What’s behind Comcast’s free Internet service upgrade?

REUTERS
Emmett Coleman, Comcast’s VP for External Affairs, concedes that most of his company’s customers will barely notice the upgrade in service.

Around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, quite a few of us got a free upgrade. Comcast, the largest cable provider in the metro area, doubled the speeds for each tier of its service. The most popular broadband choice, formerly in the 25-­35 mega­bit (mb) range is now delivering a minimum of 50.

Is this exciting, or what?

Tech­-heads, being only a step removed from gear-heads, will always reflexively answer, “Yes! More speed is always better!” But the fact remains that garden variety internet users, even those streaming Netflix or Hulu via their smart TVs, Apple TVs or Roku, will notice little if any difference. The reason being that everything generally works just fine at the old (as in last week’s) speed.

Emmett Coleman, Comcast’s VP for External Affairs (and brother to Mayor Chris and ex­Star Tribune columnist Nick), concedes that most of his company’s customers will barely notice the upgrade, and most of that will be the experience of what they don’t see, namely sluggishness when every member of the family is pulling a signal from the same router.

But the point, he takes pains to emphasize, is that Comcast, (a company sorely in need of rebuilding its customer service cred), continues to make the infrastructure upgrades and pass the benefits on to you and me.

So there. Now don’t you regret all the nasty things you said the last time you called to straighten out your bill?

The upgrade comes, of course, ​amid a giga­bit war that includes Comcast, CenturyLink and US Internet here in the greater metro.​ (Because of some old agreements, Comcast still provides service to places like Hudson, River Falls, New Ulm and New Prague.) Each company is aggressively upgrading to 1 gig service, via existing wiring, to residences as well as full, fiber-­to-­the-­home 2 gig service and even higher speeds … at even higher prices, not all of which have been made official.

Comcast, says Coleman, will also offer a 250 mb service along with 2 gig service to “600,000 to 700,000 homes within the next month.” He couldn’t say what the cost for either will be. But you can assume that it won’t be “free,” like this week’s boost to 50mb.

Given the competition between the three players listed above, it seems reasonable to see today’s move by Comcast as part of a strategy to retain customers prior to an all-out price war over the kind of super fast speeds, 1 gig and beyond, that may usher in futuristic services like routine medical teleconferencing and fully interactive classrooms.

The upgrade to 50 mb will likely satisfy most general interest customers for the next few years, or until some as yet unforeseen “must have” service requiring far more bandwidth hits the market.

So called 4K and/or Ultra High Definition TV seem the most likely entertainment-type bandwidth storms building on the horizon. Despite the availability of 4K sets, some now dropping into the $1,000 price range, there’s currently very little content available via cable, satellite or streaming services. Although, in fairness, Netflix is building a credible library of titles and savvier filmmakers are producing movies in 4K, the point being that the demand for higher speed/greater bandwith service will become a reality in the not too distant future.

In an interview with Pulkit Chandna of the website TechHive late last week​, Comcast Cable’s executive vice president of consumer services, Marcien Jenckes, was asked about the issue: “​​We’ve seen some OTT players [OTT refers to content that arrives from a third party – such as ​Hulu ​or ​Netflix​– and is delivered to an end-user device, a TV, computer or smart phone] embrace 4K, and you’ve got your Xfinity in UHD initiative. But overall it’s still a niche market. When do you think we might see UHD and HDR content in most homes?”

Replied Jenckes: “I think like many things, consumer demand will determine how fast 4K and HDR content become pervasive. The reality is that today, the total number of movies and shows being produced in 4K UHD and HDR is still quite small. … From a network and technology perspective, we’re ready today. Last year, we launched an Xfinity in UHD app on Samsung TVs that includes NBCU content, IMAX films and more. Later this year, we’ll have a 4K set-top box and 4K UHD On Demand library available to all of our video customers.”

Asked if Comcast has plans for an ad campaign hyping all the specific, tangible benefits of 250 mb or 2 gig service, Coleman replied: “I ​suspect ​we will do that.”

The upgrade will require customers to perform a couple fairly easy technical tasks. Those using Comcast­-supplied routers should only have to “power cycle” their devices (i.e, turn off, turn on). Says a Comcast rep: “We’ve made it VERY easy.” 

  • They can ‘power­ cycle’ their cable modem at home by using the reset button on their device, or by unplugging the modem power cord from the electrical outlet, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back into the outlet.
  • Customers can also reset their modem remotely by using the Xfinity My Account app, available for both Apple and Android devices.
  • They can also go online at: Comcast.com/myaccount​.

