In 2002, Comcast merged with AT&T Broadband. In Montgomery County, this merger required that Comcast sign a document transferring control of the existing video franchise. One of the more interesting parts of the transfer agreement was the following:
4.8. The Franchisee will, at all times, post on its website all available rates for any cable or other service that the Franchise offers, including any promotional or special rates.Not long after Comcast agreed to this provision, they delivered. A page appeared on the Comcast site listing every rate. It listed not just their promotions but also every nickle-and-dime charge such as the cost of sockets, extra boxes, remotes, and so on. This page has disappeared - or more specifically has become orphaned. Short of someone telling you its explicit URL, there's no way to find it. Effectively, it may as well not exist. Indeed, I spoke to several people at Comcast about the page this week. All of them denied its existence.
Back to the Present
If I surf over to comcast.com now, enter a Montgomery County zip code, and click on Products and Services, I get a page with 11 different products. But the number of products that Comcast offers is vastly greater than that. Their old web page showed over 75 different rates! For example, do you want:
- Digital Classic?
- Digital Plus?
- Digital Additional Outlet?
- Cable Latino?
- Premium? International Premium?
- Which of 6 different equipment rental rates?
- Extra IP addresses?
- and on and on...
- Unreturned Digital Converter: $225
- Unreturned HDTV Digital Converter: $325
- Unreturned CableCard: $115
- Late Payment Charge: $4
- Returned Check Charge: $25
None of these rates appear on Comcast's Products and Services page now. Nor do offers that I see on other sites appear here. (For example, Comcastoffers.com shows a 6 month deal for $19.99/month. Nor do I see offers that I've heard from Comcast representatives verbally (such as their $33/month deal - more on this later).
Given the 93% jump in my cable bill this month (from $29.95 to $57.95) and unable to find the current list of rates so that I could make an informed decision as to what to do about it, I decided to file a complaint with the county over Comcast's failure to to provide their rates as required.
A day or two after submitting my complaint, I was contacted by Gloria Looper of Comcast's Customer Advocate Group. Gloria said several things:
- Offers from outside companies: Comcast is not responsible for outside companies offering promos for Comcast service. She asserted that because it wasn't Comcast making the offer, it therefore didn't violate Comcast's agreement to publicize "rates that Comcast offers" even though the outside company was working with Comcast. I doubt this interpretation would hold up in court. Can Comcast really get out of promises by simply saying "We are not responsible for what our contractors are doing in our name?"
- Complete list of rates: Gloria (who has worked as a customer advocate for Comcast for a long time) had never heard of such a thing nor was she able to find such a page herself. While I waited on the phone, she contacted the marketing department - they weren't aware of it either. (When I filed my complaint with the Cable Office, the county investigator who took my complaint knew exactly what I was talking about. He too knew the URL where the page used to be.)
- Verbal offers from Comcast reps: Gloria at first adamantly denied the existence of such offers. Normally, it's pretty hard to support such claims but I felt I was on pretty solid ground with one example - Angela Lee (who heads the Government Affairs office at Comcast for our region) had described the $33 promo before the entire Advisory Committee just the day before. (The $33 offer: Subscribers that already have 1 or 2 Comcast services can add on all the remaining services at $33 per service to get Comcast's "triple play" of internet, video, and telephone.) Gloria had never heard of that either but after a another call to marketing, acknowledged its existence.
- Intentionally suppressed prices: The Comcast website describes Comcast's telephone service but insists that you have to call to get the price. What kind of marketing gimmickry is this? Will they set the price depending on the neighborhood you are calling from? Gloria explained that ... oh never mind, I won't even bother to repeat her explanation because it made no sense. I suggested she consider this another violation of the Comcast agreement. She said she would look into it further.
If you know Comcast's rate structure, you can use that knowledge to save yourself a substantial amount of money. But don't depend on Comcast's representatives to help you out. Some Comcast representatives don't know about the deals, have an incorrect understanding of them (believing many promos are only for new customers is a popular misconception), or simply lack the inclination to work on your behalf and steer you to the lowest rates. So it's a good idea to check for yourself.
But right now you can't check. Hopefully the county cable office will get Comcast to live up to their obligation to list all their promos and rates. Until then, I advise you to be very cautious about signing up for new Comcast services or agreeing to higher rates simply because you got a bill or someone at Comcast told you to pay such an amount.