Comcast’s latest subscriber shakedown

Just when you thought Comcast couldn’t get any worse…

There are times when you just have to tip your cap to Comcast for coming up with creative ways of swindling its subscribers. The company’s latest masterpiece has been the rollout of its channel encryption program, which now forces customers who have even the most basic television services to get all of their channels through a digital adapter box.

I first received my digital adapter box last week and installed it on Sunday just in time to watch football. When I flipped it on I was horrified to find out that I could no longer access the HD network television broadcasts that I had before been able to get by simply hooking the Comcast cable to the back of my television set. But with Comcast’s digital adapter sitting between the two, I can now only get standard definition channels.

I called Comcast Monday morning and asked why I was no longer getting access to the HD channels that had been part of my service package. They told me that to get those channels back I would need to buy their special HD box and pay them a $10 monthly HD service fee. At this point I became incredulous.

“So you’re telling me that I’ll need to now pay you an extra $10 per month just to get the same channels that I used to get?” I asked.

“Yes, and I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” came the response.

Now, I know there are solutions to this. I plan on installing a digital antenna and unplugging the Comcast cable all together so I can once again watch football in HD. But it’s appalling to me that Comcast has sent me a product that the company has billed as an “upgrade” that has actually downgraded the quality of my service dramatically. What’s more, Comcast is telling me I’ll need to pay an extra $10 a month to access channels that are free to access over the air.

The worst part about all this is that I’ll have little choice but to continue paying Comcast for a television service that I’ll never use simply because the company’s glorious bundling plans make it cheaper for me to have TV and Internet than just Internet alone. And it’s not like I can switch providers since Comcast has a regional monopoly in my area.

With business practices like this, it’s no wonder that Comcast has the lowest customer satisfaction ranking of any other American ISP. Unfortunately, the hatred that Comcast customers feel for the firm hasn’t yet translated into lost profits because it and Time Warner Cable have been so effective at carving up the country into little fiefdoms where they’re the only options for Internet service.

The good news is that companies like Apple, Google and Intel have been making noise about disrupting the market for pay television much in the same way that iOS and Android have disrupted Windows’ grip on the computing platform market. The cable industry’s pay TV business will eventually burn and crumble as more people bypass their channels to watch their favorite shows through the Internet. From my perspective, that day cannot come soon enough.

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