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July 18, 2005

Open Letter to Comcast

Last week I got an email from Garfield Group Public Relations which included a press release about Comcast’s new higher speed Internet access and suggesting that I might want to write about it in my blog.  If I were running a company or PR firm today, I would be sending press releases to targeted bloggers so kudos to them for that.

The news about the higher speeds is welcome to Comcast customers (I am one).  We get a bump up to 6Mps downlink at no extra cost ($10 extra if you don’t also subscribe to a Comcast Cable standard package but I do) and 8Mps for an extra $10 ($20 if you are not a cable subscriber).  Good.  I’ve already ordered faster WiFi gear to go with it.

But there is something ominous in the press release as well (see full text below); the four examples Comcast gives of what you might want to do with higher speed access all have to do with the use of other Comcast services:  Comcast PhotoShow Deluxe, Comcast Video Mail, music from Comcast.net Music Channel, and Comcast Games on Demand.  It does not seem to have occurred to whoever wrote the press release that the Internet extends far beyond Comcast content and Comcast-provided services.  I don’t mind Comcast promoting its own services.  I would switch access providers in a New York minute if Comcast were to favor its own services and/or degrade its rivals’ content or services.

Although I’ve experienced a few outages with Comcast, I’ve been generally pleased with the service and haven’t seen any evidence myself that either my Vonage or Skype voice calls are being discriminated against.  At the moment I’m grateful to Comcast and Vonage because Verizon is down here and says they will be for the next two days so I’m dependent on my working VoIP service.  But I worry, particularly given the current posture of the FCC as incumbent protector of last resort.

So I wrote the following open letter back to Comcast.  I’ll blog about any response I get.

My letter:

Hello, Kevin and Jeanne:

Thank you for sending me this.  I will write about it on my blog.  Higher speed is all good news.

However, I find it alarming that all the examples that Comcast gives of what higher speed will be used for have to do with Comcast provided services like Comcast Games on Demand.  Obviously your customers access much more than just Comcast on the Internet.  As a Comcast customer myself, my primary need is to have Comcast be a high speed pipe to ALL web services.

For example, I use both Vonage and Skype VoIP on my Comcast connection.  If Comcast offered me a better price or better features than Vonage and/or Skype, I might switch phone providers.  On the other hand, if Comcast were to degrade my ability to use rival VoIP services, I’d switch broadband providers and probably go to satellite for my entertainment needs.  There are rumors in the blogosphere that Comcast has degraded service from rival VoIP providers although I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced any such degradation.

A clear statement by Comcast that it intends to provide nondiscriminatory access to all Internet services would be welcome and, I believe, very good for Comcast in positioning vs. its broadband rivals.  Note that such a statement does not imply that Comcast would allow others to resell Comcast facilities for Internet access.  This statement is just reassurance to your access subscribers that they will have free choice of which services they use through their Comcast connection.

I am publishing this letter and your press release on my blog Fractals of Change so that readers will know both about your expanded bandwidth and my concern that Comcast might use its position as an access provider to disadvantage its competitors in higher level Internet services.

If you are able to provide assurance on nondiscriminatory access, I will certainly do my best to publicize that as well.

Yours truly,

Tom Evslin

Comcast’s Press Release:

Comcast Delivers New Ultra-Fast Speed Tiers – 8Mbps and 6Mbps

Comcast is Twice as Fast as DSL, Delivers Reliable Speed

PHILADELPHIA, July 12, 2005 – Comcast, the nation’s Number One broadband provider, today announced it is enhancing its residential speed tiers, introducing new faster speeds to deliver the ultimate broadband experience – 8Mbps/768kbps and 6Mbps/384kbps.

Since first setting the industry benchmark for speed in October 2003, this marks the third time Comcast has raised broadband speeds for its customers.  Comcast has increased its downstream speeds more than 400% in less than two years, and has built a network that has virtually unlimited capacity to deliver higher speeds.

The speed upgrades will begin this month in eastern and central Pennsylvania, New England, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan and Washington, D.C., with nearly all Comcast markets scheduled to be complete this summer.  The speed increases will be automatic, which means customers are not required to download any special files or upgrade their connections. 

“Comcast offers customers a fundamentally better Internet experience.  Our service is fast, reliable, easy to use, and packed with great features and value," said Steve Burke, President of Comcast Cable and COO of Comcast Corporation.  “Our new 8 and 6Mbps speeds are ideal for anyone living in the Comcast network – from the mainstream broadband user to the dial-up customer looking to switch to something faster.” 

Comcast focuses on adding value every time its more than 7.4 million High-Speed Internet customers connect to the Internet or log onto Comcast.net.  The new 8Mbps and 6Mbps downstream speeds will allow customers to instantly access their favorite content and features on Comcast.net – communication, games, kids, movies, music and sports.  Because of the new ultra-fast connection speeds, Comcast customers will more easily be able to:

•           Share photo slideshows with music via Comcast PhotoShow Deluxe

•           Send video greetings with Comcast Video Mail

•           Stream online music or download songs from the Comcast.net Music Channel

•           Download online games and experience better game play with Comcast Games on Demand.

Comcast is delivering the faster 6Mbps speed to customers who also subscribe to its Standard or Digital Cable services* at no additional charge.  These customers also will also have the option of jumping to the faster 8Mbps for only $10/month more.

About Comcast

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) (http://www.comcast.com) is the nation's leading provider of cable, entertainment and communications products and services. With 21.5 million cable customers, 7.4 million high-speed Internet customers, and 1.2 million voice customers, Comcast is principally involved in the development, management and operation of broadband cable networks and in the delivery of programming content.

The Company's content networks and investments include E! Entertainment Television, Style Network, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network, G4, AZN Television, PBS KIDS Sprout, TV One and four regional Comcast SportsNets. The Company also has a majority ownership in Comcast-Spectacor, whose major holdings include the Philadelphia Flyers NHL hockey team, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team and two large multipurpose arenas in Philadelphia. Comcast Class A common stock and Class A Special common stock trade on The NASDAQ Stock Market under the symbols CMCSA and CMCSK, respectively.

# # #

Contact:

Jeanne Russo

Comcast

215-981-8552

Jeanne_Russo@comcast.com

* Comcast Standard Cable is made up of nearly 50 of the most popular cable networks such as CNN, Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC, ESPN, Discovery, History, The Learning Channel, and more.  Comcast High-Speed Internet customers who do not subscribe to a Comcast standard programming package, can opt for the faster speeds of 6Mbps/384kbps for $10 more per month or they can select the 8Mbps/768kbps tier for $20 more per month than they are currently paying.

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