Why No One Likes Comcast, but Everyone Has It

Comcast van

Comcast van | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Comcast is notorious for its terrible customer service, the frequent outages that customers in some markets experience, and its monopoly over residential broadband and internet service. No one likes Comcast, but everyone has it, which may be one reason why Comcast is one of the most-hated companies in the United States. From poor customer service to consumer-hostile policies and ever-increasing prices, there are plenty of reasons why we all dislike Comcast. Read on to find out all the reasons why everyone hates Comcast, and the factors that mean even the most Comcast-averse consumers often have no choice but to use the company for their TV and internet service.

Why everyone hates Comcast

According to Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts, people hate Comcast because “it’s the company consumers have to deal with when other companies raise their prices.” BGR’s Brad Reed speculates that what Roberts is talking about is “an oft-heard complaint from cable companies about how they’d really, really like to lower your prices but the TV studios in Hollywood insist on charging high rates for their content.” Reed notes that higher cable prices aren’t entirely Comcast’s fault, but it’s also true that higher prices aren’t the only reason that people hate Comcast.

He explains that even if consumers’ hatred of cable companies “were solely about the price increases imposed on them by content providers,” that wouldn’t explain why Comcast always ranks last among TV and internet providers. Other factors that may be behind America’s hatred of Comcast? Perhaps Comcast’s widely-reviled customer service, its policy of charging as many fees as it can, or its monopoly over broadband in many markets. As Reed explains, “customers have no option but to go with them or live with 5Mbps DSL service that will never get upgraded to higher speeds.”

Comcast customer service hours on a window

Comcast’s hours on a window | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Perhaps worse than Comcast’s price hikes, fees, and terrible customer service is its rage-inducing insistence on being hostile to its customers. The company’s widely criticized data caps were intended to annoy customers into paying more for their service. Long waits, unfair fees, unhelpful service, inflexible bundles that force customers to pay for channels they don’t watch, and prices that rise continuously for loyal customers unless they call and threaten to cancel all exemplify Comcast’s efforts to alienate customers.

And in the latest development in Comcast’s long-running history of giving you reasons to hate it, Comcast is telling regulators that it wants to either charge you for privacy or sell your browsing history to advertisers. If Comcast is allowed to move forward with the idea, consumers will have another big reason to hate Comcast in the near future, since most people guard their browsing history closely and really don’t want anyone else in their household, much less giant corporations, spying on what they’re doing online.

The problem isn’t really that Comcast gives customers one or two reasons to hate it. The problem is that there are numerous reasons for consumers to dislike and distrust the company thanks to Comcast’s repeatedly hostile practices. It’s generally a bad policy to reward your most loyal customers by raising the price of their service, or to nickel and dime frustrated consumers to keep their bills as high as possible. But it’s also bad business to leverage the monopoly or duopoly you have over most markets to force consumers to buy your product. Which brings us to the reason why everybody has Comcast.

Why everyone has Comcast

Comcast vans behind a fence

Comcast vans behind a fence | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The market for broadband TV and internet service is largely noncompetitive. Whether you’re moving into a new house or shopping around for better service for the place where you’ve lived for years, it’s not unlikely that your only two choices will be Comcast or exceedingly slow service from another provider. Most customers feel that even though they’re paying a lot to be treated poorly, the only choice is Comcast. Even as prices go up and the service gets worse, there’s still not another company offering competitive speeds. So customers stick with Comcast, where customer service representatives seem to be under pressure to keep customers’ bills as high as possible.

According to Fortune, regulators now view broadband providers as a monopoly. President Obama has noted that “Without strong competition, [broadband] providers can (and do) raise prices, delay investments, and provide sub-par quality of service. When faced with limited or nonexistent alternatives, consumers lack negotiating power and are forced to rely on whatever options are available.” He added, “In these situations, the role of good public policy can and should be to foster competition and increase consumer choice.”

And FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler explained, “You [the cable industry] don’t have a lot of competition, especially at the higher speeds that are increasingly important to the consumer of online video … More competition would be better.” Wheeler added, “History proves that absent competition a predominant position in the market such as yours creates economic incentives to use that market power to protect your traditional business in a way that is ultimately harmful to consumers.”

Businessman looking at his laptop

Man on a computer | iStock

As Richard Greenfield reports for Fortune, “there really is no competition at broadband speeds above 25 Mbps, let alone 60 Mbps or 100 Mbps.” Most Americans have little choice for high-speed broadband (which explains why so many people end up with one of America’s most hated companies in spite of that reputation). As Peter Kafka reported for Re/code in 2015, defining broadband as speeds of 25 megabits per second means that just 37% of the population “has any choice at all when it comes to providers. And most of that group is looking at a duopoly, likely split up between a cable TV company and a telco. Only 9 percent of the country has real choice — 3 options or more.”

Kafka points out that while “there’s no way we’d settle for a monopoly or duopoly for wireless service,” we’ve all become used to the situation when it comes to broadband. The lack of competition is the reason why companies like Comcast can get away with raising prices and offering mediocre service. And until efforts like Google Fiber become more widespread and force Comcast and its peers to improve their product, things aren’t likely to get better anytime soon.