Comcast to pay $800,000 to resolve FCC stand-alone broadband complaint

The cable company didn't adequately market its stand-alone broadband service as required in merger conditions, the FCC says

Comcast will pay US$800,000 and agree to a yearlong extension of a requirement to provide inexpensive stand-alone broadband service after a U.S. Federal Communications Commission investigation into the company's compliance with conditions on its 2011 merger with NBCUniversal.

Comcast was not adequately marketing its stand-alone broadband services as required in the FCC merger conditions, the FCC said. The FCC's Enforcement Bureau, in a consent decree announced Wednesday, requires Comcast to continue to offer its Performance Starter service until Feb. 21, 2015, and make the $800,000 payment to the U.S. Treasury, the FCC said in a press release.

Under the merger conditions, the FCC required Comcast to continue to offer stand-alone broadband Internet access services at reasonable prices and with sufficient bandwidth to customers who do not subscribe to Comcast's cable services. The conditions required Comcast to offer broadband with download speeds of at least 6M bps for less than $50 for three years.

The conditions also required Comcast to "visibly offer and actively market" the stand-alone broadband service.

The consent decree shows that "compliance with commission orders is not optional," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "The remedies announced today will benefit consumers and foster competition, including from online video and satellite providers, by ensuring that stand-alone broadband is truly available in Comcast's service areas."

The consent decree is a "huge win" for consumers, FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison said in a statement.

Comcast is proud of its Performance Starter stand-alone broadband service, said Sena Fitzmaurice, the company's vice president of government communications. Comcast and the FCC were able to address the issue "cooperatively and constructively in a consensual manner," she said in an email.

"Comcast has incorporated the extensive commitments and conditions from the NBCUniversal transaction into the DNA of our business practices, including the commitment to offer stand-alone broadband Internet," she added. "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."

The consent decree requires Comcast to train its customer service representatives and retail sales people on the Performance Starter service. It also requires Comcast to devote a Web page to the stand-alone service and list the service on its product lists given to customers. The decree also requires a major advertising promotion of the service.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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