Comcast will pay the government $800,000 — and offer a stand-alone broadband service a year longer than originally planned — to resolve a case that just reinforces the widely held perception that cable execs are indifferent about customers. It goes back to last year, when Comcast agreed to several conditions to win FCC approval for the deal to take control of NBC Universal. One of the regulators’ concerns was that Comcast might offer affordable broadband only to people who first buy its TV service. The solution: Comcast agreed to provide a stand-alone 6 megabits per second broadband service for three years, charging no more than $49.95 a month with some leeway for inflation increases. To make sure the company didn’t bury it, Comcast also agreed to have a linkable web page promoting stand-alone broadband services, at least one major ad campaign a year, and give the offer equal prominence with bundled offers on any product list. But just weeks after Comcast introduced its Performance Starter service, the FCC started to hear complaints. It seems that some company reps didn’t mention it to consumers who asked about Internet options. It also didn’t show up on some rate cards, or on Web pages telling existing customers about their broadband choices. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau began to investigate, and Comcast corrected some problems. Still, the bureau says, it “continued to have concerns regarding the extent of Comcast’s compliance with the Condition.” To end the investigation, Comcast agreed to a consent decree making its so-called “voluntary contribution” to the U.S. Treasury, and to offer the Performance Starter service to February 21, 2015 — a year longer than originally required.
“Today’s action demonstrates that compliance with Commission orders is not optional,” FCC chairman Julius Genachowski says. “The remedies announced today will benefit consumers and foster competition, including from online video and satellite providers, by ensuring that standalone broadband is truly available in Comcast’s service areas. I am pleased we were able to resolve this issue.”