Back in 2008, Comcast sued the city of Chattanooga shortly after the city-owned utility (Electric Power Board, or EPB) announced plans to deliver the kind of cheap, ultra-fast broadband Comcast long refused to. After being saddled with legal expenses, EPB ultimately won that lawsuit, and in 2010 began offering ultra-fast fiber broadband. But it wasn't long before the community-owned broadband network ran into another obstacle: a Tennessee state protectionist law -- quite literally written by AT&T and Comcast -- that hamstrung the operation and prohibited it from expanding.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and EPB now offers symmetrical gigabit connections for around $70 a month -- at least to the parts of Chattanooga ISP lobbyists have allowed it to. A 2016 survey by Consumer Reports ranked EPB, outside of Google Fiber, as the only ISP with a truly positive consumer satisfaction rating among the 30 national ISPs ranked by the magazine. Chattanooga's Mayor, meanwhile, has cited EPB as a major contributor to the city's reinvention.
Facing this weird new phenomenon known as competition, Comcast this year finally broke down and brought its own gigabit offering (technically 1 Gbps down, 35 Mbps up) to the city. But Comcast being Comcast, it simply couldn't help but saddle the offering with a number of restrictions. Specifically, Comcast's offering the gigabit option to Chattanooga residents for $70 a month -- but only if they're willing to sign a three year contract. If users refuse -- the price of the service not only is jacked to $140 per month -- but you'll face usage caps and overage fees -- which are only avoidable if you sign the absurdly long contract.
Hoping to get Chattanooga residents excited about the new option when it finally arrived a few weeks ago, Comcast posted an announcement to Facebook "introducing" the city to gigabit broadband service. It didn't go well. The company began taking an absolutely ferocious beating from area locals tired of Comcast's high prices and legendarily-bad customer service:
Take note of the automated Comcast "support" representative that appears to believe they're "helping" without any understanding of the context of the concerns. The beating proceeds like this for an amazingly long time, consistently citing slow speeds, high prices and poor service:
You may notice a consistent theme or two brought up by Chattanooga locals. The beating was so severe it made the Chattanooga Times Free Press, via which Comcast tried to claim that the response to the company's quickly-backfiring ad campaign was a "misunderstanding":
Comcast says the ongoing backlash is the result of a misunderstanding. The cable giant says that it didn't mean to imply it was rolling out the city's first gigabit service. Rather, it was introducing Xfinity's first gigabit service for residential customers.
"Comcast's recent advertisement on Facebook was intended to remind customers in Chattanooga that our 1-gigabit internet service is now available in their area," said Alex Horwitz, vice president for public relations at Comcast. "The service is offered via cable modem technology, which makes Chattanooga one of the first markets in the nation to enjoy this new service."
There's no misunderstanding. Chattanooga locals understand all too well that Comcast has thrown millions at lawmakers on both the local and state level to try and stifle competition, then expected locals to be awed when the company belatedly introduced its own, inferior and restriction-laden product -- nearly a decade later. There's a reason that Tennessee remains one of the least connected states in the union (pdf), and it has absolutely everything to do with Comcast being an anti-competitive bully with a near-total stranglehold over the state legislature and politicians like Marsha Blackburn.
Tennessee isn't alone in spending the majority of its time bending over backwards to please the country's biggest broadband incumbents to its own, obvious detriment. And more restrictive state laws are being passed all the time. And instead of fixing this corruption on the state or federal level, we're now looking at axing consumer privacy protections and killing net neutrality. Because, you know, that's certain to deliver the kind of broadband Utopia Chattanooga and countless other U.S. markets have been begging for over the last decade. Read more...