Why Comcast Is Afraid of Google Fiber

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Comcast has a long record not only of terrible customer service, but also of questionable policies and charges. Many Comcast customers put up with the company only because there aren’t other options for high-speed Internet in their area, so many people in the metro areas where Google is launching its Fiber gigabit Internet service are welcoming the advent of a newer, better option. And as some recent Comcast actions have illustrated, Comcast is definitely afraid of Google Fiber.

As Jon Brodkin reports for Ars Technica, Google Fiber recently went live in apartments and condos in Atlanta, the fourth area to get Google’s gigabit Internet service, and a Reddit user posted a photo of a mailing in which Comcast tries to convince customers that its Xfinity service is a better deal than Google Fiber. The postcard cites “The fastest in-home Wi-Fi,” “9X more FREE TV shows and movies on Demand,” “DVR recordings to go,” and the “X1 voice remote” as Xfinity features that Google Fiber doesn’t offer.

What the postcard leaves out are pieces and data caps. Google Fiber offers gigabit downloads and uploads for $70 per month without any monthly data caps, or “Basic Internet” at 100Mbps speeds for $50 for Google customers in Atlanta. Comcast’s service in Atlanta, on the other hand, comes with a 300GB per month data cap complete with overage fees, or the option to pay an extra $35 per month for unlimited data.

And while Comcast does offer 2Gbps fiber service in Atlanta, the standard price is $300 per month plus $1,000 in startup fees, though there’s no data cap. Atlanta is also slated to get Comcast’s gigabit cable service, which would offer gigabit download speeds and slower uploads, but the prices have not yet been announced. The company also hasn’t said whether the standard data caps will apply to the gigabit cable service.

Reddit users mocked Comcast’s claims, noting that Wi-Fi speeds are dependent on the router you use. (Google, for its part, tells customers that full gigabit speeds are only available with a wired connection to the Google Network box.) And BGR’s Brad Reed points out that the claim about the fastest in-home Wi-Fi is based on a single study (PDF) that took place well over a year ago, and didn’t include Google Fiber.

And despite Comcast’s claims about its X1 voice remote, voice control isn’t exclusive to Comcast, since Fiber customers can use voice control via an Android device. Comcast compares its Xfinity Internet service to Google Fiber on its website, claiming that its service offers the “fastest available Internet speeds” in reference to the $300-per-month 2Gbps service. It also claims the fastest in-home Wi-Fi speeds and the “most Wi-Fi coverage for all rooms, all devices, all the time,” both of which are dependent on the specific equipment installed.

The company also tries to argue that it offers better customer service than Google, since it offers two-hour appointment windows and Google does not. The sentiment runs counter to Comcast’s well-documented history of customer service problems. Brodkin notes that even Comcast has admitted that it has a long way to go toward fixing its customer service. And the company’s choice to highlight its two-hour appointment windows may be similarly misguided, since Google aims to “arrive promptly at the start of your appointment” and says that its installers arrive on time 96% of the time.

It’s also worth noting that many of Comcast’s arguments in favor of Xfinity hinge on the service’s bundling of TV service with Internet service. It boasts that Xfinity offers “the latest episodes of the top 100 shows preloaded and ready to watch,” 163,000 “free TV shows and movies available On Demand” as compared to Fiber’s 17,000, “most live sports,” and “AMC, NBA, and NHL Network.” But it’s possible that many customers who are interested in high-speed Internet service don’t need their ISP to offer those features, especially since independent streaming services are increasingly able to offer the content that users want without the hefty charges of traditional cable bundles.

This isn’t the first time that Comcast has trash-talked Google Fiber and seen its efforts backfire. As Ethan Wolff-Mann reported for Time late in 2015, Comcast has opted to bash Google’s service instead of improving its own, and has consequently been ridiculed by customers who hate the company and its service. Short of improving its customer service and launching competitive high-speed plans of its own, there’s likely little that Comcast can do to win those customers back.

As we recently reported, a group of senators has called upon the FCC to stop the unfair billing practices for which Comcast and Internet providers like it have grown notorious. Comcast is a repeat offender in billing customers for fees that they shouldn’t have to pay. That’s just one symptom of ISPs’ ongoing abuse of the monopolies they hold over many markets — markets where customers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Google Fiber so that they can leave Comcast behind.

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