s not like I’m glued to TV news every night. (I do, however, like to gorge on it when breaking events warrant, whether they involve election night or a celebrity death or the moving tale of a small boy swept away in his father’s experimental balloon.)

If I cut the cable and give up TiVo, what should I replace them with? I’m still not sure. I like Roku. I own an Apple TV that I don’t use much but would probably enjoy if I made an effort to rediscover it. The Boxee Box looks promising.

But the one box that offers access to the widest variety of stuff–including an endless supply of free material–is a PC. So I’m also toying with the notion of connecting a Windows box or Mac Mini to my Vizio and using it for Netflix, Boxee, YouTube, video podcasts, and a whole lot more. The major downside: Even a cheap PC costs a lot more than a Roku or a Boxee Box. But hey, if I’m no longer tithing to Comcast I’ll have some newfound cash to spend.

I don’t need to give up cable. I can afford it, and there are times that I’m very glad I have it. But more and more, I feel guilty about spending as much I do each month given how little of it I end up watching. It feels wasteful, like filling up your plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet when you know you’re only going to take a bite or two.

Here’s the part where I ask for your advice. What would you do? What are you doing?


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Comcast DVR Remote Scheduling is Here! (For Some)

Dave broke the news back in August that Comcast would be coming out with a new remote DVR scheduling feature in the near future. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on the myDVR page in hopes I’d get a heads-up on regional availability. Today, after reading about guide updates over on the Comcast blog, I revisited the bookmarked URL and hit the jackpot. I can now manage all of my DVR recordings online. It appears that I’m in one of the early market rollouts, but the rest of Comcast’s digital subscribers with a Motorola set-top should get the upgrade over the next several months.

In addition to letting me manage recordings, the new myDVR Manager site includes decent search functionality with content filters (HD, sports, movies, etc.) and keyword results that incorporate both live broadcasts and on-demand offerings. The UI is easy to use and even anticipates what I might need next. A search on Duke, for example, let me quickly isolate just the Duke college basketball games.

The series recording options are also much easier to manage than they are on the traditional guide. See further pics after the jump for a look at menus and options.

(This post is republished from Zatz Not Funny.)

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Comcast’s Subscriber-Only Content Goes Live

Comcast’s online version of its OnDemand TV service is live. (For some reason, the company changed the name from the perfectly-logical Comcast OnDemand Online to the overly-fancy Comcast Fancast Xfinity TV.) It’s a Web-based streaming service with exclusive streaming content–movies and TV shows–for folks who get their cable TV and broadband service from Comcast.

I still go back and forth on the idea of getting rid of cable for Internet-only TV, but Fancast Xfinity could be an argument for continuing to tithe  to Comcast.

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka has more details. I’ll check it out as soon as I’m at a PC for a bit of time (and can remember my Comcast e-mail address, which the company assigned to me when I subscribed, which I never use, and which is required to log in…).


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Here’s the iTunes TV Subscription I’d Pay For

Apple TVOver at All Things Digital, Peter Kafka is reporting that he’s hearing that Apple wants to offer a $30 TV subscription service through iTunes, and is trying to stir up interest among content providers. He has very few details, but the basic idea of a technology company taking on cable with an Internet-based service appeals to me. (I’ve written in the past of my flirtations with ditching Comcast, although I remain a subscriber as I write this.)

Sooner or later, we’re all going to get all of our entertainment and information over the Internet, whether it’s from Apple or Comcast or someone else or a combination of multiple options. I’m not sure how it’ll all pan out, or how long it’ll take. But I do know what I’d like to see in such a service. Stuff like this:

A la carte options. I don’t watch 98 percent of the channels included in my cable package, and never will–and the only reason I’m paying for the tier of service I’m getting is to get one or two stations that interest me. I’d much rather be able to select from a handful of stations I know I’ll watch. Better yet, why can’t I pay for individual programs?

Diversity even cable can’t offer. I want niche programming on topics I’m interested in. I want every movie that’s extant, and every episode of every TV show–including ones that never came out on DVD.

