Comcast’s Xfinity Fail

When Comcast announced their nationwide Xfinity initiative, I greeted it with skepticism and that has only grown over time. Their “Fancast” website, now dubbed xfinity tv, has surprisingly crappy quality and I’m on a 16mbps down/2mbps up internet connection through Comcast. It’s so bad that I would opt for my AppleTV, Mac mini running Boxee, or the Roku box downstairs in a nanosecond before I’d watch this poor excuse for HD.

As an old mentor of mine always said, “Whenever there is great flux, there is great opportunity” and mine is to explore cutting the cable like so many other people are doing. This Wall Street Journal article positions cable cutting as consumers cutting costs in an economic downturn, but I believe it’s because cable isn’t delivering, they’re jamming too many costs down our throat for programming we don’t watch anyway, and there are so many preferable on-demand alternatives that people are cutting cable regardless of whether they have budget woes or not.

In my view, it’s crappy service and experience making most of us want to cut the cable. In my neighborhood we probably have more HDTVs per capita than anywhere in the Twin Cities. Lots of 30-n-40 somethings, bunches of technoweenies, and a demographic right in the sweet spot of a vendor like Comcast, but their nationwide Xfinity rollout is causing us nothing but problems:

  • Digital channels that break up, becoming pixelated with audio dropouts making shows unwatchable (see “Comcast’s Oscar Fail“)
  • A digital video recorder with the worst user interface I’ve ever used, making the first TiVo 10 years ago feel cutting edge like today’s iPad
  • An OnDemand system that is painful to use due to the lag time and constantly running (and loud) “commercial” for movies that plays while you browse with no ability to turn it off
  • The changeover from analog to all digital occurring now (so Comcast can pack many more new Xfinity services over their cable) that takes away HD viewing on TVs without a digital box connected to them AND a whole house distribution system that simply “isn’t available in your neighborhood” forcing us all to hang a bunch of crappy little analog-to-digital boxes on every TV in the house.

The biggest problems? There are two….

Comcast engineers prepare to cut off internet access to Steve Borsch, a customer who has exceeded his 250GB monthly bandwidth cap and is attempting to watch TV shows over AppleTV though he no longer subscribes to cable tv service.

Problem #1: Bandwidth cap
As you know if you’re up on all things technical, Comcast has in place a 250GB cap on bandwidth use. Even though I primarily stream NetFlix and a few tech shows that usage, combined with our normal internet use, shows that we’ve so far consumed 105GB (42%) of our bandwidth allocation in just 11 days!

If you don’t think this is going to become a huge issue, just wait until GoogleTV, the Boxee box and more devices that enable us to watch HD content ship. Comcast will be placed in the position of gatekeeper and you’ll have to decide: do I watch TV or use my internet connection? They’ll undoubtedly use this as a blunt instrument to bludgeon us in to continuing as subscribers to the cable content most of us don’t watch anyway, or be forced in to watching internet TV with their woefully inadequate “Fancast, now Xfinity” online service.

Problem #2: Authentication
This nearly one year old GigaOM article outlines the authentication problem well:

Let’s start with Comcast’s authentication process, which is the biggest stumbling block for Xfinity. To authenticate with the service, you have to download and install on your computer a client application that phones home to Comcast to confirm that you’re a subscriber and figure out what content you have access to. Each Comcast account can add up to three devices that can access Xfinity content, and each one has to have the Comcast Access client installed. In theory, this should be a seamless process, but in practice it involves a number of steps that could keep subscribers from being able to use the service.

That’s right kids. You have to be “authenticated” if you want to watch Xfinity’s “TV Anywhere” service. If you decide to cut the cable and just watch internet programming, Comcast can shut off your ability to watch any programming that they offer over their cable TV subscription.

Did that sink in? Let me say it again another way. Say NetFlix does a deal to offer TV shows one hour after they appear on network TV channels. You come home after a hard day at work to catch Dancing With the Stars an hour after it airs. You fire up your AppleTV and go to the ABC TV app, launch it and this error message appears, “We regret to inform you that this programming is offered through your cable internet connection exclusively through Comcast Cable Television Services and therefore you are not authenticated to view it on any other device or service. Please contact customer service with any questions or concerns.

(See UPDATE below)

There’s a War Going On
“Not gonna happen” you say? Fox being blocked by Time Warner Cable these past few weeks—and their subsequent agreement as detailed here—demonstrate the stakes in this game. Any provider of anything that remotely smacks of TV or movies is at war, and you and I are likely to be collateral damage unless we make certain our voices are heard and vote with our pocketbooks.

