Comcast's 'Free' Streaming Box Is Actually $13 After Stupid Fees

from the ill-communication dept

Back in March, Comcast heavily hyped the looming launch of a new streaming TV box that a press release proclaimed would provide "real value" to Comcast broadband customers for free. It was Comcast's attempt at trying to fend off the growing array of $7-$14 per month streaming services that have been popping up and causing Comcast customers to cut the cable TV cord. Comcast noted at the time the offering would only be made available to the company's existing broadband subscribers, and would only feature streaming services sanctioned by Comcast:

"For just five dollars a month, we can offer these customers an affordable, flexible, and differentiated platform that includes thousands of free movies and shows for online streaming, an integrated guide for accessing their favorite apps and connected home devices, and the ease of navigating and managing all of it with our voice remote."

Of course this being Comcast, the word "free" turns out to have been...generous. Unmentioned by the original announcement was the fact that to actually partake in this new streaming service, you must rent Comcast's "XFi Gateway," which will run you an additional $13 per month on top of your broadband bill. Comcast has long tried to convince its customers they must pay a rental fee for a router or modem, despite the fact that users can buy their own router and avoid that fee. Of course that's not possible if you want to experience the "real value" Comcast's new Flex streaming service purportedly provides:

"The $13-per-month rental fee for the xFi Gateway is a complete rip-off that Comcast (like other internet providers) pushes on its subscribers because people generally don’t know there’s an alternative. Instead of paying Comcast an additional $13 per month in perpetuity, you can instead buy a modem and router outright. By doing so, you’ll likely make up the upfront costs after a year, maybe two if you go for higher-end options. Once it’s paid off, you’ll be saving the $156 per year that you’re paying just to have a box sit in your house."

As such, Comcast's claim that this new service was available "at no additional cost as part of an Xfinity Internet-only subscription" would constitute false advertising. And Comcast's free streaming box is actually a $13 rented box that's not only loaded with a major hidden fee -- it doesn't include streaming services Comcast isn't keen on competing with. Most consumers would just be smart enough to buy a Roku or some other streaming device and enjoy a wide range of services, but Comcast hopes that enough of its customers don't know any better and will sign up anyway.

This would all be slightly less obnoxious if Comcast hadn't spent much of 2016 using outright propaganda to thwart an FCC quest to crack open the cable industry's monopoly over cable boxes and other hardware. Under the plan, cable providers would have needed to provide their programming to third party hardware vendors without the need for a CableCARD, making it easier to pay for Comcast services using your Roku, Apple TV, or third party cable box. But because the cable industry makes around $21 billion annually in rental fees, it engaged in some incredibly misleading tactics and claims to scuttle the effort.

Given the company just convinced the FCC to effectively neuter itself at lobbyist behest, there's no longer any meaningful rules in place governing misleading fees, something Comcast has lots of experience with. As such consumers' only real recourse is to avoid services and behaviors like this wherever possible, a major reason the company lost another 238,000 TV subscribers last quarter alone. But there's another problem: Comcast's broadband monopoly and its use of usage caps to hamstring and punish those that flee Comcast's fee-laden walled garden.

Filed Under: bogus fees, fees, flex, routers, streaming, truth in advertising, xfi gateway
Companies: comcast


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 7:44am

    Per month

    Don't omit "per month" in the headline. An $18/month (forever) rental is effectively a purchase of several thousand dollars, nowhere near a $5 (or $18) box.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 7:59am

    Comcast gained 339,000 broadband subscribers last quarter, and profits are up.

    They already add basic cable to the internet for less than $15.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      "They already add basic cable to the internet for less than $15."

      They used to charge $10 less for Internet, if you also subscribed to basic cable. Of course, you had to rent a box to access the cable broadcasts...there goes the discount.

      For quite a while, I had Internet for $10 less thanks to my cable TV subscription, since I never picked up a cable TV box.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 11:56am

        Re: Re:

        For quite a while, I had Internet for $10 less thanks to my cable TV subscription, since I never picked up a cable TV box.

        Careful with that: I've heard lots of horror stories of people who signed up to get the discount, and then when the discount went away, they cancelled the service... only to have a collection agency hound them to return the box they never rented in the first place.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      "profits are up"

      I love the fact that you think this is some kind of defence for what's essentially a 250% service charge.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:48am

        Re: Re:

        People attacking google like to say "if you're not the customer you're the product". However, they generally fail to realize "if you're not the shareholders and corporate executives you're the product" is usually more accurate.

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

      • identicon
        David, 30 Oct 2019 @ 10:31am

        Re: Re:

        I love the fact that you think this is some kind of defence for what's essentially a 250% service charge.

        260%. While I appreciate the ability to do quick estimates (in olden times when supermarket cashiers still had to type prices, I was sort of flabbergasted when a cashier did not comprehend why I was not going to pay about 40 bucks for about 5 items costing 1 to 2 each), numbers here are still simple enough that giving an exact amount is not too troublesome.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:22am

    Cablecard

    We have Verizon and the best deal is getting a cablecard and a device like the HDHomeRunPrime. I have the 3 currently but plan on getting the 6 once it comes out. It saves not only the monthly rental charges but the power bill for both powering the boxes they rent you but getting rid of the excess heat from them as well. Your monthly costs will be greatly reduced by investing in something like this.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:24am

    Ignorance + Lies = Profit

    "...Comcast hopes that enough of its customers don't know better to make it a financial winner for the giant. "

    I own a Surfboard 4x4 (download x upload) channels, DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. On Comcast's 60mbps plan, this was plenty of modem, even tho' Comcast tried several years ago to tell me otherwise once they could serve gigabit bandwidth in my neighborhood. It was fun to ask why my modem, which would handle 100+ mbps was inadequate for a 60mbps plan...talking head at technical help desk said Comcast would quit pestering me on this point. I had literally asked the question, "Are you going to upgrade my bandwidth for free to some rate my modem can't handle?" Round won!

