Sometimes prices go up. That's business. But when a corporate mega-hulk waltzes into town, completely takes over an industry, then turns around and puts the squeeze on captive clients, that just seems--dare we say it?--roguish.
Only six months after buying out AT&T Broadband and becoming Portland's only high-speed Internet service, cable giant Comcast announced last week that customers who don't get their cable TV from Comcast will be paying $10 more each month for their Internet connection. For some, this jump to $52.95 per month means a 23 percent increase. Subscribers to Comcast's cable TV service get to sidestep the rate hike with a $10 "loyal customer" discount.
"We feel that this price better reflects the value of our service," says Comcast spokesman Dan Williams, who is quick to point out that the "vast majority" of Comcast's 145,000 Internet customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington won't need to pay the higher rate.
Now, if we at the Rogue Desk didn't have the utmost faith in the virtue of corporate behemoths, we might be inclined to translate Williams' explanation as, "We feel that this price better reflects our stranglehold on the cable Internet service market."
It turns out we're not the only ones questioning Comcast's motives.
"From a local government perspective, we believe Comcast is a monopoly cable service provider," says David Olson, director of the City of Portland's Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management.
While Comcast's strategy of linking higher Internet-service rates to a lack of TV service is probably legal, Olson notes that "Comcast appears to be the only cable operator [in the nation] that has instituted this scheme."
Most Internet-only customers will probably suck it up and fork over the additional $120 a year. Many, like David Hohnstein, have little choice. In Hohnstein's Southeast Portland neighborhood, it's either Comcast's high-speed Internet or agonizingly slow dial-up service. "You feel kind of helpless," he says. "They're taking advantage of you anywhere they can. Maybe that's the way business is done these days. It appears so."