Remember, it’s not who is right or wrong in this war…it’s who has the biggest tanks, the most guns, and the smartest generals who know how to use them. But like any war, if you’re Comcast you focus on cutting off the supply lines of the enemy (i.e., the 250GB cap); strengthen your alliances by buying one of the biggest strategic “chips” on the table (i.e., acquiring NBC); and then offer up some alternative (i.e., Fancast/Xfinity) so that when Congress gets involved in minimizing the collateral damage (i.e., you and me) that they can point to what they’re offering and simply use that well-worn, bullshit line:

“It’s good for the consumer”

No…it is not. If Xfinity rocked, if Comcast’s moves to “authenticate” and “control with a cap” our use didn’t exist, I might think differently. But Comcast’s moves are so laughingly obvious that it does nothing but make me angry and highly focused on finding a way to unsubscribe from Comcast cable TV.

UPDATE: When I posted my blog automatically sends out a tweet and I included @ComcastCares, Comcast’s social media monitoring group. This post was apparently routed to Comcast Minnesota immediately. Shortly thereafter a guy I know who handles some marketing aspects for Comcast in our region called me. He updated me on the Authentication problem and detailed that it no longer uses a “Comcast Access client”.

Unfortunately, that was a sort of “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” sort of response. Nothing about the four bullet points at the top of the post and the quality (or lack thereof) of the DVR interface, pixelated breaking up and so on; nothing about the bandwidth cap and it being an anti-competitive move; nothing about the fact that only 3 devices can be used within a household and have to be authenticated with the system.

BTW, I followed 100% of the Xfinity system requirements, have a fast connection, etc., and the quality is still horrible.

I stand by the essence of the post, Comcast, and find your request for the Comcast Access client “correction” a nit.


  1. Michael Janssen on October 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Not really happy with the trend for Xfinity. More speed with the same bandwidth cap is useless – they obviously know that we’re going to be using more bandwidth because of online video.

    Even 1 Gbps internet is not useful to me with a bandwidth cap that means I’ll run out in a day – and their own FAQ on the subject says that they don’t have any option for data-hungry users, there is no tier for more bandwidth, just more speed.

  2. Tweets that mention Comcast’s Xfinity Fail -- on October 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Borsch, Julio Ojeda-Zapata. Julio Ojeda-Zapata said: RT @sborsch: New post: Comcast’s xfinity Fail @comcastcares […]

  3. Mike O'Connor on October 31, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Just catching up on my reading… Big news from here — I dropped the Comcast account and went with Quest broadband. Works great, and cheaper too. 🙂

  4. Steve Borsch on October 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I still can only get 7mbps down, 768kbps up with Qwest and have 16mbps/2mbps with Comcast.

    Qwest laid fiber about 3,000 feet from my house, but aren’t offering that service here, even though our 151 homes development is in a desirable demographic for high speed. Let’s hope they do before Comcast tightens the screws on their 250GB cap.

  5. fettman24 on January 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Very informative, there seems to be quite a few flaws with this. The DISH Network TV Everywhere option seems to be where to go, not only viewing live TV anywhere you want, (not just the same home network your Comcast is on) but all of the other features, manage recordings and schedules etc. Not to mention you can have any internet provider with this, so you do not need to be capped with the data you use. As a DISH customer and employee I feel that is just fair and the right way to do things.

  6. Steve Joseph on July 17, 2011 at 5:10 am

    Thank you for your article Steve. Interestingly a buddy that helped me move and I were discussing the Comcast cap. I’ve recently moved back to Chicago from New York and trying to wrap my head around two current issues I’m experiencing with Comcast Xfinity.

    1. No matter how many times I set my Firefox browser homepage to my personal website, Comcast Xfinity homepage takes over on browser launch every single time. It would appear that the “junk” Xfinity installed on my computer/browser overrides my preferred homepage settings every single time I open Firefox. I’m a seasoned advertising professional of 14yrs and believe I know how to set a browser homepage since most of my time and efforts are spent building them.

    I cannot find any articles about this online and it’s really starting to infuriate me for several reasons.

    2. This has got to be the slowest internet service provider I have dealt with hands down. Every website I visit takes much longer than normal to load. The service by all accounts and measures is simply deplorable.

    Why is their service so unbelievably slow?

  7. Steven Edwards on September 4, 2011 at 6:30 am

    I know this post is a bit old but I still thank you for writing it. Over at my site I also talk about the need to get rid of cable. I have gotten it out of my house and do everything via internet these days. So far I have not gotten an internet usage cap but I can see the writing on the wall, its coming. The companies out there providing TV service are so use to making money a certain way that they are not keeping up with the times and what the viewers want. The first service provider to come out with an al’la carte system for providing channels to its viewers, a service that provides real choice, will dominate this market Otherwise more and more we will move to streaming services even over our DVRs.


  8. ismael on March 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Honestly I agree 100 percent comcast has ripped me off
    I have only the basic chanells and basic internet non of that hd shit or the movie channells I have no phone half the time I’ve had to replace not one but two modems your right abot the dvr its pathetic but here’s another thing that you can add to the list of bullshit
    Why is my bill 300 dolors for the basic package my buddy down the street pays only 170 a month and has hd with all the channels when I found out I was pissed off like a rodeo bull.who’s balls were set on fire. Something needs to be done about this shit cause its ridiculos

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.