    About three months back, Comcast announced that, in a fit of largesse, they'd upgrade my account from 60mbps to 75mbps for free. Didn't notice much change in service. Last month, Comcast again "upgraded" my service (with much fanfare about generosity), this time to 100mbps. Ah ha! They finally found a speed my modem couldn't handle. Full service loss. Made them send a tech out to check from the outside box to the inside wall port. Didn't allow them to earn any technician fees by touching my gear.

    Replaced the old 4x4 channel DOCSIS 3.0 only modem with a new, 32x8 channel DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 modem. Problem (except for being a Comcast customer) solved!

    Until Comcast's generosity hikes me up to about 600mbps for free, the download rate won't overwhelm my modem in its 32x4 channel DOCSIS 3.0 configuration. If Comcast wants freely to give me gigabit speeds, the new modem knows how to handle that as well under DOCSIS 3.1.

    Comcast wants to force equipment upgrades, hoping to be able to rent/sell the replacement hardware and bill technician time to perform the change. They're willing to give away increasing resources to probe the failure points of existing hardware when owned by the customer. I'm sure they're willing to perform similar non-free services to customers who rent hardware - more willing even, since Comcast already has a higher expectation that customers who still rent hardware "don't know better."

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:00am

      Re: Ignorance + Lies = Profit

      Last time I dealt with that I just told the tech that my modem wasn't a problem and to shut up about it. Lesson learned. Next time (if there is a next time... not subscribed to them right now), I'll ask if they're giving me a free upgrade :).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:10am

    If it looks like a lie, and it smells like a lie.

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

  • identicon
    Talmyr, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:14am

    In a sane country...

    ...this is illegal. Yes, even in insane Britain.

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

  • icon
    nerdrage (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 10:50am

    There's a fee for being stupid?

    Oh right. The stupid fee is the one all Comcast customers pay, by definition.

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 11:43am

      Re: There's a fee

      The vast majority of Comcast customers live in an area with no competing services available. That isn't their choice.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 31 Oct 2019 @ 12:41pm

      Re: There's a fee for being stupid?

      The stupid fee is the one all Comcast customers pay, by definition.

      You're saying I'm stupid for choosing Comcast over CenturyLink DSL, which is my only other option for broadband?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 11:25am

    That's nothing.

    Comcast's $99 service is $235 after all the bullshit fees.

    Wanna trade?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:55pm

    subscriptions just suck

    No, Sir. I don't like it.
    I don't like it with physical goods (lookin' at you Sam's Club, BJ's, Costco), and I don't like it with games (GamePass, PSNow, etc...).
    In the game world, the real problem is exclusives. Imagine being able to buy Any Game in Any Store (digital or brick and mortar) without a subscription. Then imagine all of these stores competing against each other for your $ by lowering their prices.
    It would be like brick and mortar grocery stores, right?

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

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:20pm

      Re: subscriptions just suck

      Your warehouse store analogy fails to mention that the lower prices of those stores are offset by the membership fees (shown by the fact that, at Sam's Club, you can still make purchases without a membership, they just charge you a 10% markup on all items where a markup is legal) and the game one fails because the MSRP for software is quite close to the wholesale price of software. There's no margin for a markdown without losing money on each sale. As far as retailer-exclusive releases are concerned, do you need to subscribe to a particular service to get the game? So far, I don't think there have been any major releases that were digital-only.

      However in the case of digital storefront exclusivity, the stores aren't competing for your money, they're competing for the developers' releases. They compete by giving up a larger portion of the proceeds to the developer or buy directly paying for exclusivity. Since that's the case, you won't likely see that kind of exclusive go away any time soon.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:58pm

    Roku?

    There is a Comcast streaming app on Roku which has most of the features.

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

  • identicon
    Richard Bennett, 30 Oct 2019 @ 10:13pm

    Of course it isn't free, Bodeface. Are you a pirate? Did you think I got on my knees for nothing?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2019 @ 6:04am

    I do not get the big deal over this story and I call over hype on both sides. You can get a roku or fire stick for $35 which comes with a lot more app choices.

    In the real world you pay for things and if you dont do your research then you get screwed be it comcast, target, car salesmen, religion, politics or anything else involving money.

    This one is easy:
    https://www.amazon.com/Fire-TV-Stick-with-Alexa-Voice-Remote/dp/B0791TX5P5

    I feel the conflict within you, let go of your hate.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:33pm

    Comcast's 'Free' Streaming Box Is Actually $13 After Stupid Fees

    Why did the headline change? It said "Comcast's $5 Streaming Box Is Actually $18 After Stupid Fees" yesterday.

    See also the first part of Comcast's statement, quoted in the article:

    "For just five dollars a month, we can offer these customers

    Why no correction/update notification?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 11:07am

    Effective 11/5/19 you are not required to lease the modem from Comcast to use Xfinity Flex.

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


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