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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  1. 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.


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