Those of us who have bought into the full Apple Syndrome, with (slick/white/pricey) routers designed to deliver “ideal” connection to Apple devices should … should​… have no problems after power ­cycling those devices in the same way.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by John Clouse on 08/27/2015 - 11:35 am.

    Internet

    I had been paying for 50Mbps and now have 83.
    Wonder if they will give me a refund if I want to go back to 50?

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/27/2015 - 12:56 pm.

    The real question is…

    Are they throttling those speeds and how can you tell? One reason you may not notice the difference is because there actually is no difference if they’re throttling you back. And checking you’re speed via their tools or some other website like “Speednet” won’t necessarily yield an accurate speed reading because they can see you’re testing your speed and ramp it up. I’m not saying for sure this happens, but the the claim’s been made by techies.

    • Submitted by nick connors on 08/27/2015 - 05:29 pm.

      That wasn’t much of a Question

      They aren’t throttling your speeds. To believe that Comcast has implemented a system via their ‘tools’ that allows them not only to track all customers who are checking their speeds, but to temporarily isolate that users signal and boost it in each individual instance is preposterous. It is in fact the case that Comcast is providing, for free, a 100% upgrade in their internet speeds; the upgrade itself will “be the experience of what they [the customers] don’t see.” It would simply not be in the best interest for any company to intentionally keep the quality of their product at a level lower than what they know they can actually provide even if it will likely go undetected. All I hear from ‘techies’ nowadays are allegations; as if, Comcast’s leadership would conspire to build systems to ‘fool’ the speed check websites and thus never provide people with the full internet signal they were promised unless they can get more $$. These ‘techies’ (which might reasonably include anyone with a computer who can form an opinion) spread a ludicrous fear on the web that can get enough retweets and social backing to drive the enactment of Net Neutrality provisions. In fact Comcast who spends billions to construct the network infrastructure we use is giving a FREE upgrade; but people (not you specifically) want to believe they are somehow still being ripped off. Net neutrality is such a large issue with many elements it is reserved for another time and place, but here Comcast is boosting speeds 100%. When is the last time the FCC’s actions have provided a 100% improvement, even with their overreaching power on many essential industries.

      -NC

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/27/2015 - 09:07 pm.

        PR piece

        When you set out to write such an obvious PR piece, it’s generally accepted as good practice to disclose that you work for Comcast. Even if it is at the internship level.

        Of course, given the fact that your internship is in Marketing/Business Operations, I guess you’re just doing what they pay you for.

        • Submitted by nick connors on 08/29/2015 - 11:54 am.

          Not a PR piece

          I don’t work for Comcast.. I am a student in Charleston whose opinion, though it may be contrary to yours, is just an opinion and not an attempt to improve public perception of Comcast.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/28/2015 - 10:29 am.

        Dude….

        The ability to monitor your web behavior is built into the architecture, everyone from Google to Facebook uses that ability every day. You’re telling us your ISP can’t do the same thing? It’s not a “tool” that has to be specially designed or deployed, it’s built in. The architecture to throttle these speeds and conceal that throttling from basic speed testing is there, and easy to use for cable ISPs, there’s nothing preposterous about it. We know that technology and architecture exists because they wanted to use it to throttle speed according to content, i.e. the whole net neutrality battle. Comcast leadership already built this system, and they wanted to deploy it openly but were stopped by the FCC. So don’t tell us some special conspiracy is required when the conspiracy has already been publicly revealed. We know ISPs can and have been throttling speeds. There are limited number of speed check websites that can be easily tagged. Again the question is whether or not a specific ISP like Comcast is actually throttling, and how does a customer know? Throttling technically isn’t even a violation of the contract nor is it illegal because typically the contract stipulates: “Up to…” whatever speeds, they don’t guarantee a specific speed at all times. So if a big giant ISP can make more money if they throttle speeds… they’re gonna do it. Now we understand that’s an “if”, but don’t tell us ability doesn’t exist.

        • Submitted by nick connors on 08/29/2015 - 12:02 pm.

          Whats the system

          The architecture to monitor the web is there yes. But I don’t remember seeing anything about how Comcast leadership has build a system to throttle and was stopped from deploying it by the FCC? The FCC has set general rules as to the delivery of content (all content created equal) is the most basic conception of net neutrality. NN was not started to stop Comcast from implementing these ‘systems’ they created; it was an attempt to stop ISP’s from ‘paid prioritization’ meaning they don’t make money from slowing your speed down, they would make money from giving priority to users who pay more. Its slightly different than the idea that ISP’s make money from simply sowing your service.