One subscription I can watch anywhere and everywhere. I’d like to pay one flat fee for programming I can watch on my TV, my PC, and my phone. (That’s one reason why the idea of an iTunes-based subscription service is intriguing–I’ve already got iTunes on my computers, on my iPhone, and–courtesy of Apple TV–on my TV.)

Both live streams and a great DVR in the cloud. One of the reasons I still pay Comcast each month is because it’s still the best way to get news and other real-time programming. I wouldn’t pay an additional $30 a month for Subscription iTunes unless it brought me MSNBC and CNN and FOX and CSPAN. (Or, alternatively, unless they all become available online for free through some other means.) But I also want to be able to get anything my subscription qualifies me to watch at any time.

Is any of this too much to ask for? I’d cheerfully pay a lot more than $30 a month to the first company who offers it.  And until it comes along, I’ll muddle along with a combination of Comcast, iTunes, Roku, Amazon on Demand, Slingbox, Netflix Watch Instantly, podcasts, various network-specific sites, and old VHS tapes. Between them, I figure they get me about two-thirds of the way to where I’d like to go…


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Comcast Launching On Demand Online Shortly

comcastonlineAfter testing out its latest online offering with about 5,000 customers earlier this summer, Comcast is set to launch On Demand Online with all customers by the end of the year, the company is saying. As we reported earlier, the feature would work much like Hulu does although it would be available only to Comcast subscribers.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Comcast has struck deals with about two dozen cable and movie channels to provide content. There is some bad news here though. You won’t gain access to the entire lineup of online content — only what is included in your package.

Either way, the move signals an effort by the entertainment industry to get a leg up on illicit distribution of programming. By offering the programming itself, and on-demand, the urge to run for BitTorrent and the like may be lessened for some.

Take the music industry for example. It decided to resist the digital movement, and ended up getting burnt badly. Only now is the industry beginning to gain some foothold in the digital world.


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The End of the Line for Landlines?

Old PhoneIvan Seidenberg thinks that more and more people are going to decide that they simply don’t need a landline telephone anymore. Which is an interesting take on things given that he’s CEO of landline giant Verizon. Over at the New York Times, Saul Hansell has posted a story in which Seidenberg says he thinks the future of wired communications will be all about using FiOS connections to deliver video. If people dump their wired phones in favor of using their cell phones as their only phones, that’s OK.

I can’t remember if I’ve told this story on Technologizer before, but I recently decided that the time was right for me to get rid of my landline and go with my cell phone full time (supplemented from time to time by Skype). After all, weeks go by when I don’t use my Comcast landline at all, and most of my incoming calls are wrong numbers or debt collectors looking for someone who apparently had the number before me. (I don’t ever give it out–in part because I can’t remember it.)

But when I called Comcast to cancel, the rep had news for me: The “triple play” bundle I subscribed to was such a fabulous deal that canceling the phone portion would…increase my monthly bill by four bucks. I’m still figuring out exactly how to respond to that, but for the moment I remain a landline subscriber and am trying to use it more to keep my AT&T minutes under control.

Anyhow, this is all leading up to a T-Poll (I did a similar one a few months ago, but I think things are shifting so rapidly that the results might be different this time):


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Courts Throw Out FCC Cable Market Share Limits

ComcastIn a potentially huge victory for Comcast, the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC threw out a rule limiting cable companies to under 30 percent of the market. The courts claimed that the FCC failed to take into account competition from satellite and fiber-optic providers when considering competition.

Comcast currently controls about 25 percent of the cable market, with about 23.7 million customers. With the law now vacated, the company will have an easier time looking for potential acquisitions to expand its reach.

The rule has an interesting history: it was first implemented in 1992 as part of an effort to control monopolization of the cable industry. The court declared the law unconstitutional in 2001, and had it set aside. That didn’t stop the FCC: in 2007, on a 3-2 vote it re-instituted the policy.

Analysts say that its unlikely that Comcast will acquire large cable operators, as there is not a significant enough benefit to doing so. However, with no roadblocks, the nation’s largest cable operator is pretty much free to get as big as it wants.


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