Comcast Offering Free Wi-Fi Access During Coronavirus Pandemic

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest ISPs, March 13 announced it is making available free access to its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide, among other services, over the next 60 days during coronavirus pandemic. The cable giant is also suspending all data cap limits for subscribers during this period.

Hot spot access will be available to anyone, including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. To find a local Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot, click here. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

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The company said it would also not cancel a subscriber’s Internet service or assess late fees if the sub contacts Comcast informs the service he/she can’t pay their bill during this period. Comcast said it would work with subs offering flexible payment options, in addition to finding other solutions.

“During this extraordinary time, it is vital that as many Americans as possible stay connected to the Internet — for education, work, and personal health reasons,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a statement. “Our employees also live and work in virtually every community we serve, and we all share the same belief that it’s our Company’s responsibility to step up and help out.”

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Comcast Has High Hopes for Pending Streaming Video Service

Comcast has long eschewed over-the-top video, arguing its legacy cable pay-TV service and Xfinity X1 set-top box offer superior content and access options.

With much of the entertainment industry coveting OTT distribution, including pending platform launches from Disney and WarnerMedia, Comcast recently changed its tune announcing it would launch a free streaming service for its pay-TV subs in 2020.

Speaking on the Jan. 23 fiscal call, corporate CEO Brian Roberts said the service would be “distinct and compelling” offering current and prior seasons of NBC Universal programming, some original content and a “light” advertising load.

“It’s a great value proposition for consumers and provides marketers with a unique, targetable digital advertising and high quality premium programming,” said Roberts. “It will harness all the things that make our company so unique.”

He said that when presented to the company’s combined 54 million subscribers (with British satellite operator Sky and its Now TV OTT video platform), Comcast would be able to generate “significant value” over time by enhancing the company’s content monetization and strengthening the value of pay-TV.

“We will continue to sponsor a broad, varied distribution environment and see this platform as being a valuable addition to this highly effective strategy,” said Roberts.

NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, a long-time foe to OTT video, embraced the strategic change, saying he believes the company now “under-monetizes” its content on the Internet.

In a fiscal call last year, Burke said that while the media company had deals with online TV services such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Hulu Live and YouTube TV, he doubted the platforms would make much of an impact.

“They’re off to a relatively slow start,” he said.

Indeed, NBC’s attempt at a standalone OTT comedy platform (SeeSo) shuttered after 18 months.

Neil Smit, former CEO of Comcast Cable, in 2016 infamously declared that he hadn’t seen an “OTT model that really hunts.” Less than a year later Smit stepped down as CEO, replaced by company veteran Dave Watson, whose stance on OTT is only slightly changed from his predecessor’s.

But management opinions have apparently changed in the face of market reality.

“In terms of content and taking things that are currently licensed elsewhere and moving them to the platform, I think it is going to be very positive for us financially, because in effect, we’re going to be a brand new buyer,” Burke said.

 

 

Comcast Pledges Net Neutrality Support as Government Safeguards Expire

Comcast reiterated support for so-called net neutrality provisions the same day (June 11) the Federal Communication Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” took effect, rolling back many safeguards intended to mandate a level playing field on the Internet.

In a blog post, Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said the nation’s largest cable pay-TV operator would not change how it handles third-party streaming services on its broadband network.

“We still don’t and won’t block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content,” Watson wrote. “We’re still not creating fast lanes. We still don’t have plans to enter into any so-called paid prioritization agreements.”

Yet, throttling is precisely what Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings accused Comcast and other Internet Service Providers of doing in 2014. Hastings said Netflix was forced into paying “a toll” to “some big ISPs” so its subscribers wouldn’t be subjected to buffering and pixilated images.

“The essence of net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don’t restrict, influence, or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make,” said Hastings at the time. “The traditional form of net neutrality which was recently overturned by a Verizon lawsuit is important, but insufficient. This weak [pre- 2015] net neutrality isn’t enough to protect an open, competitive internet; a stronger form of net neutrality is required.”

Hastings’ grumblings reached President Obama, who, together with former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015 helped push through tougher safeguards for streaming services – much to the chagrin of ISPs.

Under new FCC chairman Ajit Pai – a former cable lobbyist and Obama appointee – the agency did away with what Pai considered “unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations” imposed by Wheeler that characterized the Internet as a utility and regulated under the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Watson contends the Internet can be better safeguarded under the same regulatory-light (i.e. scant government oversight) approach that helped create it.

“We continue to believe the best way to ensure lasting net neutrality rules that protect consumers and promote investment is for Congress to enact legislation,” he wrote.

Comcast’s Solution to Video Sub Losses: Raise Broadband Pricing

Comcast Cable lost 96,000 video subscribers in the first-quarter (ended March 31), and 200,000 subs in 2017 — many to competing over-the-top video services and/or online TV platforms.

So, what is Comcast Cable doing in response to cord-cutters? Raising broadband (high-speed Internet) fees, CEO Dave Watson told an investor group.

Speaking May 14 at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, Watson reiterated that the traditional cable bundle still represents the best value to consumers eyeing a-la-carte programming alternatives such as Showtime OTT, HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, etc.

When pay-TV subscribers opt for OTT video alternatives, they lose the multiproduct discount, while Comcast is able to lower its programming costs, while hiking monthly broadband fees.

Indeed, Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers in Q1, which helped upped broadband revenue 8.5% to $14.8 billion — 64% of video revenue.

“We’ve seen some low-end customers that have dropped video, maintain broadband … it’s accretive when that happens,” Watson said.

The executive said Comcast’s cloud-based X1 set-top continues to meld the traditional set-top with OTT video. The platform, which accounts for almost 60% of Comcast’s residential video footprint, now offers direct-access to Netflix and YouTube.

“We still think video is a very important category,” Watson said. “We’re still going to compete.”

At the same time, Watson concedes that competing streaming media set-top dives such as Roku offer similar features of X1, including the Xfinity app.

“We have a lot of optionality around how we manage the video relationship,” he said.