Things haven't been going well for Comcast (News - Alert) at all these days. It took back the Worst Company in America slot in “The Consumerist” annual rankings after losing the title twice to EA, a series of recorded customer service calls have slapped the company's already-tarnished public image, and increasingly, competition is emerging in the field to offer up the services that people want from a name that isn't quite so familiar. In the face of all that, it would be easy to think that Comcast has a plan to win customers back, but word from “The Oregonian” says that its plan in Oregon is a little counter-intuitive: specifically, a small increase in price.
The rate increases in question are being called “among its smallest in years”, pushing the rate for the “Standard Cable” package to $72.49 a month, up $2 a month and offering both local channels and several dozen popular cable networks. Meanwhile, Comcast's standard “Performance Internet” package reportedly remains at its current rate of $53.95 for those who subscribe to cable or phone service as well. But while the various plans see only the smallest of fluctuation, if any, the rates for other services and equipment are on the rise, and major percentage hikes are coming to those looking for hardware. Those renting a cable modem, for example, were seeing 25 percent price hikes, and those on high-definition video and digital video recorder (DVR) systems were said to be seeing major percentage hikes as well. There's also a new charge on Comcast bills, a $1.50 “broadcast TV fee,” designed to help cover some of the costs of retransmission, costs that Comcast actually directly contributes to via its ownership of NBC.
However, both Comcast and local regulators suggest the tiny rate hikes are unrelated to competitors like CenturyLink (News - Alert) and Google Fiber looking to arrive in the Portland area. Comcast notes that the price hike is actually in line with other price increases in less competitive areas, and Fred Christ, cable regulator for Washington County, noted “If the new entrant competitors were really a concern they would have eased off on some of the Internet hikes, for broadband service.”
Of course, looking at the numbers, it's easy to wonder just what Fred Christ is talking about. Performance Internet price reportedly remains unchanged at $66.95 a month (or a $53.95 price as noted previously), while Blast Internet, a higher-performance version, is up just $2 a month to $78.95, or $65.95 for those who subscribe to phone or cable service. Modem rental took a big shot upward, but only on a percentage basis, going up $2 to a total of $10 a month. If Comcast had “eased off” much more there wouldn't have been any hikes at all. It's all but certain that Comcast is looking at its impending competition with a note of concern; Comcast has operated in so many areas without competition for so long anyway that it really can't not. Interestingly, reports suggest that most of the incoming competitors aren't looking to beat Comcast on price, but rather on service provided for the cost, a field in which Comcast likely could also stand some competition.
Only time will tell just how the Portland cable and Internet market absorbs the blow of fresh competition, but it might indeed be a dark day ahead for Comcast. The new competition might well invigorate the company, but with a strategy so far comprised of very small rate hikes, it doesn't look good.
Edited by Maurice Nagle