Last Saturday, while I was watching college football, a strange ad came on over and over. The voiceover said, in essence: “You might not believe it, but this company is for competition, and this company is for innovation, and this company is for network neutrality,” it said. “This company is Comcast.”
The fact that Comcast expected audiences to be surprised by those statements says a lot about its reputation.
Many don’t trust Comcast specifically because of the disconnect between its advertisements and the way it really treats customers. People can only wait for the cable guy who never shows so many times before they begin doubting the company’s word.
And, true to form, Comcast did come in at the bottom of JD Power’s annual customer-satisfaction rankings, released earlier this week. Actually, in most regions of the country, Comcast was battling it out for last place with Time Warner Cable, which Comcast is in the process of trying to acquire.
Comcast has proved over and and over that it places profits over customers. The recording of a phone call in which a Comcast rep refused to let a customer cancel his service is a hilarious example.
So Comcast’s statements about competition, innovation, and net neutrality are hard to buy, simply because they’re coming from Comcast.
Comcast says it is the only cable company that is “legally bound” to a commitment to network neutrality. And, indeed, the feds made Comcast take a network neutrality vow as a condition of its blessing of the cable giant’s acquisition of NBC/Universal.
Network neutrality ensures that no Internet content company can buy a faster service tier at the expense of smaller web companies that can’t afford to. In other words, it means network operators aren’t allowed to sell “Internet fast lanes.”
But it’s an open secret that Netflix, and probably many others, are paying Comcast to make sure they move quickly over the last mile of consumer broadband networks. Many would call that an Internet fast lane.
In the Comcast web commercial I saw (50 times) last weekend, the bit about competition and innovation gets a little less emphasis than other factors. In fact, the voice says “competition” once and quickly moves on to a more believable point.
Good thing, because Comcast has done everything in its power to eliminate competition. The reason for buying Time Warner Cable is to bulk up for more buying power with content rights holders
In fact, the cable business is one of the least competitive businesses around. Can you imagine a world where Starbucks, Pete’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts decided to divide up the country by region and never compete?
“These companies don’t care about providing better services or even connecting more Americans,” said Free Press president Craig Aaron. “It’s about eliminating the last shred of competition in a communications sector that’s already dominated by too few players.”
The company’s innovation claim is equally ridiculous. Comcast is usually one of just a couple of options for broadband service in most of its markets. The only reason it’s executed on its multi-screen strategy is to meet competition from Internet video players like Netflix and Amazon.
But even there, the cable companies have a long-held cozy relationship with big content owners like Viacom, Warner Brothers, and Disney, so they can get lots of premium content that the Internet players can’t.
Comcast even brags about diversity in its programming. But that’s just a clever repackaging of the cable companies’ practice of forcing consumers to pay a premium for big, expensive packages of channels, most of which they’ll never watch. Yes some of those channels are “diverse,” but again Comcast’s reason for selling them has everything to do with profit and nothing to do with diversity.
So, no, Comcast, no matter what you say in your ads, people aren’t likely to think of your name when they hear the terms competition, innovation, and network neutrality.
If there was ever an industry that needed the Uber treatment — total disruption — it’s the cable industry. But cable companies like Comcast have so entrenched themselves through sweetheart deals forged behind closed doors in both Washington and Hollywood that it will be very hard to root them out.