It's not really news that Comcast's cable TV rates are going up again
this fall. The company raises rates every year.
October's pending 4.4 percent increase, disclosed in a filing with local cable regulators this week, is in line with Comcast's historical average (though more than double the regional rate of inflation.) It raises the cost of standard cable TV service to $70.49 a month. What may be notable is that viewers continue to act like they don't care. Even as alternatives proliferate for watching video online, Comcast shed fewer than 1 percent of its TV subscribers last quarter.
Any decline among Comcast's 600,000 customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington was imperceptible to regulators.
"Subscriber numbers remain steady," said Fred Christ, policy director for the Metropolitan Area Cable Commission in Washington County.
Most cable rates aren't subject to local regulation, so the only real constraint on rising rates is consumer resistance to higher prices. And so far, there seems to be very little pushback.
"People still don't see an easy alternative to Comcast, or Frontier, or the satellite providers, all of which cause more or less the same amount of pain," Christ said.
Indeed, cable TV is still the simplest way to get many shows. Though broadcast shows and some cable programming can be purchased from Amazon and Apple, premium series such as HBO's "Game of Thrones" can only be had via cable (unless you choose a pirated stream.)
Live sports also remain a big draw for cable. Most NBA, baseball, college football and basketball games are cable-only. And ESPN has a near monopoly on college bowl games. ESPN now charges cable operators as much as $6 a month, per subscriber, to carry its programming -- a cost that goes right to viewers' cable bills.
The price of sports programming doesn't explain this year's rate hike, though. The cost of Comcast's discounted "Digital Economy" cable package, which excludes most sports networks, are rising by 8.6 percent this fall to $37.95 a month. In percentage terms, that's nearly double the increase of Comcast's standard service.
(Comcast increased the cost of its "limited basic" service last month. The rate for limited basic, which features local broadcast channels and a handful of cable networks, rose by about $1.30 a month. Monthly rates vary by location, from around $12 to around $22.)
Many customers won't pay the full cost of this year's increase because they are on short-term promotional plans. Across all its regional customers, Comcast spokeswoman Theressa Dulaney said that rates will climb 2.9 percent.
"We continue making investments in our network and next-generation technology to make enhancements customers want and value, including faster Internet speeds, more multiplatform video and better customer service," Dulaney said in a written statement.
Sony, Apple, Google and Intel are all preparing alternatives to cable TV that deliver video over the Internet. Comcast is readying itself for that competition -- it's rolling out a new cable box, the X1, that provides a much improved interface and makes it much easier to find and record programming.
Regardless, streaming video appears thus far to be primarily a supplement to cable TV rather than an alternative.
And Comcast's streamers will pay higher prices, too.
Comcast will hike the cost of its Internet service by $2 a month in October -- 3.8 percent, to $53.95. Comcast boosted speeds last spring without implementing a rate increase at that time. Internet service costs more if you don't also subscribe to cable TV service, but this week's regulatory filing didn't say how much more.
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