According to the FCC, Comcast has agreed to pay $800,000 and
extend its NBCU deal agreement to offer reasonably priced standalone broadband
to consumers who do not also take cable service from the company, the first
time the FCC has extended a deal condition via consent decree.
Comcast defended its standalone offering nonetheless, and
suggested it was a difference of opinion on how the condition should have been
met and that it was glad to have resolved it.
The agreement, in the form of a consent decree adopted by
the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, resolves an FCC investigation into complaints
that Comcast was not "adequately marketing" the stand-alone service
it agreed to offer as part of the NBCU deal.
"Today's action demonstrates that compliance with Commission
orders is not optional," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a
statement. "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."
The commission required Comcast as part of the NBCU deal conditions to offer standalone broadband on equivalent terms as bundled service, at speeds of at least 6 Mbps, for no more than $49.95 a month for a period of three years. It also prohibited it from raising the price for two years and required it to "visibly offer and actively market" the availability of the service. According to the FCC release, it was apparently only the "actively market" part that was at issue in the complaint.
Under the terms of the consent decree, Comcast has agreed to offer its
"Performance Starter" broadband service until at least Feb. 21, 2015, which is
one year beyond the current deal requirement.
"Comcast has incorporated the extensive commitments and
conditions from the NBCUniversal transaction into the DNA of our business
practices, including the commitment to offer standalone broadband
Internet," Comcast said in a statement. "We are proud of our
standalone broadband offering of â€˜Performance Starter' service -- we rolled
this product out in just one month, the fastest Comcast has ever deployed a
brand new service simultaneously throughout its footprint.
"As is often the case with services associated with
government orders, the FCC had questions on how the service might have been
rolled out in a different or even better way. We are pleased that Comcast and
the FCC were able to address such issues cooperatively and constructively in a
consensual manner. We look forward to continuing to offer and market
Performance Starter in additional ways and with additional outlets. We
believe this product offers a choice consumers want in the marketplace."
In addition to the payment and extension, there is a
compliance regime Comcast has agreed to follow, according to the commission.
- "Training its customer service representatives and
retail sales personnel to reinforce their awareness and familiarity with the
Performance Starter service;
- "Ensuring that new and existing Comcast customers have equal
access to a web page devoted exclusively to describing and permitting online
purchase of all retail standalone broadband Internet service options;
- "Listing the
Performance Starter service tier on product lists issued to Comcast customers;
- "Conducting a major advertising promotion of Comcast's
standalone retail broadband Internet access service offerings in 2013; and
- "Continuing to offer
the Performance Starter service at its owned and operated retail locations and
offering its third-party retail agents and independent dealers the opportunity
to sell the Performance Starter broadband service."
"The unprecedented merger condition extension, significant
voluntary contribution, and robust compliance plan send a clear message to the
American public and the communications industry that the FCC will vigorously enforce
its merger conditions, to the ultimate benefit of consumers," said Enforcement
Bureau chief Michele Ellison.
The FCC's Media Bureau last month ruled that Comcast had not
sufficiently complied with the network neighborhooding condition in the NBCU
deal. That came in a response to a complaint by Bloomberg.
Comcast challenged that decision.