      • Submitted by Clete Erickson on 08/28/2015 - 02:28 pm.

        In Theory

        Interesting post NC and in theory I agree with you. If what you say is accurate why does Comcast always get hammered on their customer service? Try to drop CATV and see how good their customer service is – plan on spending a couple hours trying to do that. They could do better but they choose not to; as much as I want to believe you are correct Comcast proves otherwise. Perhaps if Comcast has actual competition we might see your vision but at this point there is a reason Comcast has some of the worst satisfaction ratings in the country.

        • Submitted by nick connors on 08/29/2015 - 12:20 pm.

          Competition is an illusion

          Comcast customer service has a horrible track record in the last few months with their customer service no doubt; I would argue that much of the stigma surrounding it has been pushed to the spotlight with the net neutrality debate which otherwise would not have gone viral. I would expect that Comcast is working on ways to try and improve this; immediate changes will only do so much for a company that takes over a million calls a month from customers.
          As far as competition, if you search ISP’s in the US there will be a list much longer than expected BUT nearly all of the smaller companies have a footprint that is minuscule compared to Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, etc. This is because being an ISP means you are at the forefront of internet expansion and with such a high cost to build these networks and new technologies it is simply tough to build a company that can reach across the entire US. When an individual browses the web their IP will travel through the existing pipes and cable infrastructure of MANY companies. Thus, the traffic is slowed from the many connections it will make between the content you want and your device. For customers of Comcast who can receive up to 2Gigs a sec (in some markets) this is detrimental because once your signal travels outside of Comcast’s network it is susceptible to being slowed from the issues of other companies who can’t provide nearly the same speeds (of the top internet providers in the USA some are still only able to provide dial-up). Therefore people choose consistency and innovation; sadly, because of the price to upgrade the infrastructure, that has slowly eliminated the smaller providers and limited the ability to create an ISP that can compete. This is why cities are contracting companies that will build a network for the entire city and thus eliminate this problem within that area.

          I feel like people sometimes forget that Cable means a physical cable from point A to point B. This includes digging, replacing, and repairing a cable across the country which is some serious $$.

          Sorry if I rambled

  3. Submitted by Mike Davidson on 08/27/2015 - 06:35 pm.

    Excellent, But …

    I think for most people the upgraded speed will be more about quantity over quality. I currently pay for 50MB per month, and all the speed tests I run at various times of day usually clock me between 60-70MB (before this upgrade). Getting my speed doubled will not necessarily make my web surfing faster; computer capability has a lot to do with it. Getting my speed doubled, however, will allow those in my house to have multiple devices going at once in addition to streaming without interruption. I think that’s more the advantage.

  4. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/27/2015 - 10:55 pm.

    Comcast !

    Huh ! Too late. I switched and this attempt at “good will” comes across as cynical and corporate self serving.

  5. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 08/28/2015 - 08:39 am.

    Major point ignored/missed

    A slow point can be the source of the info–whoever is sending, or by a bottleneck in the route back to you. I see this regularly (download speed limited to about 400k/sec).

    • Submitted by nick connors on 08/29/2015 - 12:25 pm.

      Great observation

      Companies that can’t provide the quality and speed of larger ISP’s can slow traffic for everyone and it will be hard to determine exactly where the bottleneck is located among the thousands of connections between ISP’s

      • Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/01/2015 - 10:50 am.

        It is easy to check if it is your ISP.

        Try doing a variety of large downloads from multiple sources. If none of them is able to reach and hold your rated speed maximum, then it is the ISP. If you are able to hold and maintain your rated maximum speed from at least two different sources, then your ISP is not throttling. The issue is outside your ISP.

  6. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/02/2015 - 01:12 pm.

    It is a PR, as the cost was going to be incurred anyway.

    In order to handle higher bandwidth demands (Netflix, etc), and not having done so in some time, Comcast probably had to replace a large number of routers in their network. The cost to replace those old/slow routers (etc) was going to be incurred regardless of what happened elsewhere in the organization. Because of the tech improvements in the new hardware, they decided to run a publicity campaign and “give away” some of the newly-available capacity to existing customers. Note what did not happen: A major investment to replace the old cable with new, higher-capacity cable. The wiring installed in the 1980s is still being used–and that is copper. It is mostly not being replaced.

  7. Submitted by David Morris on 09/23/2016 - 05:18 pm.

    Well, I got my internet connection from http://xfinitybundledeals.com/Internet.aspx and they guide me everything about this major upgrade. I am still using xfinity and its working perfectly in my area.

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