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Comcast Broadband Strategy Leads To Customer Complaints on Pricing

Comcast Broadband Strategy Leads To Customer Complaints on Pricing

By MICHAEL THURESSON

Staff Reporter

Comcast Corp. is proving you can’t make everyone happy.

Not long after taking over AT & T; Broadband last November, the Philadelphia-based cable company instituted a bundling plan that offers AT & T;’s existing broadband Internet customers a discount if they purchase Comcast cable TV service as well. Customers who don’t want cable TV have seen steep price hikes for standalone Internet service.

AT & T; Broadband customers were switched over to Comcast Internet access in February. In April, Comcast raised the rate for standalone broadband service to $56.95 per month from $42.95. Existing AT & T; broadband customers who purchase one of Comcast’s cable TV packages as well receive the previous $42.95 rate.

It’s angered some broadband access customers who get a satellite TV feed and don’t want to switch to cable.

“We have gotten some complaints from satellite TV customers,” said Maria Hernandez, a management analyst and manager of cable customer service at the City of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency, which grants operating licenses to cable operators.

Comcast is the nation’s largest cable operator, and it led all broadband Internet access providers by adding 417,000 subscribers for the quarter ended March 31, according to Leichtman Research Group. Led by its acquisition of AT & T; Broadband last November, the company has been expanding in major markets, including L.A.

Some area residents face limited choices because the availability of competitive broadband Internet services such as DSL vary by area.

Under L.A.’s franchising regulations Comcast controls cable service in territory including parts of Venice, Marina del Rey, Hollywood, Koreatown, and Culver City.

Some L.A. consumers welcome a service combination. “If Adelphia came to me with a bundled deal, I would jump at it,” said Ronan Higgins of Hollywood Hills, who pays more than $100 combined for satellite TV and DSL Internet service from his local phone company.

An Adelphia Communications Corp. spokesman said it does offer bundled packages areas where it has installed digital cable.

The Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union have filed complaints about Comcast’s bundling with the Federal Communications Commission. In March, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote the FCC that Comcast’s bundling strategy in Marin County “could constitute a troubling threat to the burgeoning competition for cable TV service from satellite providers.”

So far, the appeal of bundling has outweighed the drawbacks. Chairman Michael Powell’s written response to Boxer earlier this month indicated that such practices are “an increasingly important strategy in the communications industry.”

Comcast said its decision to raise Internet service rates was based on market prices.

“Before, we were under pricing the service. AT & T; Broadband was charging $42.95 when it was faster than DSL,” said Debi Picciolo, senior vice president of the Southern California region for Comcast. She said there has been “very, very little backlash” from satellite TV subscribers.

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