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.

Filed Under: blocking, hbo go, open internet
Companies: comcast


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  1. 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.

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