Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

Great news: Comcast has released a Roku “app” for its Xfinity X1 operating system, the proprietary MOCA (Multimedia Over CoAx) distributed-cable setup that big-C has now rolled out nationwide. The app, currently still in beta, is free-to-use for the present; it essentially replicates the functions and appearance of X1 apps on iOS or Android devices such as smartphones and tablets, on the big screen connected to a Roku box (or with Roku built in). That means full access to live cable and on-demand, DVR recordings and the rest.

I loaded the new app onto my bedroom TCL/Roku set: it works, more or less, as expected, although excruciatingly slowly on some tasks, as is often the nature of beta software in general. Assuming the final version delivers at least the speed of the existing iOS app, which is slow but livable, I’d be perfectly happy to live with it on secondary sets in my household, saving the cable-box rent on at least a couple.

And the news only gets better—at least if you ask Comcast. When it goes “live,” the cable giant will charge only $7.49 monthly fee—per Roku device—to use this new box-less, cable-card-less solution. Yup, Big Cable will give you a princely discount of a whopping 25 percent, $2.50, off the tenski monthly rent they’d otherwise demand for an X1 client box. So you’ll only find yourself paying $7.49 per month, 12 months of the year, year in and year out, to not rent a box from them; is that generous, or what?

What’s that you say? “Bullshit!”? Yeah, me too. The war for open cable has been on-going now for more than a decade, and it’s not looking good. In fact, there’s storm clouds on the horizon, in no small part because there’s a new sheriff in town. President Trump’s appointee as chairman of the F.C.C.—the Fork the Consumer Commission—one Ajit Pai, is on the case to protect and serve the rights of us powerless but willing worker bees.

What, you may ask, was on the resumé of Mr. Pai (who was already a rank-and-file Commissioner) before his elevation by our Dear Leader? He was a corporate attorney for Verizon, America’s second-most-hated company. Oh, well, our troubles are over. According to that pinnacle of Dishonest Media, the Failing New York Times, in his first few weeks on the job Chairman Pai has run for the goal line, blocking efforts by multiple companies to provide deeply discounted broadband to low-income customers, blocking Obama-era measures to inhibit cable and broadband companies from selling user data, and ditching a proposal formed under the previous administration to open up the cable-box market to greater competition. And that’s just three of a dozen or so protectionist moves the new chairman has already implemented.

Most alarmingly, Pai has clearly stated his opposition to “net neutrality,” regulation that would prevent broadband providers—such as Comcast and, umm, Verizon—from raising rates to high-bandwidth consumers.

Most alarmingly, Pai has clearly stated his opposition to “net neutrality,” regulation that would prevent broadband providers—such as Comcast and, umm, Verizon—from raising rates to high-bandwidth consumers. Like, I don’t know, cord-cutters, Netflix bingers, Youtube addicts: in other words, pretty much everyone with a Sound & Vision subscription.

I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure that in theory, deregulation is supposed to foment competition, and thus lower prices to the end consumer. In practice, to paraphrase Yogi, theory and practice are very different, and this doesn’t work upon monopolies—which is effectively what cable providers are in most of the American consumer-space. How’d that come about? Largely due to the checkerboard (more like 3-D chessboard) of jurisdictions through which telcomms flows. To grossly simplify, the city or town owns the roads, and the air and ground over or under which comms lines pass. That right-of-way is worth money; perennially cash-strapped municipalities—cash-strapped because a Federal system of progressive-taxation/revenue-sharing would be branded anti-states-rights “big government” and is thus political poison—make sweetheart “carriageway” deals with cable companies and other info-providers, giving them exclusive rights-of-way and thus effective monopolies. And thus, the power to charge consumers not what the competitive environment will support, but literally what the market will bear.

So if you were hoping that an era of Trumpian deregulation would lead to more competitive cable and broadband markets (as exist virtually everywhere else in the industrialized world), energetic build-out of optical fiber, wireless, and other higher-bandwidth networks (ditto), and a break of the stranglehold the big cable firms have on American pocketbooks, it says here that you hoped in vain. If I were you (and I am, more or less) I’d prepare to pay more, not less, for cable, broadband, and any other comms services you consume, over the next four—or, God help us, eight—years.

