(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
blocking, hbo go, open internet

Companies:
comcast



Comcast Still Blocking HBO Go On Third Party Devices, Never Bothers To Explain Why

from the if-we-just-stay-quiet-we-can't-possibly-get-in-trouble dept

One of the more dubious Comcast practices brought up by opponents of Comcast's planned $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable is the cable giant's sluggish refusal to support certain internet video services and platforms running over its broadband network. Case in point is the HBO Go app on Roku, which Comcast hasn't supported since around 2011 or so for no coherent reason. To get the app to work, it needs to simply authenticate with the cable provider to prove you are a cable subscriber (since, at least until next year, there's no HBO Go standalone option).

Much smaller cable companies haven't had a problem in getting this to work, but Comcast, with its limited resources, somehow just can't seem to spend the time. Roku's neutrality filing with the FCC expressed concern that cable authentication systems could be used as yet another way gatekeepers could extract tolls from streaming services. As we noted when Comcast similarly refused to support HBO Go on the Playstation 3, the company -- when it can be bothered to comment on the issue at all -- usually trots out the excuse that getting this stuff to work is well, gosh -- time consuming:
"With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players."
It certainly does appear to be a case of priorities. With Comcast looking to eliminate any and all justifications to reject its merger, the company this week announced its network would finally support HBO Go on Roku -- some three years later. It couldn't possibly be that Comcast intentionally stalled on supporting HBO Go on the country's best-selling third-party streaming device because it wants to keep customers contained within the Comcast set top ecosystem and away from other options, could it?

Of course while Comcast will now support Roku, that doesn't mean the same problem isn't going to keep coming up with other devices. This week, Amazon announced that their Fire TV set tops will now support HBO Go. Except when users go to activate their device, they'll find that Comcast's broadband network isn't supported. Once again, Comcast isn't explaining why it's having such a hard time getting such a simple authentication system to work -- when few if any cable providers seem to have this problem. Amazon, meanwhile, is directing annoyed users to Comcast.

It's a good example of how gatekeepers can engage in anti-competitive behavior under the auspices of technical complications, even with net neutrality rules in place (though I don't think this is technically a neutrality violation). Like the wireless industry's blocking of Google Wallet for ambiguous security reasons (as their own competing platform was taking off), and AT&T's blocking of Facetime for "network congestion" issues (AT&T was really just trying to force people off of unlimited plans), all it apparently takes for incumbent ISPs to stall services they're afraid of is a one-two punch of silence and ambiguity.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 2:39am

    ...though I don't think this is technically a neutrality violation

    It's worse, it's anti-competitive practice, abuse of its power over its network etc.

    This neutrality discussion goes beyond the Internet it seems. Meanwhile it's obvious to all but the paid shills (which seem to inhabit job positions within the FCC too) that the ISPs can't be trusted. Bring title II!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 3:15am

    Now it makes sense as to why HBO Go is going solo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spike (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 4:42am

    It'll be business as usual after the merger, and Comcast will just say "sue me" while laughing at you when they become even more anticompetitive than they already are, after their inevitable rate hikes of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 17 Dec 2014 @ 4:55am

    I'm not a comcast cable subscriber (because why?), but are you really telling me that their website is so horrible that Roku cannot simply get the login credentials a user uses to check their bill and automate verification of HBO service right through the regular site?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 5:31am

      Re:

      "Roku cannot simply get the login credentials a user uses to check their bill and automate verification of HBO service right through the regular site?"

      That would probably be a violation of the T&Cs for their account as most such things specify not giving your credentials to 3rd parties. Not to mention a major security risk (you'd most likely be giving them admin access to your billing & personal details, not just the service status).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 7:54am

      Re:

      "Roku cannot simply get the login credentials a user uses to check their bill"

      You would provide such credentials to a third party? That's an incredibly terrible idea. Nobody should ever do that under any circumstances.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2014 @ 7:56am

    Motivation

    It couldn't possibly be that Comcast intentionally stalled on supporting HBO Go on the country's best-selling third-party streaming device because it wants to keep customers contained within the Comcast set top ecosystem and away from other options, could it?
    I can see a different reason. They expected to engage in some sort of merger/acquisition (ultimately, it turned out to be Time Warner) and they wanted to hold something shiny in reserve to offer as a concession when regulators raised concerns. This is the same technique we've seen when regulators were promised that broadband penetration would be expanded to poor households, to name just one other recent example of doing something solely to appease regulators.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 17 Dec 2014 @ 9:41am

    Remember

    Never attribute to malice that which is... no, never-mind, it's definitely malice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 17 Dec 2014 @ 11:26am

    Well Comcast, I think we can free up about $45 billion dollars for you to have all the resources you need fix all your problems. No merger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Frok (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 12:50am

    VPN for SIP

    VPN can be for streaming "hd" video what it is for VoIP in SIP hostile ISPs [like timewarner and commiecast].

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 12:33pm

    FTFY, HBO

    "With every new website, device, or player we authenticate, we don't need to work through technical integration and customer service, which takes time and zero resources for us since we put the onus of integration on platform providers. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize ourselves as we refuse to partner with the various players that understand the dictionary definition of 'co-operation'."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    soundwave, 10 Apr 2015 @ 9:23pm

    comcast

    If course Comcast won't let hbo go work on the ps3, not with Microsoft investing millions into Comcast! Don't believe Microsoft invested millions, Google Microsoft and Comcast. And who is Sony's biggest rival in the gaming industry, that's right Microsoft!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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