Monday, March 31, 2008

Not quite a love-hate relationship

In yesterday’s Merc, the column by Vindu Goel was entitled “Our love-hate relationship with Comcast.” I’d say he’s half right, which is more than we usually agree.

Comcast has been spending hundreds of millions with its Slowsky (and other) ad campaigns trying to make people think that it has a better Internet service than anywhere else, while SBC (aka AT&T) is attacking Comcast and other cable TV over misleading teaser prices. Apparently hyperbole and dishonesty is normal for telecom advertising (like laundry detergent of 40 years ago) but there’s clearly more of a factual basis to the AT&T attacks.

Comcast claims to have 16 megabits/second; all I know it isn't in my neighborhood. I don't know if we have poor infrastructure, too much shared bandwidth or it's just the normal latency problems, but under normal conditions the responsiveness is no better than DSL and noticeably worse than at work. We had Cox in San Diego for nearly a decade, and boy I wish I could have that service up here.

What is, clear, however, is that Comcast is a monopoly and acts like it in its pricing. It reminds me of 20 years ago, when people were mad at DEC for acting as though its customers had no other choice. Once they did — through POSIX, Unix, and Open Systems — buyers deserted DEC in droves.

Comcast will never have a cable TV competitor (in those markets where it has the franchise), but it certainly will face relentless competition from substitutes. About its only hope is that once SBC gets good TV market share that its arrogance will eventually match Comcast's. For consumers, that would be the nightmare scenario.

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