What can you do? Learn the banjo? Get a library card? I dunno, but for myself, I’m sharpening my pitchfork and bundling up torches. In the meantime, you can call (or email, text, or tweet) your congress-person.

I would, but mine’s already blocked my number.

HJC001's picture


trynberg's picture

I can't recall a single time that Pai has voted to protect consumer interest.

mtymous1's picture

...about the Roku + App + service fee combo. After getting tired of the seemingly semi-annual rental fee increases, I set up an HDHomeRun Prime. Now Comcast gives me a monthly CREDIT of $2.50 for "Customer Owned Equipment" and I have ZERO rental fees.

So instead of buying a Roku / Roku-capable device that would still involve monthly charges, the better investment would be SiliconDust's HDHomeRun Prime -- especially if you're a Communistcast customer.

...you're welcome!

JustinGN's picture

Just when I thought Comcast couldn't get any worse, they always prove me wrong.

Honestly, really not looking forward to the next four years from an IT standpoint. Deregulation of the telecom sector will only breed higher prices and more acquisitions/mergers. Suckers bet that Charter, RCN and/or Cox are all bought or merged before 2020, and similar bet that Sprint and/or T-Mobile will be merged into either AT&T or Verizon.

In the meantime, don't mind me, I'm just setting up a VPN tunnel to my friend in Wales...

David Vaughn's picture
Many of these changes were already under way under the last administration, so to blame this solely on the current administration is patently unfair. As for Net Neutrality and high users of broadband, why shouldn't they pay more if they are using more? As long as the basic access has a decent amount that the "normal" user would use in a typical month, then that shouldn't be a problem.
trynberg's picture

David, your response is seriously misinformed. Pai has already reversed multiple initiatives started or maintained under Wheeler. And Pai voted against any thing passed to serve the consumer/society interest.

Net Neutrality is vital to society and is, in fact, how the internet functioned from the beginning until the last couple of years when the mega-conglomerate ISPs began dangerous and uncompetitive business practices. Net Neutrality measures passed under Wheeler were meant to simply conserve this original state, not to put forth more regulation.

Your comments regarding users paying more for using more have nothing to do with this article but are similarly misinformed. Your idea would work if we actually had competition in the ISP world but we don't. If ISPs want to charge based on usage, then they should work like government-regulated utilities and everyone would get the highest rate of speed. But they only want to be treated like utilities when they're asking for taxpayer handouts to build out infrastructure. Your ideas are extremely un-consumer/society and are not based on facts.

David Vaughn's picture
What we currently have is not fair competition. It's croney capitalism that has been going on for more than the last 6 weeks. If I recall, the last head of the FCC was an executive from Comcast, right? I'd love to see my local municipality give us true choices for broadband, but alas, we have one to choose from for cable and one to choose for DSL...Both regulated by the government. And if anyone doesn't think there's lobbying to keep this as is? Time will tell if our rates increase, but I know I'm paying 50% more today than I was in 2007, so the last administration didn't do my pocket book any favors either.
trynberg's picture

David, you're right, we don't have fair competition. And we can't. Not unless the government forces the cable providers to sell access to their infrastructure or the government buys or builds infrastructure and sells last mile access.

Of course there is lobbying on both sides. And no, the last administration didn't do enough. But to ignore the reasons why and to act like both parties are equivalent in this matter is ignore the facts. I'm not a Democrat or Republican, I base my opinions on what people do. Ajit Pai has consistently voted against consumer interests and that is also consistent with the position of his party.

Don't forget Wheeler had to spend two years to put together a title 2 proposal together that would be accepted by the courts.

trynberg's picture

I'll also add that under Wheeler, the FCC backed local municipalities in Tennessee and North Carolina against state laws (put into place by GOP) designed to prevent municipalities from building broadband networks. The FCC was shot down in court.