The very title of this post sounds like a novel, perhaps even a “B” movie with cult status. I love titles; I love clever phrases, and I love the power of brands. A novel or a movie can get a reputation, and the company that provides the pipeline for downloading those novels or watching those movies can also get a reputation. The reputation gets associated with the brand, and that brand can evoke feelings. In the case of Comcast, I feel like a hostage.
Xfinity, as a brand, has a reputation for providing fairly reliable cable and internet services to customers in the United States. The name is the recent incarnation for Comcast, which began using the brand name, Xfinity, in 2010. Few along the eastern seaboard of the United States have not heard of Comcast or Xfinity. Comcast has a reputation for dismal customer service, which could be the reason they developed Xfinity is a new moniker. Ostensibly, the reason was the marketing of service bundles that included cable, internet and telephone services under a sexy name, Xfinity. Yeah, baby! We represent everything.
In essence, Comcast is terrible, but Xfinity is great. That differentiation is probably what the marketers were hoping for, because these days, even the introduction on the phone will greet you with, “Welcome to Xfinity by Comcast.”
Has this marketing trick worked? Probably.
Gee wiz, Junior. I like you, but I do not like your dad.
Strip Mining The Customers To “Extract Value” For Stock Holders
Aside from poor customer service, the thing that really grates my nerves about Xfinity is the legal double-billing they do, not to mention the artificial “late” fees they impose on customers. As a stockholder, I am sure this method of burning the candle at both ends is great stuff. As a customer, I find the pattern insulting, even demeaning. In fact, I greatly question the very ethics of the company.
Everyone will recall the big Comcast-Netflix agreement of early 2014. If you do not, it was only about 21 months ago that Netflix agreed to pay Comcast for better speed and bandwidth to access Comcast’s customers. For the first time, a major content provider was paying for the same pipeline the end-user had already bought. Even Netflix had already purchased access, because their servers had to already be connected in order to have an outbound connection. Without that, the inbound request could never get a reply.
The agreement was inked at the same time Comcast announced it would acquire Time Warner Cable, a deal that was never consummated due to consumer outcry. The Netflix deal, though, hardly caused a whimper. I pay Netflix for the access to the library; Netflix is buying a pipeline from their ISP so their servers can get online; I am paying Comcast to online; Netflix is now paying Comcast a premium so Netflix can send the same data they already sent across their existing ISP.
Paying Comcast A New Premium To Stream Netflix
Comcast recently decided it would “experiment” with bandwidth limitations for customers in key markets, including mine, Fort Lauderdale. The announcement was made that the bandwidth would be capped at 300 gigabytes per month. Anything more than that, and the customer will now be required to pay an additional $10 for each additional 50GB used in that calendar month. Customers have the option of buying unlimited bandwidth for an extra $30 per month.
If you regularly stream video, as I do, your bandwidth gets used up quickly. Comcast makes no distinction whatsoever about where the bandwidth is used. So Netflix pays their ISP; I pay Comcast as my ISP. Then, Comcast charges Netflix a premium because they are using their ISP, and I am charged a premium because I am using my ISP.
What the bleep?
This is not an entity rising up to meet market demand. This is a hostage crisis. This is a company that is deliberately charging two entities for access to each other. Apparently, it is perfectly legal, but it is hardly ethical, in my opinion. It tells me that Comcast thinks of me only as an object to be squeezed for maximum value.
The Late Fee Gambit, AKA: The Giant Finger
Imagine going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned. Hopefully you do this regularly enough that imagining is not difficult. Imagine this, however: In the middle of the teeth cleaning, the hygienist stops and asks you to pay the bill. Perhaps it is $100.
Of course, you are still getting your teeth cleaned, so you ask if you can just wait to finish before making payment. The hygienist agrees. When you get to the reception desk to pay the bill, there is a $5.00 late fee.
Comcast does this. Comcast charges a late fee, literally, in the middle of the service cycle. It is a flat $9.50 fee that gets assessed if you do not pay for the current service period by a specified date, which is typically in the middle of the service period, itself. Keep in mind, the service period may not be concluded for several days or even a few weeks, but Comcast wants its money in advance. The due date, regardless of whether it falls closer to the beginning or end of the service period, becomes an arbitrary deadline imposed by Xfinity. It would be like the power company sending you a bill for May, but charging a late fee if that bill is not paid by mid-April. They do not even know how much power you will use. Comcast does not know which pay-per-view and on-demand movies you may rent, either. So the service period actually can not be paid in full until it is completed, anyway. What Comcast does is ridiculous, but it happens every single month, because I do not pay for the service until after it is provided. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time on chat and on the phone getting the late fee removed.
I have no idea how many people call to get the late fee removed, but the fact is when you complain about it, the late fee is removed. As an academic exercise, though, imagine there are 10,000 per month who end up paying the late fee who are not really late. That is an extra $95,000 per month, or $1,140,000 in one year. That is one big hypothetical finger, and I would submit my imaginary number is a lowball estimate.
Erecting A Wall
American English is a highly-nuanced language, filled with cultural aphorisms and regional lexicons that can not be understood by non-native English speakers, particularly those who do not understand the American experience and its influence on our expression. You feel me, dog? Many of our idioms are idiosyncratic. Sometimes, we do not even know we are using them.
Comcast is the company that, with nearly all of its cable and internet clients in the United States, has outsourced its call and chat services to an entity that operates, primarily, outside the U.S. The employees of these companies’ overseas offices are not native English speakers.
Even if you speak English well, and just about everyone at a call center speaks the core language well, understanding what Americans are saying can be problematic. Essentially, what Comcast has done is put up a low-level language barrier in the customer service process. It is the same with the chat system. Responses from customer service agents make clear those working with the customer are not tuned to American English, and friction is introduced into what should be a very smooth experience.
But What About The Competition?
Comcast is the only cable company operating in this market; there is no cable competition. There is an alternative service, which is satellite. The other option is to cut the cable cord completely, pay the fee for the fastest internet service, plus the premium for the unlimited bandwidth, and lock Comcast into that rate for a couple years. That cuts the cord, reduces the overall combined bill, and essentially takes a swipe back at the company that has, essentially, taken all of us hostage.
However, true competition will require new innovation to provide new delivery alternatives. Satellite is notorious for reception issues during heavy storms, and in a hurricane zone, that is a bad idea. Obviously, a solid wire is the best option, because you worry only about having power to supply the signal on the line.
What if you could supply the signal in a different transmission, however, one that was not satellite and did not require laying a new wired infrastructure?
I think it is possible, but will anyone have the chutzpah to do it?